Screw Motivation, what you need is discipline

Screw motivation, what you need is discipline.

We all have experience with setting New Year’s resolutions. 90% of the time they don’t come to life. Why is that? Because it’s easier to set goals and think of the future, instead of getting up and immediately taking a step toward accomplishing them.

The New Year’s resolution custom is a transparent example of the modern cult of motivation. We witness this through an endless number of self-help books that are dedicated to an ocean of tips and mindsets for boosting motivation. But, where do they lead?

In the end, we find ourselves left with no long-term results, but with questions:                                               

  • How important is the role of motivation in attaining success?                                                                                     
  • What are the results of giving over our actions to something as inconsistent as motivation?
  • And finally, if motivation doesn’t necessarily lead to success, what does?

Self-discipline is a path to reaching the goals we often let depend on a much lesser productive belief in motivation.

Why motivation is a myth

Productivity comes naturally and requires far less effort in a rush of motivation. The problem is absolutely no one can maintain the state of feeling motivated as a constant. Everyone faces a crisis, ups and downs, blue feelings, and therefore, lack of motivation – but this is exactly the time when one shows willpower and commitment to reaching their goals. When the going gets tough the tough get going.

A Stanford professor BJ Fogg developed a “motivation wave” theory that explains the oscillations in the intensity of motivation but also suggests the benefits of recognizing the peaks of this flow and using them as a short window of viable time for enhanced productivity. Nevertheless, this theory itself is a testimony to how variable and unreliable motivation naturally is.


The truth is, motivation is a far more popular concept than discipline simply because it is far easier. It’s easier to sit and wait to be in your best mood for doing a task, than simply getting up and doing it. But the problem is, it truly doesn’t get anything done.

Adopting the mindset of depending upon “feeling motivated” is a disaster as it means nothing but leaving the fate of your goals and dreams to your emotion. This leads to an infinite cycle of procrastinating and whining about it. Don’t go there. And if you already are there, how do you break out of it?


Teach your brain that motivation will come out of the action, not the other way around. Don’t listen to your inert thoughts and feelings, get up, and do the thing you know you should be doing. The good news is, once you get yourself to do this, it gets easier every day. But the hard part is that you have to do it every day. That is discipline.

Why self-discipline is so rewarding

For one thing, self discipline is harder to obtain. The harder the challenge, the bigger the reward, as opposed to “easy come easy go”.  As much as we all are inherently impatient and can get tempted by clickbait that promises us weight-loss within a week, or easy money, the mature thing is to face the facts. Success is not fast nor easy, and it’s exactly what makes it so rewarding.

Researches compare self-discipline with a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets.

In a classic study called The Marshmellow test by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel, several children were told they will get to eat two treats if they didn’t eat the one that was put in front of them. While some children couldn’t resist the sweet smell of marshmallows, others showed stronger will and managed to wait for the doubled reward. The second group of children was found to have better grades, higher educational achievements, and higher test scores in school. The conclusion of the research was the correlation between overall academic success and the ability to delay gratification.

Another research conducted that self-discipline is even more important when it comes to obtaining academic success than IQ.

So, the immense importance of self-discipline for reaching goals and enhancing the quality of life can’t be argued.


When it comes to decision making and priorities, another interesting phenomenon is worth mentioning. In 1998, a test similar to the aforementioned one was conducted by Roy Baumeister. The participants were divided into two groups and represented with chocolate on one side, and radishes on the other.

The first group got to eat the chocolate, and the other one had to eat radishes after which they had to attempt to solve a puzzle. The group that had to put energy into refraining from eating the chocolate performed worse.

The conclusion was that willpower and self-control are finite strengths that are used in performing different sorts of tasks. More importantly, they could be depleted – hence the term Ego depletion.

Ego depletion is essentially an idea that the process of decision-making in your brain, especially when the decision isn’t by preferences, has limited strength.

This theory is controversial, but it offers a very interesting perspective on the question of energy use. Have you ever looked at your energy squander on random actions and said that you don’t have the energy to do anything about it. Well, this may remind you that your energy and time are far from indefinite, and realize the importance of prioritizing activities and consciously choosing how you spend your time.


Motivation is dreaming big and doing little, while self-discipline is starting from little things and building them into being big.

Relying on motivation is easy, but erroneous; cultivating self-discipline is hard and requires more energy, but promises success.

Motivation offers temporary small pleasures, while practicing discipline is unpleasant at first, but results in long-term gratification. As BJ Fogg says, Forget big change, start with a tiny habit. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, do you agree or disagree?

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