Discipline still beats motivation, but can’t work without it.

(discipline – 5 minute read)

Hi there accounting fans!

It’s been a few years since I wrote about how discipline beats motivation. It was a piece I wrote at the start of my entrepreneurial journey. Back when getting started was hard and challenging. I’ve had a few years to ponder the lessons I learned then. More recently I’ve undergone both personal and professional challenges which have made me think about the importance of discipline in all aspects of life. More importantly, I’ve come to appreciate the power of motivation in helping keep discipline up.

Discipline wanes over time

An image of a curled bicep muscle that says 'discipline'. This is followed by a red arrow that points to a wilting bicep muscle that says 'discipline'

The first lesson I’ve learned is that discipline wanes overtime. I’ve always defined discipline as “The ability to do the things you don’t want to do, even though they are good for you,”. It’s a very shallow definition, but it has served me well over the years. For example:

“I don’t feel like making myself breakfast because I’m too lazy to get out of bed,” Gets out of bed anyway and makes breakfast, because – discipline!

“I really don’t want to write yet ANOTHER article for the blog. I’d rather play video games,” Still writes an article before playing videogames, because -discipline!

“I feel like waffling out on that client meeting because they’re so negative!” Still attends the client meeting with a big smile on my face, because – discipline!

Discipline is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. But just like a muscle, if you exercise it too much, it becomes tired and weak. Unlike physical muscles, discipline fatigue is less obvious. Most of us will experience it without even realising it. While practising discipline in all matters is important, making time to recover discipline is more important.

It can be impacted by external events

Over the past few months I’ve been struggling with a broken ankle. And I just recently came out of it and began a series of physiotherapy and acupuncture. Even though I’m working a desk job, the pain is still distracting. Initially I told myself to power through it and trust that it will get better. It is getting better but not as fast as I would have hoped. I can’t run and still walk with a slight limp.

This then created anxiety, which, combined with the constant pain would affect my discipline badly. It affected my work and my relationships with others. When you are in a situation like that, it is not enough to push through and be disciplined. I found that fighting to regain my discipline was exhausting.

There are many other examples of external events that impact it. A loss of a loved one, family discord and moving places can have a similar impact on discipline as a life-changing injury. If you have worked hard to build that muscle, losing it is quite frustrating.

Motivate your way back into shape!

Swole-Ma, a hijab wearing, ultra fit, super buff lady is yelling motivational slogans while holding a hailer. She is yelling at Ahmed, a Shaggy haired man with a stubble. He is wearing shorts and squatting while trying to lift a heavy looking barbell.

Motivation can come in many different forms. For me it was a chat with my wife, who pointed out that I was falling behind in my work and personal life. This made me evaluate my actions over the past few months. I picked up my old copy of 7 Habits by Stephen Covey and it helped re-align my goals. This then made me realise that my discipline had been failing. I knew I had to do something.

I rejigged the work schedule, knuckled down on client accounts and planned out content for the next few weeks. More importantly, I set about regaining that discipline that I had lost.

Motivation can come from other sources too.

Talking to a counsellor can help motivate you. Spending time with your loved ones can be motivating too. Turning on some sick beats (or power ballads) can be hella motivating as well! Find a healthy activity that gets you back in the groove, and then, maintain that groove.

Discipline still beats motivation.

Swolma sits on Ahmed's shoulders while he goes running. Showing his discipline, Swolma continues motivating him.

Still, discipline is more important than motivation. Motivation is a quick fix. A boost of energy to get you over. It’s not sustainable to maintain productivity or long term success on the back of motivation alone. You can’t be too dependent on motivation to get you through life.

Discipline is the core character skill that any entrepreneur needs to succeed. To that end, motivation is a great way to keep up your discipline. So when you feel like it is fading, take a break and motivate your way back to greatness!

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