Motivation vs Discipline: The Winner Is Clear

Motivation vs Discipline

Motivation vs discipline: which of these two will help you finally create the life you desire? Deep down you already know the answer to this, but we’re gonna talk about it anyway.

We all have dreams and aspirations for our health and wellness, but let’s be real, it’s often really hard to get off your butt and do what needs to be done to create the life you want. It would be great if you woke up every morning feeling refreshed and ready to conquer the day, but a lot of the time it’s so much easier to hit snooze and roll over.

Man waking up and reaching to snooze alarm on phone

Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “Motivation gets you started, discipline keeps you going.” On the surface, it sounds true but I would argue that it’s completely backward. I think, more often than not, discipline has to come before motivation if you actually want to get stuff done.

Let’s take a look at both of them and see which one you think is going to help you reach your goals. If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I just don’t have the motivation to do it,” then this article is for you.

Motivation vs Discipline

Motivation and discipline are two distinct concepts, although they’re sometimes used interchangeably. Or I should say, we often think we NEED motivation when what we actually need is discipline.

Motivation is the drive or inspiration that propels you toward your goals. It’s the emotional energy that inspires you to get up and get started. Motivation can come from within, or it can be external.

We often feel like we can’t start without the motivation to do so, but buying into this idea is only going to keep you stagnate and lazy.

Discipline, on the other hand, is the practice of doing what needs to be done, even when you don’t feel like it. It’s the ability to control your behavior and consistently follow through on your commitments.

Self-Discipline is about taking responsibility for your actions and making conscious choices that align with your goals.

One of them you have little control over. The other is completely within your control.

The Different Types of Motivation

There are two different types of motivation. It’s helpful to understand which type motivates you more, but it’s also important to cultivate more of one than the other. Let’s take a look at the two different types.

Colorful notes that feature the words Intrinsic Motivation and Extrensic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation

This is the motivation that comes from outside of yourself. Rewards, recognition, and incentives are all examples of extrinsic motivation.

Your boss offering a bonus if you hit a sales goal, or giving your toddler a couple of M&Ms if they pee on the potty. These are examples of extrinsic motivation. There is something outside of yourself that you want, so you’re motivated to do what needs to be done to get it.

In the health and wellness space, extrinsic motivation might be a cash prize for a “Biggest Loser” competition with your coworkers or allowing yourself the pizza on the weekend if you don’t cheat on your diet during the week.

While extrinsic motivation can be effective in the short term, it may not be the best form of motivation in the long run, especially when it comes to things like working out and eating right.

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the motivation that comes from within. It’s driven by a sense of personal satisfaction, enjoyment, or fulfillment.

For example, someone who loves to run might continue running because they enjoy it and it makes them feel good, as opposed to running because there’s a reward coming from somewhere else.

Intrinsic motivation is often considered to be more effective and sustainable than extrinsic motivation because it’s driven by personal interests. When you’re intrinsically motivated you’re more invested and engaged in the task because the motivation is coming from inside of you.

While intrinsic motivation tends to be more effective than extrinsic, it’s still not something you can rely on to always be there to keep pushing you towards your goals.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why.

The Flaws of Relying on Motivation

Motivation can be a fickle thing. One minute you’re feeling inspired and ready to take on the world, and the next minute, you’re feeling down and defeated. This unpredictability can make it difficult to rely on motivation as a driving force in your life.

Not only that, but life itself can get in the way of motivation. Work deadlines, family responsibilities, and everyday stress can all drain your energy and motivation levels, making it even more difficult to stay focused on your goals.

This is why relying solely on motivation can be a trap. It’s not something you can control or predict.

When motivation is high, it’s easy to make progress, but when it’s low, it can be a struggle to get anything done. This inconsistent pattern of behavior can make it difficult to maintain momentum and create lasting change.

That’s why it’s important to focus on developing discipline, which is a habit that can be built and sustained over time, regardless of fluctuations in motivation levels.

The Benefits of Discipline

So we know that discipline involves self-control so you can do what needs to be done to reach your goals. But let’s talk about a few things that self-discipline can help you achieve if you cultivate more of it.

White puzzle pieces with one piece in red that says "benefits"

Reduced Stress

When you’re more disciplined you get more done, which ends up reducing your stress because you’re not freaking out about all the things you still need to do. When discipline involves working out and eating better, these two things also help to reduce stress.

