Motivation vs Discipline: Which Do You Need To Succeed?

motivation vs discipline

Motivation vs Discipline: Which Do You Need To Succeed?

As a freelancer, entrepreneur, or business owner, finding ways to constantly move your efforts forward is crucial to success. But pushing through rough days, tough customers, and insurmountable obstacles isn’t as simple as telling yourself to “just do better”.

Two key ingredients to getting more work done have long been used by success minded leaders: motivation and discipline. But which one is more important to focus on? Which one will help you more when the chips are down? Let’s take a close look at the debate of motivation vs discipline to decide who comes out on top.

What Is Motivation?

Before we can really gauge the differences between motivation and discipline, we have to know what they are. Scientifically, motivation is defined as a person’s desire to take action to achieve or get closer to a specific goal.

The more motivated you are, the more likely you are to do things that make your goal become a reality. A very simple example is hunger. When you are hungry, you are motivated to eat food. So most people will get up off the couch, raid the fridge, and find some sustenance.

Motivation has even been shown to increase our ability to learn. If a child is highly motivated to learn to play piano, they will get more out of their lessons than a child who is forced to learn by their parents.

So, it would seem that motivation does play a vital role in finding success in entrepreneurship. If you aren’t motivated to grow your business, you are less likely to do the things that you need to do in order to succeed. When the motivation to binge on Netflix outweighs the motivation to answer emails and fulfill orders, you could find yourself in deep water.

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What Is Discipline?

While motivation is an emotion, discipline is a more permanent quality that isn’t subject to the same ebbs and flows. Discipline is your ability to do the thing that needs to be done, regardless of how you feel about the task.

Getting out of bed every day even though you feel like sleeping in is a primary example of discipline. Likewise, sticking to your workout schedule even though you had an awful day is the action of a disciplined person.

In other words, discipline is your ability to use your willpower when you need it most. Numerous studies have shown that stressors in life can tax our willpower and make it harder to do the right thing. That’s why it’s harder to stick to your diet at dinner time if you’ve been tempted by junk food and sweets all day.

Motivation vs Discipline: Who Wins?

So now that we have a better idea of what our two contenders are, let’s try to settle the motivation vs discipline question.

We’ll start by pointing out that motivation by itself is fickle. It comes and goes like any other feeling. Certainly there might be triggers that cause you to feel unmotivated, just like there are triggers that make you feel happy, sad, or angry. Having a week of bad sales, for example, may tank your motivation and make it harder for you to get back at it the next week. But even though you can do your best to avoid these triggers, no one is going to feel motivated every single day.

Discipline, on the other hand, is more like a muscle. It takes time to build, and it takes time to wear down. If you’ve developed rock hard abs and bursting biceps through years of lifting, you aren’t going to lose all that muscle just by missing your workouts for a week.

Discipline works the same way. It is a mental muscle that you build up over time.

Imagine a freelancer who has spent 6 months developing the disciplined habit of waking up at 5:00 AM every day to clear their inbox. Even if they have a bad week of sales and are feeling completely unmotivated to push forward, they will probably still wake up early every day to answer emails because they have made a habit of it.

Their discipline pushes them forward when their motivation fails them.

So, while both motivation and discipline are important to succeeding in business, we put discipline on top because if you cultivate it well enough, it should serve you every single day.

How To Cultivate Discipline

We’ve written elsewhere about ways to keep yourself motivated, so let’s take a quick look at how you can start building up your discipline.

Use motivation as fuel for building structured discipline. Steve Kamb, entrepreneur and founder of Nerd Fitness, points out that you can’t rely on your motivation to take action because sooner or later, the motivation will burn away. Instead, he suggests using your moments of peak motivation in order to create routines that will build up your discipline.

For example, if you are feeling super motivated to cut your turnaround time in half, you may be tempted to just ride that high and work extra fast (until, of course, your motivation burns out). Instead, use that energy to re-work your schedule or train a new assistant so that you can make a habit of delivering work faster.

Build habits in baby steps. If you know that your business will benefit from you rising at 5:30 every morning, fight the temptation to jump right into the practice. Instead, consider working up to it slowly. For example, if you wake up at 7:30 right now, try setting your alarm for 2 minutes earlier every single day.

You won’t notice any immediate difference, but after a few weeks you will have added a significant amount of time to your morning. And you’ll have developed a disciplined habit that will be much easier to stick to than if you had just gone cold turkey.

The same goes for any type of habit you want to build.

Recognize obstacles as gateways to success. If succeeding as a freelancer was easy, everyone would be doing it. Just like you can’t run a marathon without overcoming obstacles, you can’t build a business with your fair share of setbacks.

If you prepare yourself ahead of time to see these hurdles as a necessary ingredient of success, it will be much easier to muster your discipline when they do strike. It is in the very act of pushing through difficult times that your discipline grows.

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Motivation and Discipline Play Well Together

In the end, discipline is more important because it is what you need to show up and get work done, day in and day out. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not also important to keep yourself motivated. Everything is better when you can feel motivation surging through you.

So the answer to the question of motivation vs discipline isn’t as simple as black and white. When the two play well together, that’s when you’ll find true success.