Let’s face it, you’ve binge-watched motivational videos on popular sources.
Seriously-looking individuals grabbed your attention as they gushed over the power of desire. “Motivation is your key to success”, “motivation is the fuel that keeps you moving”, “motivation cultivates yearning for change”, etc.
It does sound inspiring, particularly when set to motivational music that perfectly fits gym training. These words give you a lightning strike in your mind that orders you to start “transforming your life”. It feels as if you’re powerful enough to commit to something important and life-changing.
Your mind changes from “it’s impossible” to “I can do it” mode, filling you with hormones of satisfaction. And although you haven’t even started doing anything, motivation has already rewarded your brain with a positive reaction.
A motivation vs discipline graph can demonstrate the inevitable benefits of both notions, but are they equally important for attaining your personal goals?
I’m not going to advocate one side or the other as I must confess that motivation may be essential for taking action. What I’m going to do is dismiss the myths about the unavoidable/magical importance of motivation.
Motivation vs discipline: stop wasting your time on one of them.
Is it better to be motivated or disciplined?
Psychologists see motivation and discipline as being equally important. There is a certain amount of truth to this, but discipline is better. Before we look at the explanation for this, let’s explore all the terms:
Motivation is the inner desire to attain something (7). It’s personal for everyone. I would call it an automatic response or reaction to things you find desirable. But you don’t need to make a hard effort to yearn for something. You naturally desire it.
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There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.
This is a pleasant type of motivation where you do something because you sincerely want it, not because you need it (7). You’re not haunted by the fear of consequences or selfish desires to get a reward.
Check out a few examples of intrinsic motivation. Perhaps you’ll recognize yourself in one of them:
- You binge-watch a TV show with your partner not because it’s their favorite but because you both enjoy it.
- You enjoy delectable avocado salad not because it’s super healthy for you, you simply love the taste.
- You watch 15 reels a day your pal sent you, not because they would be offended if you didn’t watch them. You truly enjoy watching reels, particularly the funny ones.
This motivation comes from the outside self, which means you commit to actions because you expect to get a reward or are scared of the negative consequences (7). Here are some examples:
- You do your job for just one reason – it gives you a lot of money.
- You go to school and try to study hard as you don’t want to be suspended.
- You pretend to like something just to be more likable to people. For example, you lie about being pro-feminist to attract a certain woman.
Training is designed to cultivate desired habits of mind and behavior (1). Motivation alone is not sufficient. Discipline with or without motivation is what gets the job done. Even if you’re no longer motivated, discipline will carry you over the finish line.
Instead of waiting for a positive burst of energy, you structure your daily routine with certain actions that help you achieve results.
Let’s say you want to know How To Run Longer And Faster. You’re already motivated to run for a variety of reasons, but thinking about a run isn’t enough.
Once you incorporate discipline to the list, you:
- Search for detailed online guides on running tips for beginners
- Purchase running shoes and appropriate attire
- Choose the best location
- Create a running schedule, starting with one run per week and gradually shifting to 2 to 3 times
What makes discipline better than motivation? It’s more effective for building positive habits. Studies have shown that people who build self-discipline also have good habits (3). Disciplined people get things done despite what they feel, as they are fully committed to it. They set goals, pull off effective strategies, and repeat certain actions daily to achieve desirable goals.
Here’s a great example: You want to try a social media detox for at least one day. By only motivating yourself, the most you’ll do is put your phone aside for 5-10 minutes. Most likely, you’ll return to the original position.
But by incorporating self-discipline, you’ll take the situation more seriously, and may do the following:
- Turn off wi-fi mode on your phone, or switch off notifications
- Engage yourself with other healthier actions, such as walking or reading a book
- Set a timer while scrolling social media so you don’t spend too much time there
- Create a better environment to effectively commit to a new habit: hide your phones and laptops somewhere.
Discipline requires both structure and limits.
This may be difficult at first and you might not succeed, but if you try to do it the next day, and then another day, you’ll ultimately build another good habit.
Unlike extrinsic motivation when punishment is expected from someone or something, with discipline, you generate it yourself and give yourself both rewards and consequences.
Which comes first, motivation or discipline?
Motivation comes first. It’s the natural reaction to our new desires. As previously mentioned, you barely need any effort to induce motivation in yourself. It’s easy: you like something and, therefore, you want it.
This applies to both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
- You play video games because you obtain pleasure from the process.
- You keep working on a job you hate as your boss promised you a promotion
This motivation vs discipline quote by James Clear in Atomic Habits highlights the importance of self-discipline: “disciplined people are better at structuring their lives without heroic willpower and self-control” (2).
I cannot stress enough that being motivated instantly is beneficial, but it gradually fades away, particularly when it comes to self-accomplishments. Although motivation comes first, it won’t help you build positive habits without discipline.
Can you have discipline without motivation?
Yes, that is what typical discipline entails – it exists without motivation. Self-discipline is your ability to do certain things, regardless of what you feel. Self-control helps you complete actions and gain impressive results. It also affects your overall well-being and results in satisfaction (8).
Let me give you my life example to shed more light on the subject:
I wake up every day and do stretches. I’ve been doing them for a year and still have never felt any specific pleasure, but I know that it’s good for my body. At first, I was reluctant to do this, but I decided to make some alterations:
- I left the yoga mat on the floor all the time.
