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Discipline vs motivation: which one do I need to succeed?

Feeling a bit uncertain about how to achieve what you're aiming for? When it comes to success and personal growth, two key factors often come into play: discipline and motivation.

Illustration of a woman drinking coffee and working on her laptop while her notebook is laying open on the desk

Both are powerful drivers that can propel you toward your goals and aspirations, but they’re very much interconnected. Understanding the dynamics between them is crucial for fostering long-term success and promoting positive mental wellbeing.

Follow the guide to explore the links between discipline and motivation to achieve your goals.

The difference between motivation and discipline

When talking about success and growth, you might have heard “It's not about motivation, it's about discipline,” and there is truth to it – to a certain extent. But before we dive into the importance of motivation to kickstart change, let’s take a closer look at discipline vs motivation.

From motivation…

Motivation is the internal or external drive that spurs individuals to take action. It’s the fuel that ignites our desires and propels us forward, providing the initial burst of energy and enthusiasm so we take the first step toward our goal.

For example, right now, your motivation might be to pass your exams, make friends, or finish a project. In the longer term, it could be to help others or grow as a person.

…to discipline

Discipline is the backbone of achievement. It’s often defined as the ability to maintain consistency and adhere to a set of rules or principles. Self-discipline requires us to exhibit self-control, willpower, and a strong sense of commitment.

For example, you might want to be fitter – that’s your motivation and the initial “spark” that got you started. Discipline is what’s going to make you continue to go for that biweekly workout month after month.

Using motivation as a driving force

Motivation is the emotional connection we have to our goals, aspirations, and dreams, and what ignites our passion and drives us to action.

Motivation can be fueled by various factors, such as:

  • A sense of purpose

  • Personal values

  • External recognition

How to boost motivation

Sometimes we may find ourselves lacking motivation, but there are several strategies you can use to spark motivation quickly. Here are some quick tips to help you get motivated:

  • Set inspiring goals that are meaningful and exciting to you.

  • Find your “why”, the purpose and significance behind your actions.

  • Create a vision board to place somewhere visible as a source of inspiration.

  • Seek inspiration in motivational content such as books, podcasts, or videos.

  • Build a supportive environment with people who encourage and guide you.

  • Use positive self-talk with positive affirmations about your strengths.

  • Start taking small steps toward your goals before the motivation kicks in to seek momentum.

By implementing these tips consistently and adapting them to your needs, you can create an environment that sparks motivation and helps you stay inspired.

While motivation provides the necessary initial impetus, it’s not enough to sustain long-term success alone. It can see-saw and diminish over time, especially when faced with obstacles or setbacks.

That is where discipline steps in, bridging the gap between the initial burst of motivation and the consistent action required to achieve our goals.

“Motivation is temporary; discipline is permanent”

When it comes to mental health and growth, both discipline and motivation play significant roles. However, discipline tends to be the more reliable and sustainable force.

Motivation is often fleeting, depending on external factors, emotions, or circumstances. It can be easily influenced by mood swings, setbacks, or the absence of immediate rewards.

Discipline, on the other hand, is a habit-driven approach that remains steadfast regardless of external factors. It helps us stay focused and consistent, even when motivation wanes.

Imagine an aspiring writer who’s motivated to complete a novel. In the beginning, the motivation fuels their creativity and propels them to write consistently. However, as they progress, they encounter challenges, face writer's block, and receive rejections from publishers.

Their initial motivation starts to dwindle. At this crucial juncture, it’s their self-discipline that enables them to persevere, showing up at the writing desk every day, even when the inspiration is lacking. Through discipline, they develop a routine, improve their skills, and eventually reach their goal of completing the novel.

Cultivate discipline for long-term success

After that first step powered by motivation, discipline acts as a foundation for building good habits and routines, which are essential for long-term success and growth. It helps individuals establish consistent patterns of behavior that can be sustained over time.

Whether it's practicing a musical instrument, maintaining a healthy diet, or studying for exams, discipline ensures that we make progress even when motivation is low. By embracing discipline, we create structure and stability in our lives, helping to reduce stress and promote mental wellbeing.

The benefits of self-discipline vs motivation

Another aspect of discipline is its ability to cultivate self-mastery. When we practice discipline, we develop the ability to resist immediate gratification and make choices that align with our long-term goals. This skill becomes increasingly important in a world filled with distractions and instant gratification.

Exercising discipline helps us:

  • Enhance our self-control

  • Build resilience

  • Develop a growth mindset that allows us to overcome challenges and setbacks

How to boost discipline

Boosting self-discipline can be a challenging task, but with consistent effort and the right strategies, it is achievable.

Here are some quick tips to help you boost your self-discipline:

  • Set clear objectives so you can always keep in mind what you’re working toward.

  • Break tasks into manageable steps to make them easier to tackle.

  • Create a routine to get a sense of consistency.

  • Prioritize and eliminate distractions to create a focus-friendly environment.

  • Practice delayed gratification to prioritize the bigger picture and long-term benefits.

  • Use positive reinforcement by celebrating your achievements.

  • Find an accountability partner or join a group to help you stay committed.

  • Visualize success to remember what you’re working for.

  • Learn from setbacks to move forward more confidently.

Remember, building self-discipline takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and keep practicing these strategies consistently.

A productive tandem

Discipline and motivation are not mutually exclusive; they work in tandem. Discipline can actually fuel motivation by creating a positive feedback loop. As we develop discipline and see the progress we make through consistent action, it boosts our motivation and confidence.

The small wins achieved through discipline act as a reinforcement mechanism, fueling our motivation to continue on the path to success and personal growth.

To harness the power of discipline and motivation effectively, it is essential to cultivate self-awareness. Understanding our intrinsic motivations, values, and desires allows us to set meaningful goals that align with our authentic selves.

When we have a clear sense of purpose, discipline becomes easier to embrace, as it serves as a vehicle to fulfill our deepest aspirations.


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