Motivation is a tricky subject. People are motivated by different things—money, good grades, material objects, and adoration from peers. Motivational images, videos, and quotes are put on social media sites in the millions. At the time of writing this article, my search for #motivation on Instagram yielded 95,359,180 results. There is no doubt about the demand for motivation on social media, but how does it translate to everyday life? In my opinion, not very well at all.
I don’t mean to be overly critical of motivation. I just don’t think motivation is as big a factor to personal success as discipline.
Motivation Versus Discipline
The type of people who post motivational content are usually successful people who have a high standard of living—from fitness superstars like Steve Cook to entrepreneurial powerhouses like Gary Vee. In terms of the fitness market, the motivational people almost always have an aesthetic physique worthy of a magazine cover, and when we see these people we often have a sudden injection of motivation because we believe in that moment that we, too, can achieve that level of physique. This may well be true, but what is required in order to attain the level of success these people have is discipline, not motivation.
Do you think a great physique is built through a constant flow of motivation or a disciplined mindset?
Consistent exercise, the willingness to push beyond failure, staying on track with nutrition by tracking calorie intake, and making good food choices—all these things are driven by discipline.
The Trouble with Motivation
The main issue with motivation is that it is fleeting and unreliable. When the sun is shining and there is nothing but blue skies as far as the eye can see, you may get the motivation to go for a run. The nice weather has conjured up thoughts of you gliding along the road looking Baywatch-esque, people slowing down in their cars to get a longer look at a specimen like yourself gliding along the road. These thoughts disappear when you’re five minutes into the run, your legs are screaming, your lungs are burning, you slow down drastically, you consider adopting the fetal position, and when you eventually crawl home you don’t go another run for weeks. Why have you gone from a gliding Adonis to a crippled, aching mess? In my opinion, it is because you done something based purely on a fleeting moment of motivation from an external source, yet if you take the same situation but apply discipline it looks a lot different.
If you had the discipline to fit a run in once per week, and combine that with the fact it’s a nice day, you may set a personal best. This is where you will reap the physical rewards of consistent training. Discipline is the main factor in achieving success with anything from physique development to business. An occasional dose of motivation from your favorite sources is always going to be helpful along the way, but don’t lose sight of the key role discipline plays.
Start With a Small Dose of Discipline
You can start to work on your discipline by setting yourself a simple morning routine. You could start out with drinking a glass of water every morning followed by five bodyweight squats. Do this for one week. I know it sounds too easy, but that’s the point. Don’t dive right in by saying you are going to get up at 5 am, read two books, do a workout, and check the financial markets, because you will fail miserably. Progress from the glass of water and doing five bodyweight squats by adding some light reading or mobility work to your routine. Keep the progressions simple and experiment with a variety of things until you find a routine that suits you. This type of “discipline training” has the massively positive effect of starting your day with a sense of achievement.
As a fitness professional and life-long amateur athlete, people would often tell me that they wish they had my discipline (especially when they found out that I don’t drink alcohol but that’s another story). The truth is that until very recently my discipline really wasn’t that great at all. I was easily distracted when trying to do work, I often went overboard on food, and I had no daily routine to speak of. I was flying by the seat of my pants, as my Granny would put it, and because of this my productivity wavered drastically and some days were just complete write offs.
So how did I change this?
Discipline Is a Skill
When I made a conscious decision to improve my discipline, I researched habit cultivation and the psychology behind discipline. I learned that self-discipline is a learned skill, whereas before I believed it to be an innate characteristic. What I found was that the power of routine and the cultivation of discipline in your everyday life is essential if you want to perform at your best. On the surface, certain things may seem like a waste of time, however the effect that small behaviors and decisions have on the bigger things in your life is remarkable.
I had to identify my weaknesses and develop a clear plan for overcoming them. There is no rule book or direct diagnoses for certain habits, and there is a lot of trial and error during the process of cultivating discipline. I experimented with meditation, early morning exercise, listening to certain types of music, and various other things before I developed a routine that worked for me.
When you make discipline a priority your outlook on things completely changes. You will find that although your bed is warm and comfortable, getting up and starting your day is much more appealing than hitting snooze and rolling over. You will also find that although you could easily put away that whole tub of cookie dough ice cream, you are acutely aware of the impact that will have on your diet, so instead you have a controlled amount and stay on track. It is important to bear in mind that, whatever routine you decide on, it must be both enjoyable and productive. Taking the first part of your day to focus entirely on yourself has amazing effects. I enjoy doing breathing work and reading philosophy because it gives me a sense of physical and mental achievement as well as achieving good mindset to start my day. You may think that is total nonsense and instead choose to start your day with a nice coffee and journaling. No matter what you choose, ensure it is tailored to you and not just copy and pasted from someone else’s routine.
For example, try one of these ideas for a week and then progress as you see fit:
- Wake up at 7 am, drink a glass of water, and take a multivitamin
- Wake up at 6:30 am, drink a green tea, and read five pages of a book
- Wake up at 7 am, drink a glass of water, and use a meditation app
Stay Disciplined Through the Obstacles
When you begin your discipline training you will be highly motivated to develop a routine that turns you into a more disciplined person. The real test comes when obstacles try to derail you from your routine. Do you have an early morning meeting that doesn’t leave you any time to do your morning routine? Get up earlier and get it done. Do not allow external factors to dictate how well you adhere to your new disciplined routines. If you allow this to happen, you will forever be a slave to things that are not within your control. You cannot control the time of a meeting, but you can control at what time you get up—control what you can and adhere to your plan.
Once you have your morning routine set, then you can then move onto to other areas of your daily routine. This should follow the same framework as before. Start with something easy and then progress to tailor the routine to suit your needs. I started adding in an afternoon walk to my routine that got me away from writing for a short period of time, cleared my head, and made me more focused when I returned to work.
Regardless of what your goals are, you will be better off being more disciplined. The sooner you start, the sooner you will reap the rewards.