- I turned on engaging music for the stretching routine to make the activity less boring.
After the stretching, I would approach the mirror and give myself a high-five while saying “Good morning” – no bliss, no enjoyment, only pride, but that was enough.
A study has shown that building a new habit approximately takes 18 to 254 days (4). In my case, it took me even less – just one week.
Now I can’t start my day without stretching as it has become an automatic action, like brushing my teeth.
Ergo, a set of actions in the discipline can easily exist without motivation.
How do you rely on discipline instead of motivation?
Running 2 Miles a Day Transformation: avoiding junk food, detoxing from social media, and quitting smoking all require strong discipline.
But how can you rely on it instead of motivation? You should follow specific strategies to make your discipline as reachable as possible.
Here are the most effective ways to rely on discipline:
- Set clear measurable goals
- Create a simple plan
- Remove temptations
- Start small
- Share your progress with others
- Reward yourself for achievement and practice self-compassion
Set clear goals
Can you sense the difference between “I want to start working out at home” and “I will do a bodyweight workout for 30 minutes based on a special program”? Of course you can. In the second option, you give yourself a clear idea of what you’re going to do.
You should avoid vague goals and cultivate specific strategies.
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Create a simple plan
Make your plan visual and understandable. Some people use stickers to fill out their schedules, whereas others utilize online apps. Observe your daily regime and find the most suitable time to stick to your habits.
There’s no need to focus on the hour and you can broaden it to the part of the day. For example, you can complete 20 push-ups in the morning before you make breakfast, or wade through your novel after lunch.
Hide your phone if it distracts you too much. Pack your drawers with fruits instead of sweet treats. Pour all your alcohol down the sink or give it to someone who doesn’t abuse it. You should surround yourself with positive incentives that remind you of your challenge and the potential results.
There’s no point in starting big because you’ll most likely fail in that case. This applies to all situations: start with 20 pages a day instead of 100, unless you sincerely get involved in the story and yearn for more; reduce your screen time to 2 hours per day instead of punishing yourself with a no-phone policy; run one circle of the lake instead of three at first.
Taking bigger steps from the top is a fragile process as once you fail, you may not do it again. Undoubtedly, making mistakes is inevitable and normal even in the most simple of situations. Once you start with attainable goals, the chance of failure decreases. Making mistakes is okay as this allows you to learn from them.
Share your progress with others
I’ve never understood why boasting about progress is a bad idea. You share your success with people you trust, they’re happy for you, and you stay committed to your goals. Whether this is a post on your social media or intimate communication with your best friend, everything works out.
Reward yourself for achievements and practice self-compassion
The way you treat yourself matters as other people cannot fully evaluate what you’re going through and how you’re feeling. Only you know what reward is effective for you.
If you trained enough today, why not spoil yourself with a hot bath? If you enjoyed the maximum 1-day phone detox, why not order delicious food via the app? However, if you fail, you shouldn’t punish yourself and you should practice self-compassion instead.
Studies have shown that higher levels of self-compassion can increase feelings of happiness, optimism, curiosity, and connectedness. In addition, this process may help you reduce anxiety, depression, rumination, and fear of failure (6).
Are self-disciplined people happier?
Self-disciplined people have a better chance of achieving happiness. Here’s why. Self-discipline allows you to develop problem-solving skills and make the right choices. It also helps you sustain strong relationships with others and develop a positive attitude toward your health. Your ability to make the right choices at the right time can result in a more successful professional and personal life.
Why are disciplined people more successful?
Disciplined people incorporate more positive habits into their lives. They set up meetings, stick to schedules, and care about their overall health. Disciplined people don’t look for excuses, they make mistakes and atone for them. They also set specific goals and cultivate effective strategies to achieve the desirable results. Rather than searching for motivation, disciplined individuals take action.
What’s better than discipline?
In the best-case scenario, motivation mixed with discipline is the perfect combination. Desire gets you going, while discipline makes you fully committed to the cultivation of habits.
The Bottom Line
Motivation vs discipline: which is more important? Let’s summarize before the conclusion.
Motivation is the desire to achieve something. There are intrinsic and extrinsic forms of motivation. With the former, you do something because you like it, while the latter is more about external rewards or punishment.
Motivation is booming in the media as an important push for action. Motivation comes first as it can be an automatic reaction in many cases.
Discipline is more profound and takes real effort. It is a type of training that helps you cultivate desired habits of mind and behavior.
Motivation vs discipline: stop wasting your time on one of them. To wrap up, spending a lot of time on motivation is pointless. Rather than searching for positive motivational spikes, you should incorporate discipline strategies and follow them.
If you don’t know how to rely on discipline without motivation, here are the 6 major steps: set clear goals, create a simple plan, remove temptations, start small, share your progress with others, reward yourself for achievement, and practice self-compassion.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- APA Dictionary of Psychology (apa.org)
- Atomic Habits Quotes (jamesclear.com)
- Combining motivational and volitional interventions to promote exercise participation: Protection motivation theory and implementation intentions (2002, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world (2019, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Motivation, self-determination, and long-term weight control (2012, biomedcentral.com)
- The Role of Self-Compassion in Development: A Healthier Way to Relate to Oneself (2009, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- What to know about extrinsic motivation (2023, medicalnewstoday)
- Yes, But Are They Happy? Effects of Trait Self-Control on Affective Well-Being and Life Satisfaction (2013, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)