Motivation and self-discipline – one of them is overrated

Some time ago I ran a poll about what is essential to achieve your goal – motivation or self-discipline. You voted for motivation. Then, a few days ago, I asked you what is one single thing to have to achieve success in life – most of you mentioned persistence.

Interesting results!

It is essential to have both motivation and persistence, but one of them is overrated.

When we are planning to do something connected to our life mission, we usually don’t need to motivate or discipline ourselves – we feel a strong internal drive to do it.

But when we have a difficult goal to achieve, which is not directly related to something we love doing, we usually look to motivation. We are searching the internet for motivational speeches, articles or music, but not many of us feel happy to learn about self-discipline.

For me, motivation is like new love – for the first few weeks, we are flying high. Everyone likes this feeling, but after some time it fades away, and we are able to see the real person – but they are not ideal anymore. Thankfully, as we would not be able to find a great partner and build something if it continued forever.

And as creating a relationship is not about feeling high emotions, achieving your goals is neither.

Emotions are so easy to start but change all the time.

When we have a long term goal, we don’t want to rely on something so sketchy – we need a solid base.

If your plan to finish your Ph.D., I doubt that you sit in front of your desk every evening feeling oh so excited to work till 1am on your research. Or if you struggle to lose weight, I guess you won’t joyfully jump out of bed on a Saturday morning to run in the falling rain. I suppose you’ll turn around under the blanket and tell yourself that ‘oh well, I did not plan to go to the beach a lot this year anyway’ – it happened to me in the past ;).

Discipline is different.

Self-discipline will make you look outside the window, swear under your breath, and take your butt out of the door.

Let’s face it – many things which we really want to achieve sound great on paper – getting a degree, running a marathon, losing weight – and they make us excited.

But the steps to get there are not – long hours of study, daily, often boring exercises, and awkward moments at parties when you have to say no to your friend’s special cake. You may look where you want, but usually, there is just really no pleasure in any of that!

And if you rely on feeling excited, you will fail.

But what will get you there is self-discipline. The decision that the goal is essential and you will just do it – it is not negotiable.

Self-discipline sounds hard, but it resolves so many problems for you:

* Firstly, it achieves the goal – it is the most useful skill you may train yourself in.

* Secondly, it takes a massive weight off your shoulders – you don’t have to think anymore if you should do something now or maybe in a few days when circumstances are better – the choice was made a long time ago, and you just follow the plan. You don’t have to fight with yourself every time.

*Thirdly – it doesn’t rely on the mood. You don’t have to feel anything particular to start what you planned.

Sounds reasonable.

So the next time when you really don’t want to do this crucial thing, tell yourself – ‘Okay. Yes, I don’t feel like that. But I will do it anyway.’ And start doing it.

So much more reliable than waiting for inspiration.


  1. Mario Rivas

    Could not agree more with this one.

    Discipline to stick to the plan; and (off course) a clear purpose ahead ‘cause otherwise it might be a bit hard to continue “disciplined” along the way.

    I would have written “a clear purpose” to your question before this article

    • Joanna from Good and Done

      I agree! There is no point to do things which have no sense to us!


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