Discipline vs Motivation

Before talking about discipline and motivation, I want to give you a quick update on the most recent 30 Day Challenge.  As many of you know I do periodic learning challenges in life and then write about them here at the site.  So far I’ve learned all the countries of the world, gotten SCUBA certified (followed by some amazing diving in Anguilla) and learned to make croissants with my wife.

My next challenge was to learn how to use a new presentation software called Prezi.  I’ve spent some time teaching myself to use it, with mixed results.  I have the basics down, but the presentations I have created so far are less than mind blowing.  Not only that, but my typical 30 day window has grown to about 90.  In today’s post, I go into a few of the reasons why this challenge has been less than successful so far and what key lesson we can learn from my struggles that will apply to any big goals we set in life.

Discipline vs. Motivation

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”   ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

As I thought about my struggles with the most recent challenge, I realized that there was a significant difference between it and the first three:  I actually wanted to do the first three!  For example, I had a desire to learn to SCUBA dive.  I practically skipped to the classes each week.  The same is true for the countries and croissants.  They were fun, interesting and things I wanted to do.  On the other hand, Prezi was something that I felt like I should learn so that I could communicate my ideas more effectively when presenting, but it wasn’t really something that I had a burning desire to do.  At the core it came down to a difference between discipline and motivation.

In my mind, discipline is consistently doing what you don’t really want to do, but know that you should.  Motivation is being impelled to do something that you actually want to do.  One is forced and the other is natural. 

Not surprisingly, I feel like we will all have more success in life if we actually focus on the things that we’re motivated to do rather than trying to find the discipline needed to overcome our lack of interest or desire.  Sure, there will always be a place for discipline.  It will help us eat right and get to the gym.  It will help us set aside for the future.  But we will be much more effective if we can actually focus our time and efforts on things that we’re already motivated to do. 

The more motivation you have, the less discipline you need.  The less discipline you need, the more likely it is that you’ll actually stick with it and accomplish what you’re trying to do.  So as you think about your own life, don’t litter your day with things that you’re not already motivated to do.  Focus on those things that you’re excited about.  And if you come across something that you need to do, but you’re not excited about, try to come up with ways to inject motivation instead of just discipline.  Find some friends to do it with you.  Make it into a contest.  Promise yourself some sort of reward.  Do that, and you’ll achieve more than if you just rely on willpower alone.

I’ll cue up the next challenge soon, but for now I want to finish up with Prezi.  My wife actually just learned to use it for a presentation that she needed to give.  I told her that if she teaches me everything she knows I’ll finally get around to that guest bedroom remodeling project I’ve been promising.  Hopefully, that will be all the motivation she needs.

How about you?  Are you running into roadblocks with your to-do list?  That could be a sign that you’re spending too much time focusing on things that you don’t actually want to do.  Life is too short for that.

~ Joe

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