Motivation vs Discipline

Remember Why You Started Sign Sitting on Shelf

Have you ever woken up and just couldn’t get motivated to do the things that were most important for you? We all feel a lack of motivation at times.

So why do some people seem always to be delivering great work?

How are they keeping themselves motivated all the time?

The reality is that you see the results of a person’s actions and ignore everything that went behind getting those results.

When you read a Medium article with 10K claps, you are missing the eight days that went into writing that article.

  • The YouTuber with 400K subscribers.
  • The marketer with the 10,000 email address list.
  • The one-person SASS company with $35K in monthly revenue.

Motivation didn’t get them there. Discipline did.

Discipline Creates more Results

When you are watching a YouTube video and you look down and see it has 138,544 views. You think to yourself, “The video is only 4 minutes long. Why is this so popular?”

The reality is the creator spent hours, and perhaps even days on those 4 minutes. You are seeing the best 4 minutes they could deliver. They cut every unnecessary second they could.

Motivation made the YouTuber start the channel, but discipline kept him creating videos when they only had 7 subscribers.

Most writers and marketers know that long-form content performs better than short posts. However, many of them feel a 3500-word article takes too long to write. They are trying to write the article in a single “motivated” sitting.

Your content will be 10x better if you write 30 minutes each day than if you wrote for 8 hours in a single day.

Salespeople often get sent to sales seminars and motivational speeches. The goal is to get them pumped up, fired up, and super excited!

They come back and give 142% for a week, maybe two. Then the salesperson hits a wall. The wall can come in the form of burnout or simply a string of rejections.

They are now lacking in motivation.

Discipline would have kept them going.

Let us try a different approach with our unmotivated salesperson. Tell them to talk to 5 people on the phone or on Zoom today.

They shout back, “I can talk to 50 people today!”

“I know”, you say, “but just talk to 5 today. 5 tomorrow. And 5 the next day.”

They make the calls, have some successes each day and some failures. The difference is it’s consistent. They have an expectation of input vs output.

Next week they can start making 7 calls a day if they remain consistent. If they fall below the new baseline any day, you need to reduce the quota.

The salesperson is learning the most valuable lesson in selling.

Consitency = Results

Motivation without Action = Failure

I used to be a motivation junkie.

I would watch over an hour of motivational videos on my train ride to work every morning. Then I would get to my desk and do busy-work for an hour.

I felt ashamed all the time and wondered why I wasn’t taking the action steps that I knew were necessary.

I was lying to myself that I was actually doing something. Watching motivational videos are not doing anything. They are slightly above watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother (really good show).

Imagine if I had spent half that time on the train doing ANYTHING productive? Even 10 minutes each day would have made a difference.

10 minutes a day with an average of 252 working days is 2520 minutes or 42 hours. What would you do with 42 very focused hours?

Motivation is like a drug given to you to work hard on something for a short period.

When the drug wears off you crash. Now you need more “motivation” to keep you going. The more external motivation you get, the more you need it to keep you going.

How do we allow ourselves to get into this cycle? By itself, motivation is good for us. It drives us to improve our lives in important ways.

External Motivation vs Internal Motivation

Ask yourself what you want. I mean what you REALLY want.

Every time you are motivated to work on something other than what you want, it’s due to External Motivation. Why else would you be motivated to work on anything you don’t want?

External motivation is so influential, that we end up working for years on things we don’t care about. People are very motivated to get a raise or promotion at a job they don’t even like.

Sounds crazy? It’s Normal.

External motivation is when any person who isn’t you, tells you how great something would be if you did X to get Y. You are then motivated to go do X to get Y, even if you never cared about Y before.

Internal motivation is when you decide yourself that you want to achieve X. Notice the difference? There is no Y. You are motivated to achieve your goal because that’s your goal. Everything else is a RESULT of the goal.

Let’s look at some real world examples of each:

External Motivation

John sees that YouTube is a growing platform. He talks to his boss about doing videos for the platform. His boss says if you get 50,000 subscribers by the end of the year, he’ll get a big bonus.

John is fired up, posts dozens of videos within the first couple of weeks. After a few weeks, he only has a few hundred subscribers. He talks to his boss and they decide to cancel the YouTube channel.

Internal Motivation

John sees that YouTube is a growing platform. He wants to start posting videos for his company and make it a serious marketing channel. John’s goal is to have 20,000 subscribers one day.

John posts a few videos in the first week. Some do better than others and his subscribers don’t grow. He analyzes which videos did better than others and why. He tweaks the format and keeps experimenting with his videos.

Two months later, he has crossed the 1000 subscriber mark and two months after, he has gotten the channel to 7000 subscribers. 20,000 seems like just a matter of time now, and John starts to set his sights on even bigger goals.

Small Efforts with Big Rewards

Motivation is about creating the big splash.

Discipline is about making it rain.

It’s fun to make a big splash, but you can’t do it every day and the waves don’t last forever. You need to become a bringer of rain.

Some people create a big splash early on and it can hurt their life and career. They spend all their time trying to recreate the big splash because everything else seems insignificant.

People that make small efforts every day get rewarded slowly but more consistently. Their actions get continually reinforced as they see small successes. They learn closely what works and what doesn’t.

Once they get a big splash, they know that it was a result, not an action.

Small actions do not need to be limited to your side-hustle. You can use them in your family life, financial life and even your day job.

As a software developer, I have worked on less than perfect coding projects. I was once working on a project where the code had gotten a little out of control. I didn’t know where to start working on it to clean it up.

During lunch, I complained about the code to my friend who was a senior developer at another company. He gave me a piece of advice that changed my view of software development forever.

Try to make 2 small changes to the code each day. If you make 2 small improvements every day, you’ll have 700 new pieces of code at the end of the year.

I haven’t had a problem tackling any coding project since that day. Since I always approach software projects now with a “can-do” attitude, I’ve gotten the bigger projects and my software career took-off.

There is a reason that motivational books and videos fly-off the shelves.

Motivation feels good.

We want to be motivated. We think that getting motivated is going to give us the energy to solve all our problems.

The truth is that discipline will solve more of your problems than motivation ever could. Discipline keeps you going every day when you don’t have the energy to keep going. Discipline drives results.

Motivation keeps you up one night till 3 am working on your project.

Discipline has you up at 5 am every day working on your project.

Disipline is sustainable. Motivation is not.


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