Don’t Count On Motivation To Achieve Your Goals, When Discipline Is The Key

Discipline Is King

“Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind-you could call it character in action.” — Vince Lombardi

Motivation is a fleeting state that requires a mental or emotional approach to reach a goal. It can fluctuate depending on outward conditions. In contrast, discipline can help us conquer the toughest challenges. For example, we may wake up with a cold or flu and have a 10,000-word report to write, yet not be motivated to complete it. However, discipline commands we tackle the work, knowing we must complete it, regardless. Success depends on discipline because motivation comes and goes. It involves chipping away at a goal until the desired outcome is realised. Motivation is interrupted by excuses and fades steadily. That is why our motivation at the beginning of the year contracts towards the latter part. For example, have you noticed your motivation come and go at particular periods throughout the day or week?

It is why we mustn’t wait until the perfect conditions to begin a task. Rather, we ought to tackle it regardless, until the conditions become perfect. Motivation is an overused word, apparent in the corporate world, where managers try to inspire their employees. Yet, in the sporting world, athletes cannot rely upon motivation. Athletes know discipline is the cornerstone of success. They consistently show up for training when they’re less inclined. Unforeseen circumstances may interrupt their preparation, yet they are determined to put in hours of deliberate practice. For example, if a crisis or unplanned event arises, we may be unmotivated to take action on our goal. This scenario happens all too often. If you think back on the previous week, did something unexpected affect your motivation? Did it wane during the week or were you disciplined despite the interruption?

Don’t Be Controlled By Your Emotions

“Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself-and be lenient to everybody else.” — Henry Ward Beecher

We must disassociate feelings from actions to reach our goals. This is the biggest impediment affecting people because they are dictated by their emotions, instead of seeing the goal as the prize. We will enjoy reaching our goal more than the immediate gratification of succumbing to our emotions. If we rely on feelings alone, we are less inclined to commit to the task because we are dictated by short-lived emotional states. Discipline means showing up repeatedly, irrespective of how we feel emotionally. The goal has a greater purpose, so it is incumbent on us to stay committed until the end.

It’s clear we don’t undertake goals to minimise our chances of success. It’s about winning and achievement that make the pursuit exciting. So, how can we be more disciplined and avoid counting on motivation alone? First, create regular routines without over-committing to them in the early stages. If the goal is to exercise four times a week, gradually build up to it instead of going all out in the first week. The greatest impacts on life result from taking the first step and improving on it.

In the sporting world, there’s a term known as marginal gains popularised by international cycling Team INEOS manager David Brailsford. It is a concept referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains.” According to Brailsford, it means: “The 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” At the senior level, most professional athletes are of a similar ability in terms of performance, dedication and skill. What separates first from second or third is the smaller gains, the 1% such as sleep, nutrition and recovery. The 1% increments add up, leading to marginal gains. Therefore, discipline becomes the means to success. Therefore, we must start small and make gradual increments towards our goal.

Second, we must discover our underlying motivation for pursuing our goal; our WHY, as Simon Sinek calls it. That is, find a convincing reason to take daily action. Even if it’s the smallest task, we are likely to stay committed. People who have a compelling reason are disciplined until the goal is accomplished. The desire must be imbued with enthusiasm, so we will stop at nothing to achieve it. As Samuel Johnson once wrote: “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” The forces of life are constantly conspiring against us as resistance.

If we succumb, our efforts will be in vain, and our success squandered. Yet, if we take them into account, we will stay resolute, irrespective of the circumstances. Persistent action in the face of fear is paramount. With this approach, we reinforce our self-esteem each time we commit to a task. We must learn to think with the end in mind as the late Dr Stephen R. Covey wrote in 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. Discipline replaces motivation because we show up consistently. The goal is too important to allow feelings to get in the way. In a similar vein, the late American motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said: “We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” Knowing that, I urge you not to allow regrets to impose upon your success. After all, it is much too important to leave to chance.

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