Better Sleep

When you’re disciplined you’re less likely to stay up late and more likely to go to bed at a decent hour so you can get the rest that you need to perform at your best the next day. An early morning workout is much easier when you have the self-control to go to bed at a decent hour and get a proper amount of sleep.

Improved Mental Health

When you’re disciplined, you’re less likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors and more likely to engage in activities that support your well-being and help you feel healthier, happier, and more fulfilled.

Improved Health and Wellness

Eating healthier and exercising regularly takes discipline and when you’re able to cultivate enough of it to make better decisions about what you eat and how much you move, your health and wellness improve.

So we know that motivation fades and that it takes discipline to realize our dreams, but how do we start to practice discipline to help us with healthy habit formation?

Green highlighter highlighting the word self-discipline

Strategies for Cultivating Discipline

Back to that quote I mentioned at the beginning: “Motivation gets you started, discipline keeps you going.” This isn’t always the case.

A lot of the time we just don’t have the motivation to get started. What we need is discipline to get started, and we need that discipline to continue long enough to start seeing and feeling the benefits of our actions. THEN we’ll have more intrinsic motivation to keep going.

Let’s look at some strategies to start cultivating more self-discipline so you can create more motivation and finally reach your goals.

Create Small/Achievable Tasks

I think this is the most important thing when you’re trying to practice having more discipline. Make your goals small. We often try to do more than we’re ready for.

Maybe your ultimate goal is to work out every morning before work. If you’re not already in the habit of doing that, the motivation to get up and do it is going to fade very quickly. When it does, set the goal of getting up and stretching for 5 minutes.

That’s it. You don’t have to work out, you just have to get up and stretch. What you’ll find is that it’s easier to get up when you know all you have to do is stretch. Once you start stretching, you’re often able to do a little bit more.

Before you know it, you’ve solidified the discipline to get up in the morning and start moving. Over time you’ll find it’s not as hard to start working out once you’ve gotten up and the endorphins that you get from the workouts are going to motivate you to keep getting up because you won’t want to miss out on that feeling.


DISCIPLINE LEADS TO MOTIVATION. Not the other way around

Find an Accountability Partner

Nothing makes discipline easier than having someone else counting on you to show up. Discipline can be hard at the beginning, so having a partner can make it so much easier to actually do what you claim you want to do.

Make a Plan

Computer that says "A goal without a plan is just a wish" and a framed pic that says "yes you can"

This is a no-brainer. Any goal we want to accomplish requires a plan. So do what needs to be done to set yourself up for success. Maybe you lay out your workout clothes the night before so they’re ready to go.

You could also set your alarm on your phone and put it charging outside of your room so you have to get up to turn it off.

Whatever strategies you think might help you cultivate discipline, make a plan of how you’re going to use them and follow it.

Have a Backup Plan

If you’ve read this far then you’re probably someone who has a tough time with discipline and even when you make a solid plan you might often choose to not follow it.

In that case, have a backup plan. If you’re trying to cultivate the discipline to get up and work out in the morning, but you’re still having trouble doing it, then have a plan for what you’re going to do on the days that you decide to be lazy.

Just because you don’t quite achieve the goal in the morning, that doesn’t mean you’ve lost the day. Decide what you’re going to do instead, so you don’t feel like a failure. When you have that backup plan, you’re still able to get something done, even if it wasn’t exactly what you hoped you would do.

By keeping the promise of the backup plan, you keep yourself accountable which can motivate you to keep pushing forward.

Again, discipline can create motivation.

Find some Grit

Look, a lot of the time you just have to have the grit necessary to make yourself do the things you don’t want to do. Grit is defined as – strength of character, courage, and resolve.

When motivation isn’t there, and discipline is wanting to hide out, grit can come in and get the job done.


Both discipline and motivation can help us create good habits that will help us reach our health and wellness goals, but one of them is much more powerful than the other.

While motivation is often seen as the main thing that we need to achieve our goals, it’s often fleeting and unreliable. What you really need is discipline so you get off your butt consistently and do what needs to be done to create success and achieve goals.

By developing discipline, we can create the conditions necessary for motivation to flourish.

Fit femail about to run through the country

One of the hardest things to do is to make yourself get up and get a workout in. But, if you can have the discipline to make the decision to get up and do it, eventually you’ll start to notice how much better you feel on the days you get some movement in, and THAT will start to motivate you to get up and do it more.

You don’t need motivation to get started, you need discipline. By taking control of your thoughts and actions and making conscious choices that align with your goals, you can build the discipline needed to achieve your dreams.

I can’t think of anything more motivating than that!

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