Motivation is define as “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.” It’s in our nature to like to get things done, to accomplish things, to grow and develop; the issue we run into is actually wanting to do it because either we get put off by all the work that’s involved or we give into the fear of “what if something goes wrong”. And so here’s where motivation comes in, it gives us that boost to overcome these things, and for the most part it works! It’s no wonder why motivational content is so popular. So you can imagine my surprise when I first heard the words, “motivation is overrated.” But the more I looked into this and looked at different perspectives, the more it made sense.

For a big part of my professional life I was in charge of leading an effort to make improvements, improvements that had to be carried out by others. And so looking for ways to motivate people was a big part of it. The more I looked into why motivation would be considered overrated, the more the struggles I faced while leading this effort made sense. Yes, motivation provides a desire or willingness to do something; the problem is that the desire or willingness, that state of mind, is short lived so it needs to continue to be fed. Basically, a motivational state of mind is high maintenance and if you rely on motivation to get things done, you end up with unsteady results. Basically, if you were to graph things you get done over time, you would have spikes when you get motivated, in other words get a lot of things done, but if you don’t continue to feed that motivation you end up with drop offs when you lose that desire.

If we can’t rely of motivation, then what is the answer? This is where self-discipline comes in. The definition of self-discipline according to the Cambridge English dictionary is “the ability to make yourself do things when you should, even if you do not want to do them.” And so with self-discipline you no longer have to rely on motivation, and as you become more self-disciplined your desire will no longer be the limiting factor to get things done, but rather time itself.

To be clear, self-discipline is not a personality trait, it’s a skill. Yes, some people are naturally more self-disciplined than others, probably because of how they were raised, but anyone can learn to be more self-disciplined. However, do not expect to be able to just read one book, watch a video, or take a training class to become more self-disciplined. Self-discipline is self-confidence, it’s building good habits, it’s overcoming fears; and all these things take time to build. Herein lies the dilemma, the catch 22, you need self-discipline to become more self-disciplined. So what’s the solution?

If we compare self–discipline to motivation, you can say that motivation is good for accomplishing short term task like cleaning your closet which you’ve been off for months. For longer term items you need self-discipline. But what if we find a way to use motivation to become more disciplined? What if you identify what you need to work on, maybe it’s self-confidence, maybe it’s building certain habits; and you break those down into shorter term task and use motivation to start getting those tasks done one by one. And what I mean by using motivation is doing that thing that motivates you, and doing it on a daily basis, maybe it’s watching a certain video on YouTube, or reading a certain quote or article, whatever it is, you have to do it consistently. Yes, this is high maintenance, which goes back to the point being made by this post on motivation, but it will give you the boost you need to get started. Eventually as you build more self-confidence you will find yourself less dependent on this constant feed of motivation and be able to make the shift to the path of greater success!

Wait, we certainly can’t end it here as the most important part of how to get this started is missing. If we go back to the definition of self-discipline, “the ability to make yourself do things when you should, even if you do not want to do them”, it’s not enough to know what things you should make yourself do, you need to be clear on why you should do them. If you’re not clear on why you should be more self-disciplined, on what you’re trying to accomplish by doing so, you will struggle to keep moving forward regardless of how much motivational content you surround yourself with. As I’ve mentioned several times before on previous posts, to echo author Simon Sinek, “start with why”. This will give you your purpose and the fuel you need to keep moving forward.

Note: If you start searching on how to build more self-discipline in general, be wary of sources that provide you with step by step instructions. Since no one knows you better than yourself, only you, and maybe people very close to you, know what areas you need to work on. Identify what those areas are first then you can start looking at how to improve in those areas rather than in self-discipline in general.

Author's Bio: 

My name is Hector Lopez. I grew up in a small town in south Texas. I graduated with a degree in Manufacturing Engineering and work brought me to Houston where I have lived most of my adult life and currently reside with my beautiful amazing wife and two extraordinary sons.
I started my professional career working as a Manufacturing Engineer. Seven years into my career I took on a new role as a Performance Analyst. In this role I was challenged to change the culture of the work force to a culture of continuous improvement and this challenged me to change my entire way of thinking and put me on a new path. This led me to finding my true passion, becoming a student of human behavior. This also made continuous improvement become second nature to me and am always striving to find ways to implement what I learn as well as share it as a way of giving back to society.