On Discipline vs Motivation

focus May 06, 2021

Monday hit me like a ton of bricks. 


Motivation had been my friend when I read the book Miracle Mornings.  I was intrigued because I’ve always been a morning person.  After reading, I set my alarm even earlier.  Motivated to capture the day and “maximize my potential.”


I sprung out of bed for the first week (even on the weekends). Then the next Monday hit. I had spent the weekend as I usually would.  Spending time with family and friends.  Staying up later to enjoy more time, but then still bounding out of bed at 5am.


Seizing the day seemed like a much less worthy cause. Motivation ghosted me on that morning.


I realized if I wanted to continue with the morning routine I was loving, I was going to have to call on more than motivation to push me out of bed. 


Let’s look at the definitions:


(noun): the act or an instance of motivating, or providing with a reason to act in a certain way:


(noun): training to act in accordance with rules; drill:

(verb): to train by instruction and exercise; drill. 


Did you catch the difference? Motivation is a noun but discipline is also a VERB. Meaning it’s something that you DO!

In fact I’m disciplining myself right now, to sit in front of this computer until I’ve filled my writing time for today. Motivation chose not to show up AGAIN!


Self Discipline vs Motivation When you Want to Make a Change

You need to invite both motivation and discipline to the party when you want to make a change or work towards a goal. However, the way you entertain these guests is quite different.


First, let motivation inspire you.  Motivation is a fickle muse.  She’s your BFF in the beginning but as time passes she moves on.  While she’s still hanging out, use motivation to gain clarity on what you want to change and why.


Next, focus on building disciplined actions that are taking you in the right direction.  For example, if you want to get up an hour earlier each day, a disciplined action would be to set your alarm.  These actions will become a habit if you stick to them long enough.  


I’m going to emphasize here the importance of developing the right habit.  Or as Charles Duhigg explained, “the habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.”


Finally, take time to get specific with the details. If you want to get up an hour earlier each day, exactly what time do you set on your alarm?  Where are you going to place your alarm clock? How many times are you allowing yourself to hit snooze? What does your evening routine look like to set you up for success the night before?

The devil is in the details.

Plan for Failure

It’s going to happen. The morning after a girl’s night, you’ll have had a restless night of sleep and there’s no way you can pull your head off the pillow. Remember that Monday morning I mentioned above?


How are you going to handle this moment?


Do you decide to beat yourself up all day or do you choose to reflect on what threw you off course?


Continuing to belittle yourself for not jumping up at that alarm, is just robbing yourself the gift of failure. Our failures are life’s best learning experiences. Don’t miss the chance to learn.


I’ll go first.


For the example above I could ask myself:


  • How could I have gone out last night and still gotten out of bed at the time I promised myself?
  • Is it OK to take a morning off?
  • Should I have said NO to the invitation to hang out with friends?


Failure is a test of your willpower.  Don’t let it knock you off your path.  

Want a hack? Try together

Right at the beginning of COVID quarantine, marketing genius Seth Godin started a public co-working space, free of charge.  As the gathering spaces around the world closed, he was creating accountability and community through people working together online.


This is something we needed in lockdown. I mention it here because anytime we call on discipline to get the hard work done it's easier together.


It’s harder to blow off the workout when your friend is waiting for you at the gym.


In the end, don’t let motivation fool you.  Use her while she’s around but if you’re clear that the path she’s leading you down is one you want to follow. It’s time to invite discipline along for the ride.

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