I have used a lack of motivation as an excuse to prolong procrastination more times than I can count. Law school paper due next Monday–no “motivation” until Sunday (night). Dirty dishes in the sink–no “motivation” until there are no dishes to eat on. Decided to take up running–no “motivation,” period. It is a great excuse because there is little or nothing I can do about it. My lack of motivation usually stems from laziness or fear of failure. So I sit on my couch, doing nothing, waiting on the inspiration fairy to send me some motivation.
What I am really lacking is discipline. The difference? Well, let’s see what Merriam-Webster has to say about it.
Motivation: n 1a: the act or process of motivating b: the condition of being motivated c: a motivating force, stimulus, or influence
Discipline: n 4: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character 5a: control gained by enforcing obedience or order b: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior c: self-control
What I get from these two definitions is that motivation requires being acted upon, whereas discipline requires action. I can do something to become disciplined, but I need a stimulus or influence to be motivated. When I tell myself I need to be disciplined, I take emotions off the table. I am no longer waiting to “feel like it.” I am doing it regardless of how I feel.
Motivation comes and goes. Discipline can be cultivated. Motivation is fleeting. Discipline is about self-control and shaping your behavior. Cultivating discipline has a positive effect. Once you finish a task you have been putting off, you feel better. The more you discipline yourself, the better you feel. And with those good feelings come motivation to continue on this new path of discipline. Before you know it, discipline is backed by motivation. And you are one happy camper.
“Only the disciplined are truly free. The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites, and passions.” –Stephen Covey
I don’t want to downplay motivation too much though. A lot of times it is motivation that gives you actionable ideas. You get motivated to finally commit to a workout schedule, yay! But it is discipline that helps you keep going when your motivation wanes. It is discipline that makes you put your running shoes on when the motivation of yesterday leaves you high and dry today.
When cultivating discipline, it is important to attach good feelings to the task. Think about how good you will feel once you finish a run. Think how much more satisfying Parks and Rec will be if the house is clean. Think how proud you will be when you turn in a paper free of careless mistakes because you actually had the time to proofread it.
Here are some tips for cultivating discipline.
· Make a to-do list of 2-3 actionable items: This will be a tacit reminder of the things you need to do. And there is always the immense pleasure of checking an item off of your to-do list. I have several to-do lists. One is of daily tasks. These include yoga, meditation, and exercise among other things.
· Remove distractions: Log out of all of your social media accounts. It is an easy reminder that you need to stay on task. Having to physically login gives you a second to reassess your priorities. Do not allow yourself to watch TV until certain tasks are accomplished because no matter what you tell yourself just one episode of Parks and Rec (insert favorite show) is never enough.
· Make a decision upfront: Commit upfront. This makes the task nonnegotiable.
· Set a schedule and create a routine: Put the task on your calendar at a specific time. Work it into your routine. Every morning I follow a simple routine. I get up and make my coffee. I have a couple of sips while I read something funny, uplifting, or inspiring. I then do ten minutes of yoga (I love yogamazing’s morning flow) followed by a five minute guided morning meditation. Then, I take a shower and get dressed for the day. Before heading to work (time permitting) or starting on my work at home, I go for a fifteen-minute morning hike/walk. It is so natural to me now that I don’t even think about it.
· Constructive reminders and nudges in your environment: Setting a reminder on your phone or leaving your running shoes by the door are great reminders and gentle nudges. They reinforce what you know you NEED to do.
· Baby steps: Remember to take baby steps. Start out running one mile or working on a project for thirty minutes at a time. Build up your stamina slowly, and you are more likely to stick with the task.
· Acknowledge and reward your good decisions and actions: Give yourself a pat on the pack. Acknowledge the euphoria you feel after a good run. Reward yourself with a fifteen-minute break (time the break so it doesn’t get out of hand; make sure the reward promotes good habits instead of undermining them–i.e. don’t eat a cupcake as a reward for a run).
· Link your actions to good feelings: Don’t forget to link your positive actions to good feelings. Remember how good it feels to mark that item off your list. Remember the feeling of a job well done. Reward yourself for staying on course.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
This week pick one thing you constantly put off. That one thing you keep telling yourself you are going to do tomorrow until your lack of motivation puts it off another day. Write it down. Schedule a time to do it. Set up some reminders and gentle nudges. Then when the time comes, make yourself accomplish that task. Reward yourself for a job well done.
Do it again tomorrow and the next day until it becomes a routine. Cultivate discipline and stop being a moody, unmotivated cotton-headed ninny muggins.