When discussing goals, dreams, and aspirations, motivation and discipline are often mentioned in tandem. In fact, these two ideas are so often conflated that they are used as synonyms even though they are distinct concepts. Many so-called “motivational posters” reference ideas more related to discipline, for example. Indeed, it’s crucial to understand the differences between motivation vs discipline if you want to succeed in life and master its challenges. Today, let’s break down how important motivation and discipline are and which is more important in the long run.
What Is Motivation?
Motivation is a state of feeling inspired, dedicated, or willing to do something. It’s essentially the feeling you get when you really want to accomplish a task, overcome a challenge, buy something, meet someone new, and so on.
Make no mistake, motivation is important. It’s one of the best parts of being a person and experiencing new desires and likes. However, motivation does not (usually) lead you to long-term success. Nor is it responsible for you achieving your goals overall.
What Is Discipline?
Discipline is the counterpart to motivation. Discipline is the collective habits and personal drive you build and maintain to accomplish tasks. For example, discipline is the self-control you cultivate when you do your homework on a Monday night, even though you would rather be hanging out with friends or watching Netflix.
Discipline is self-generated, meaning that it is something you can willfully and intentionally cultivate. In contrast, motivation comes from external experiences or things. It’s not something you can necessarily chase or get with any guarantee.
Motivation vs. Discipline: Which Is More Important?
While both motivation and discipline are important for long-term goal development and achievement, discipline is by far much more important in the long run. There are multiple reasons for this.
Motivation Is Fleeting and Flexible
By nature, motivation is flexible, fleeting, and can’t be relied on for consistent results or performance. Think of some common examples of motivation:
- You learn about a potential career you’ll love and are temporarily motivated to sign up for a new college program, take a class, or pursue a certificate
- You discover someone you really click with personally and are motivated to forge a relationship with them
- You see an Instagram post of someone really fit and want to achieve a similar level of physical fitness. The realities of working out don’t matter; at the moment, you are motivated to get those gains and hit the gym the same day you see the post
None of these are necessarily bad experiences. Motivation is a great way to discover:
- What you like
- What you want to achieve
- How badly you want to achieve those things
In fact, motivation is usually what inspires us to start cultivating discipline in the first place!
Discipline Is Lasting and Controllable
Instead of being fleeting, discipline is lasting, controllable, and, most importantly, completely up to you.
Let’s take the example of getting fit by building muscle and losing weight. You might be temporarily motivated to lose weight when you see a picture of an attractive person or when you notice that you aren’t as fit as you used to be when you look at yourself in the mirror.
That motivation inspires you to hit the gym once or twice per week… at first. However, the motivation to become fit quickly wears off as the difficulties of losing weight and building muscle set in. You have to change how you eat, change your lifestyle, and go to the gym consistently. Even worse, you have to work out hard enough that it’s a struggle every time!
Motivation will not carry you through that process. Discipline will. Through discipline, you cultivate a habit to:
- Eat better, even if you would rather eat junk food more often
- Go to the gym regularly at the same time each day, even if you would rather relax
- Mark your progress to motivate yourself further
In other words, discipline is important for how you achieve the goals you are motivated toward in the beginning. Without discipline, you won’t be able to accomplish your dreams with any consistency.
When to Prioritize Discipline
It’s generally best to prioritize discipline all the time. If you can learn self-discipline, you’ll see positive dividends throughout your life and in all major areas. Discipline can help you with your:
- Physical fitness, as broken down in the example above
- Career. Disciplined, consistent employees are more likely to receive promotions or get opportunities in the workplace.
- Relationships. Disciplined individuals typically have better control over their emotions and are stabler as a result.
- Schooling, as you’ll complete assignments more regularly or consistently.
- Daily life
The fact is that most major achievements and accomplishments are done so piece by piece, day by day. This is true both for average folks and for great artists and inventors. The myth of long stretches of laziness or unproductivity leading to periods of productivity is just that: false.
Instead of following bursts of motivation as they sporadically occur, you should instead pursue your goals, whatever they may be, consistently and with a disciplined plan set before you.
Can You Achieve Things Without Motivation?
Yes. That’s the importance of discipline overall. You won’t always be motivated to go to the gym, study for a test, or work hard on your startup. But even if you aren’t motivated, discipline can carry you to the finish line if you prioritize it enough and build up enough of a good habit.
Motivation is not necessary for success at any point. It’s sometimes necessary to get you started on the path to self-improvement. But once you’ve begun that path, discipline can help you the rest of the way.
How Can I Cultivate Better Discipline?
Given discipline’s importance, it’s a good idea to cultivate it and learn how to be more self-disciplined as early as possible. You can do this by:
- Starting small. It’s tough to teach yourself self-discipline if you’ve never done so before. You can start small by tackling a consistent problem or goal, such as making your bed every morning or never leaving dirty dishes in the sink. Build up these habits, and discipline will come along over time.
- Telling yourself that you’ll maintain your discipline in the mirror. It’s tough to break promises to yourself, especially if you make those promises every day.
- Letting your body and mind do the work without ruminating on how much you want or don’t want to do it. If you take the focus away from motivation and your feelings, you may find that your body works through challenges, such as going to the gym, automatically thanks to the discipline habits you’ve built up previously.
Can You Chase Motivation?
Not in most cases. Motivation is by its very nature intangible and very tough to develop intentionally. We typically become motivated when we see impressive things, notice new experiences or ideas, or speak to people who seem excited for one reason or another.
While you can try to chase motivation, you won’t be able to do so consistently enough that it can replace discipline in your life. It’s impossible, for example, to stay motivated to complete your homework every single time your professor assigns you a new batch of problems.
Similarly, it’s impossible to stay motivated 24/7 and go to the gym to get fit, even if you start off with a lot of internal motivation. Eventually, you simply won’t want to go to the gym when you are supposed to, or you’ll want to succumb to a cheat meal instead of eating some lean meat to build up muscle.
Motivation is nice when it strikes, but it’s not very reliable. Discipline is much more important overall.
Discipline Is the Key to Success
Ultimately, discipline is the key to reaching all the long-term goals you’ve always dreamed of. While motivation can be helpful in limited doses, you should not rely on it to carry you to the finish line. Cultivating discipline is harder but much more rewarding.
Fortunately, you can learn how to cultivate discipline with our in-depth guides and wellness solutions. Become more disciplined in your diet, exercise, and other lifestyle routines, and you’ll see major improvements in every aspect of wellness across the board.
Need more inspiration? Check out our wellness resources to keep progressing toward the best version of yourself.