Tell me if this sounds familiar.
You are on a roll. You are making things happen left, right and centre. You wake up and are drawn out of bed by the promise of things to come. You are in a perpetual state of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defined as ‘Flow’.
Then you wake up the next morning and everything has changed.
You can barely get out of bed. You hit snooze at least twice. The simplest tasks feel insurmountable. Every interaction is filled with fear and self-doubt. All you want to do is stay in bed and forget about life.
Objectively, not much. Your world was largely unaltered from one day to the next. You spoke with the same people, went to the same places, and probably did the same things.
So why the difference?
Your mindset changed. In particular, your levels of motivation.
Many people I work with seek more motivation to achieve their goals. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, the further I have delved into the world of motivation (as much for myself as for my clients), one thing is becoming clear to me.
Motivation is like empty carbs. It gives us a quick hit of energy, but burns itself out very quickly. Discipline, on the other hand, is our protein — slower to break down, and so keeps us going longer.
This is not an article about how motivation is meaningless, but rather about how motivation alone will not get us very far without a good portion of discipline on our plate alongside it.
Motivation = Carbs
We can all agree that motivation is defined as the drive we need in order to do something. Sales leaders the world over motivate their teams (predominantly) with money. Sports teams are usually motivated by glory. Parents are hopefully motivated by their children current and future wellbeing.
High quality motivation is a highly articulated and profound answer to the question “Why do I want this?”
For me, your motivation is your ‘why’. It is the what the reward you are working for will bring you that you currently lack.
Sure, money is good, but why do you want that money? What will you use it for? ‘Money’ is unemotional. ‘Financial Freedom’ is compelling. ‘Providing for your family’ is profound.
Understanding your why is important, but so is knowing the limitations of that source of motivation.
After all, the vision of financial freedom for you and your family is noble, compelling and hugely motivating. But when it’s 5:00am on a Monday morning in January and everyone’s needs are taken care of in the short term, that vision feels very, very far away. And that snooze button is very close at hand…
Your environment can rob you of your motivation too. You can be feeling the buzz progress all through the morning, until you get that one snotty email and for the rest of the day you‘re counting the minutes until you can collapse and binge on Netflix.
This is why I think about motivation as the mindset equivalent of carbohydrates in a meal. It tastes good, it is fun to eat and deeply satisfying — but only for a while. It burns out almost as quickly as it comes in, making for a fickle friend for the long haul.
Discipline = Protein
That’s where discipline comes in. Discipline is the self-control, organisation and determination to keep going day in, day out, at your chosen endeavour. It is cold, boring and unrewarding short-term, but will be what gets you there long after the initial burst of motivation has disappeared.
Discipline, not motivation, is what gets you out of bed on that cold January morning.
Discipline gets you through the rest of your day productively after that snotty email came in and gut-punched your motivation.
Discipline is boiled chicken breast. Unappealing in the moment, but gives you that six-pack in the long-run.
In their #1 New York Times Bestseller, “Extreme Ownership” Jocko Willink and Leif Babin go as far as to say that ‘discipline equals freedom’.
In their view, if you have the discipline to eat healthily through the week, you have the freedom to indulge on a special occasion ‘guilt free’ and still be in great shape.
Everything in moderation
Let me be clear; motivation is very important. We need that ‘boost’ to decide how to invest our time and energy.
Motivation is the starting pistol, the ignition, the green light.
But we need discipline to follow through, because that initial burst of energy we get from being motivated quickly burns out. We need both protein and carbohydrates for a balanced diet that sustains us.
So what now?
Everything we do, and how effectively we do it, starts with the right mindset.
The first step to real motivation is to properly define and understand it in your mind. Ask yourself these questions:
“Why do you want what you want? What will it bring me?”
The second step is to take a look at your levels of discipline. Think about a time that you showed real self-control — how did you develop it? What helped to to stay the course? What made you give up?
Here are a few ideas for further exploration into motivation and discipline that have helped me:
- “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” . Simon Sinek’s TED Talk is an incredibly insightful argument about how understanding and articulation your ‘why’ makes all the difference.
- “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Among other valuable lessons, this book is a masterclass in self-discipline and holding yourself to the standards you set for yourself
- “The Progress Principle” by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, for a look at how to keep going when you’re on a roll and use small wins to propel you forwards. Particularly valuable for team leaders.
As with most endeavours in life, the real key is self-awareness. If you can figure out what really motivates you, what makes you stick with it, and what tempts you give up, the battle is half won.