The Real Reason Motivation Sucks and Discipline Matters

I’ll start with a quote from Jocko Willink, the master of discipline. The following is taken from this candid podcast he did on the Tim Ferriss show.

Accomplishing your goals is not about motivation, it’s about discipline. – Motivation is fickle, motivation comes and goes. – Motivation is unreliable and when you’re counting on motivation to get your goals accomplished, you’re likely going to fall short. Don’t count on motivation, count on discipline! You know what you have to do, go make yourself do it.

Jocko has valid reasons for not trusting motivation. He points out that trivial factors, like hunger or fatigue, can affect it. If you depend on motivation to accomplish your goals, you won’t get very far. I experienced this when I decided that I’d like to get better at talking to girls. Nothing breeds talent like action, so I committed myself to consistently going out and talking to as many women as possible. 90% of the time I was a nervous wreck on the way to the club. I was scared of getting rejected and the social pressure. If all I had was motivation I would have failed. Thankfully, I was tapped into discipline, which got me to the club whether I felt like it or not. Now the prospect is magnitudes less scary and I can go out and talk to 20 or 30 girls in a night without thinking.

I’m sure you have a similar story. The desire to master a skill, look cool, become a better person, get laid more, make more money, whatever. Typically it’s motivation that gets us started but that motivation tends to disappear. When it’s 20 degrees and snowing, it’s not motivation that gets you to the gym, it’s discipline. Some more Jocko.

Everybody wants some kind of magic pill or some life hack, or something that eliminates the need to do the work. Well I will tell you what.. You need to do the work. – You have to make it happen yourself. It’s not going to happen on its own. Find the discipline, be the discipline and accomplish the goals.

We are the masters of our own fate. I’m reminded of another book that has shaped my life, The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. This remarkably well-reviewed book can be summarized in a sentence, success is the result of daily practice and incremental growth compounded over time. Success comes when you,

  1. Do something every day,
  2. Get incrementally better (in very small, 0.001% increments)
  3. Never quit

Becoming world-class might take ten or twenty years. Between the start and finish there’s going to be hundreds of days when you don’t feel like practicing. When motivation fails, you can use discipline to get in the hours.

Discipline and Life

I don’t think that discipline only relates to the accomplishment of goals, it pervades all aspects of life. For instance, you can apply discipline to spend less money or treat every person with respect. Disciplining yourself to do the right thing and be the bigger man is powerful. It’s the stuff that good leaders are made of. I’ll end this article by mentioning one of Jocko’s favorite quotes,

Discipline, now in mug form

Discipline equals freedom.

I interpret the quote in the following way. When you discipline yourself to do the hardest thing, whether’s that’s pushing your comfort zone or practicing every day, you enjoy the freedom to perform at the highest level.

What are your goals, what are you motivated to do? Are you depending on motivation? Have you anticipated all of the times that motivation will fail you, when you’ll need discipline instead?

These are good questions to ask. They’re universal too. It doesn’t matter if you’d like to surf twenty foot monsters or write a novel, sometimes there will be motivation, sometimes there will be none. The only thing you can really count on is discipline.

Interested in Jocko? Learn more here or by checking out his podcast.

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