Motivation VS Discipline: 7 Differences & Why Discipline is Better

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There is often a sense of great joy and enthusiasm as we embark on a new endeavor.  We glimmer with pride as we stand before a sea of great possibilities.  We are fully convinced that the task we are about to undertake will bring significant results… and possibly even change our lives

And then, something happened to slow down our progress. We were bombarded with personal problems… such as family issues, a health scare or other outside forces beyond our control.   So now we are forced to make a choice to keep going, even after the enthusiasm is gone. We must decide to keep pushing until we see the results we believed we’d achieve in the first place. 

Every day, people start new projects based on innovative ideas… yet they don’t always see them through. Why?

Despite our beliefs, the major obstacle that stands between seeing those things come to fruition or not doesn’t lie in the adversity that we face – but rather on the discipline we must execute to see things through to the end.

What is Motivation?

Who doesn’t love to be motivated?  Motivation is the reason we behave or act a certain way.  In addition, it is our driving force that fuels us toward a particular outcome.  

Motivation comes from many different sources, but can be broken down into two categories:

  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Extrinsic motivation  

Intrinsic motivation is a desire that comes from within a person. It comes from a desire to be better at specific activities. It is often the forceful push many of us need to accomplish a goal in the most fulfilling way.  Intrinsic motivation can be incredibly powerful because it becomes woven into the fabric of one's identity, becoming an endless source of motivation. 

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Motivation is the reason we behave or act a certain way.

On the contrary, extrinsic motivation is inspired by outside forces, like those around us, or financial incentives, recognition, or rewards.  Additionally, extrinsic motivation can be derived from external activities that bring us enjoyment – such as playing an instrument, writing a song, or creating artwork.  External motivators can stem from validation from others, curiosity, and freedom from oppression.

Unfortunately, we can also feel unmotivated by the circumstances surrounding us.  If we are not careful, it can lead to negative self-talk, procrastination, lack of progress, and eventually giving up on our goals.

What is Discipline? 

Discipline or being disciplined is being able to work or act in a specific way while adhering to standards and guidelines that work toward success in a particular area.  It is a way to govern or train yourself to keep driving toward an outcome when your motivation for doing a thing runs out. 

If you are disciplined in pursuing anything, you can achieve it.  The ability of a person to discipline themselves (self-discipline) is the key to successfully achieving their goals in their career, health, diet, nutrition, relationships, and the list goes on and on. 

Studies show that a person's discipline habits can supersede their IQ regarding how they perform academically.  In fact, one might say that we are destined for mediocrity if we are not disciplined

The good news is that discipline can be learned through self-control and willpower that later turns into habits and eventually a way of life.  Below are a few attributes that highly disciplined people have to help them flourish personally and professionally.

  • They take care of themselves.

Highly disciplined individuals make better choices. They make decisions that guide them toward their long-term fitness goals.  For example, they may discipline themselves to get adequate sleep at night and avoid smoking, drug use, or other unhealthy habits.  They do this while pursuing a healthy diet and exercise regimen and complying with any health or treatment protocols set in place by their doctors.

  • They break larger goals into smaller ones.

Disciplined people understand that achieving smaller goals and celebrating success is critical to staying motivated and feeling happier throughout the journey to their goals. 

  • They flee temptation.

When sticking to a budget, diet, or project, disciplined individuals know how to exhibit willpower to stay on track with their goals. 

  • They require less handholding.

When disciplined, you don't need someone to micromanage or hold your hand through every step of the process. Instead, you will follow through on advice, orders, or guidance you have been given to achieve your goals. 

Motivation VS Discipline: 7 Differences & Why Discipline is Better

1. Motivation is great to help you get started, but discipline sustains you to be productive until your goals are reached. 

Tom was determined to rebuild his house after a terrible fire.  He spoke with several friends who encouraged him to do the work.  However, after clearing the place out and tearing the house down to the studs, Tom realized that the house had several problems.   

First, Tom noticed the house had cracks in the foundation and spent a lot of money and effort fixing it.  Later, he saw some of the wood studs for the house had termite damage and needed to be replaced. 

This caused him to lose the motivation to continue building.  However, since he is a man who loves to see things through, he kept working night and day until he finally rebuilt the house, and it looks better than ever. 

2. Motivation needs discipline to get difficult things accomplished. However, discipline doesn't need motivation to work toward our goals.

