Motivation vs. Discipline

We are just over a month deep in to the New Year.  Have you already procrastinated your well intentioned resolutions until “next year,” or are you still going strong?  Your answer to that question likely tells the story as to whether you rely solely on motivation to achieve goals, or if you are also disciplined.


Understanding Motivation 

Motivation can be defined as the reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way, or the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.  Motivation provides the source of energy and inspiration to change something in your life.  Source of motivation for a person can come from inside oneself or external environmental factors. Source of motivation can arise from both positive and negative emotions.  A person can be motivated by wanting to achieve a higher level of functioning in a given area because they believe a reward may come from achieving that higher level of functioning.  For example, a person may choose to enroll in welding courses at a trade school so as to boost their future earning potential. In this case, a person is motivated to change a behavior because they believe a payoff will be realized once they change.  Or a person can be motivated to change based on a negative emotion or experience.  If you put your jeans on one morning and find that your gut has expanded such that you no longer need a belt to hold your pants up, you will either be happy that, through excess calorie consumption, you have efficiently consolidated the need for clothing accessories, i.e., a belt, OR, the more likely outcome, is you’ll feel a bit ashamed for letting yourself go.  The consequence of feeling shame is not a desirable feeling, therefore, you may be motivated to purchase some running shoes and leafy greens rather than Baconators and Ben & Jerry’s.  In any case, motivation serves as the emotional impetus for initiating behavioral change.

Understanding Discipline

 Discipline, in the sense we are talking here, is from the verb form of the word, and can be defined here as the act of training oneself to do something in a controlled or habitual way.  Discipline is a critical component to achieving goals; and is perhaps more important for long term maintenance of a new behavior than motivation.  Discipline, in the context of goal achievement, is a system for starting and then maintaining the new behavior.  This system is comprised of consistent, structured scheduling of the new behavior in to one’s routine, and the accompanying mindset of being willing to consistently do the behavior even if the motivation to do it isn’t there.  Motivation can be fleeting.  Some days a person may feel like engaging in the behavior they set out to do.  Other days, they may not feel like it because their motivation is low for whatever reason.  That’s the problem with relying on motivation alone.  It is fleeting.  Discipline, however, is constant.  A disciplined person engages in the behaviors whether or not they feel motivated to do so.

Understanding How To Blend Motivation And Discipline

Consider the metaphor of an internal combustion engine.  Motivation can be thought of as the starter motor.  In order to get the engine going, the starter motor must initially engage the engine.  Once the engine is up and running, it becomes self sustaining and the starter motor is no longer needed.  Discipline, in this sense, is the engine.   Both motivation and discipline are needed to start and then maintain a new behavior, but discipline is much more important for long term success.  Once a person is disciplined in consistently repeating a new behavior, a self-sustaining effect is generated, rendering the need for motivation as much less important.


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