How many days have we got up in the morning feeling tired, sore, and unmotivated?  We know we should get up and start our morning exercise routine, but we have no desire to do anything but get back in bed. 

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Discipline is required for motivation to accomplish difficult tasks.

So, many days, our discipline to live a healthy lifestyle is what drives us to get up and work out anyway.  And we know that will only be accomplished if we do the work (exercise). 

3. Motivation is the catalyst needed to affect change.  Still, discipline is the rules, habits, and timeframe we follow to see that change happen.

Rebecca tried to motivate the students in her class by promising a pizza party for every student that finished with a B+ or better on their mid-term.  The test was 4 weeks away. 

While it was an excellent incentive for the students who performed well on the test, many of them needed more discipline to study consistently. And unfortunately, they either crammed the night before and did not score well on the test, or they didn't study and failed. 

4. Motivation is the desire to achieve a goal when it is desired.  But discipline drives you to do something when you wouldn’t do it otherwise. 

It was easy for Kris to show up for work early every morning and get her day started.  She was motivated to reach her career goals.  Kris wanted to be recognized for her hard work and be promoted to a leader in her department. 

However, she was passed over for the leadership position.  In her disappointment, she began to view her job as a dead-end job.  She even resented working there for the person they promoted instead of her. 

It took discipline for Kris to continue working for her employer and giving it her all while faced with disappointment and a lack of motivation.    

5. A motivated person is much more creative than a person only driven by discipline.

When we are solely driven by our discipline, we are often regimented and constrained by rules and time frames that we have for the goals that we set.  It usually requires a sense of focus, structured checklists, or strict guidelines. 

Conversely, when motivated, we have more freedom to be innovative.  We can let our creative juices flow, and as long as there are no significant setbacks and we don't get bored with the process, we'll stay productive until the end. 

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When motivated, we have more freedom to be innovative and also be creative.

Have you ever watched those home improvement shows?  There is usually a team consisting of a builder and a designer.  The builder is more disciplined, looking at budgets and focused on project completion timelines. 

On the contrary, the designer is motivated by how creative and state-of-the-art a place can look.  Unfortunately, they often feel discouraged by a limited budget, timeline, and labor restrictions to bring their ideas to light.

6. In American culture, we view motivation as encouragement and discipline as punishment.

Sara's daughter Lilly loves to run and play all over the house.  After an hour of playing with her toys, they are all over her bedroom floor, bed, hallway, and living room.  Lilly also loves to run and play outside with the children who live next door. 

Before Sara allows Lilly to go and play with the neighbors, she must first pick up her toys and put them back in the toy boxes where they belong.  This serves as an excellent motivator for Lilly to clean up her messes. 

One day, while it was storming outside, Sara hurt her toe on one of Lilly's toys left in the hallway.  As a result, she required Lilly to put up all her toys, and from then on, she was only allowed to play with them in her bedroom.  Her mother made this rule to teach her daughter some discipline and responsibility, but Lilly saw it as punishment.  

7. Motivation is the offensive line to gain ground toward our mission.  However, discipline serves as a defense against negative resistance. 

Katie dreams of playing in the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association).  She is an outstanding basketball player because she was always motivated and encouraged to play by her father. 

Katie has always been very gifted and the best player on all her teams throughout high school.  She even received All-State honors for girls' basketball in her state.  But after accepting a scholarship and playing basketball at the college level, Katie began to struggle. 

Her talent had only taken her so far, and now she wasn't sure if she wanted to keep playing or not.  She was once the best player on her teams, but now she was struggling to play well enough to receive any playing time.  Even the college's social media page called her a “flop.”

Fortunately for Katie, she had the discipline and mindset to be great, despite her negative experiences.  She began to lean on her coaches and follow their expertise.  Now in her final year of college, she is considered the top prospect for the WNBA draft.  Her disciplined attitude served as her defense when things got tough.

Final Thoughts on Motivation VS Discipline: 7 Differences & Why Discipline is Better

Motivation and discipline both serve a purpose. Yet, at the end of the day, there is little room to argue when we say that discipline is better

Motivation is like the wind; it comes and goes.   Simply put, feeling excited isn't enough.  And when the motivation is gone, the mission ends, and the project is left incomplete. 

With discipline, we find ways to keep going until we see success.   It is the determination, grit, perseverance, and passion in our hearts that become a way of life and makes us goal-oriented, not circumstantial, like motivation.

Still, when paired together, motivation and discipline can be a powerful force to reckon with!

Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.

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