9. Discipline > Motivation

As a leader, you’re counted on to lead others and help your team reach their goals, but how often do you lack the motivation to lead your self? Welcome to episode 9 of The Heart of a Leader! What do you do when you have something you’ve committed to do but just can’t find the motivation to do it? In this episode, we’ll discuss why discipline is greater than motivation. At the end, I’ll offer you four bits of advice to help you find motivation and stay disciplined when the motivation isn’t there. But first, I have a confession to make…

I Wasn't Motivated to Make This Podcast

I hope you don’t mind me being transparent here. You see, when it came time to record this podcast for you, I really didn’t want to do it. It’s not that I don’t like recording podcasts for you; I do. I love creating content that helps you break free from the world’s idea of “success” so you can be the leader you were created to be. I just wasn’t motivated at all to sit down and be creative. There are so many other things clamoring for my attention:

  • I’ve got the house to myself, so I could finally watch some TV episodes that I actually like instead of Clifford The Big Red Dog or Daniel Tiger…

  • My friend, John, lended me his beautiful bass guitar that I’d love to get my hands on…

  • And I’ve been fighting allergies and this Benadryl is definitely telling me to take a nap.

Do you understand where I’m coming from? The motivation just isn’t there. But yet, here I am! So, what happened? Sometime last year, I was watching a documentary and the star was wearing a T-shirt that really resonated with me. It was a black shirt with white font that simply read “Discipline > Motivation”. That idea completely blew me away. Whoever wrote that shirt is completely correct.

Here’s Why

Motivation is a feeling and feelings are fleeting.

When you feel motivated, you better get to work. When you think that a run would be nice, go for a run and enjoy it. When you have a flow of ideas, sit down and write them out. Because those moments are a gift. They’re not business as usual. One of my absolute favorite motivational speakers was Zig Ziglar. He used to say,

“Of course motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.”

On those days, like mine today, where you don’t feel motivated, you need to revisit your ‘why’ to try and get motivated. If you haven’t clearly defined your ‘why’, or you’re not familiar with the concept, I highly encourage you to read through Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why”. Simon teaches that your ‘why’ is your purpose, cause, or belief. Your why guides your actions. It’s the first thing you should consider before starting that company, launching a new product, or creating a podcast. Everything else you do and how you do it gets filtered through your ‘why’. But let’s say you revisit your why, you read your purpose statement, look at your goals, and the newest episode of Superman & Lois still looks desirable… what do you do? Your ‘why’ may have reinforced your purpose, but it may not have give you those fantastic feelings of inspiration. That’s where discipline comes in and picks up the slack.

Discipline is simply doing what you said you would do.

You know what I did when the Benadryl started to make my couch look like the Ritz Carlton? I went downstairs, poured myself a cup of coffee, and started writing this podcast for you. Why? Because it’s podcast day and that’s what I said I would do today. My ‘why’, the purpose statement for my business, it guided the creation of my goals and daily practices. But it doesn’t always give me energy when my boots hit the ground. That’s what discipline is for. Going back to the running example… you may have sat down one day and determined that you want to be fit enough to play with your kids without running out of breath. Or that you wanted to take care of the body God gave you so that you can still show up and add value to the world well into your 80s or 90s. If that’s the case, you’ve clearly identified your ‘why’. But there will be mornings where you didn’t get as much sleep as you would have liked and the snooze button is so convenient. Or you look at the weather and see that it’s a little too cold for comfort. What do you do then? If you choose to be disciplined, you put on your shoes and go for a run. Why? Not because you’re motivated by being healthy for your kids, but because it’s 5:00 AM and you said you’d run. That’s discipline. In his book “The Practice”, Seth Godin specifically speaks to people doing creative work, but I believe his lessons apply to anyone, especially leaders. He references Marie Schacht when he writes,

“...we can’t always do much about how we feel… but we can always control our actions. Your work is too important to be left to how you feel today. On the other hand, committing to an action can change how we feel. If we act as though we trust the process and do the work, then the feelings w ill follow. Waiting for a feeling is a luxury we don’t have time for.”

I imagine, after he finished writing that paragraph, Seth just dropped his pen like a microphone.

Here’s the funny thing about motivation, it’s often a symptom of action, not a cause of action.

And it doesn’t take much action. In “Atomic Habits”, author James Clear recommends optimizing your habit or routine for the starting line, not the finish line.

“Make it as easy as possible to get started and get your reps in, often the outcome is just a natural result.”

Now, of course James is specifically teaching about how to become a better version of yourself over time by creating hew habits, but I believe the concept of making things easy to get started applies for us here as well. When there are those moments where you’re unmotivated, make it as easy as possible for you to take action, any action. Because action begets action. So, if you want to get motivated, get moving.

Motivation isn’t needed for doing easy things; it’s for doing hard things.

And I’ve found that nothing worth doing is easy. It’s the challenges in life that help us grow. So, if you find yourself struggling to stay motivated, let me leave you with four bits of advice:

1. Start with Why

Like I mentioned earlier, begin by digging in and doing the heart work necessary to determine your purpose. Pray about it. Get clear. Write it down. That way you can revisit it regularly and use it as a filter for all of your goals and daily habits. A quick side note: it’s entirely possible that, after getting clear on your purpose, you may still not want to do that thing that you lack motivation for. If that’s the case, ask yourself if that task, whatever it is, is really something you want to do. For example, as hard as I tried, I really don’t like running. I don’t think I ever have. So, I quit trying to get up and run at 5:00 every morning. That doesn’t mean that I just resigned to be a fat-boy for the rest of my life. I still desire to be healthy for my kids and steward this body God gave me. You know what works better than running? I bought a bicycle. I find biking a whole lot more enjoyable, so I do it more. My ‘why’ was clearly defined and didn’t change. I simply changed my ‘how’ from running to biking. I’m not perfect, by any means, but I’m a whole lot better now than I used to be. Life’s about progress, not perfection.

2. Make it easy to get started

If you find that there are some things in your life that you regularly struggle to get motivated for, make it easier for you to do it. For example, I’ve been playing bass for 16 years or so. I’ve noticed that, instead of growing and becoming a better bassist, I’ve been relying on just being good enough. So, in order to get better, I’ve decided to play bass 30 minutes a day. If my bass was locked up in its case in the closet, out of sight and out of mind, I probably wouldn’t practice nearly as much as I said I would. It would be a whole lot harder to follow through. You know what I did? I placed it on a stand right next to the desk in my office. Right now, I can reach behind me and grab it. Everything is set up and ready to go. That makes it a whole lot easier to stay disciplined even when I’m not motivated. So, what’s that thing you struggle to do on the regular? How can you change your environment and make it easier for you to get started?

3. Give yourself a simple, easy to reach goal

Okay… I know your goal is probably something substantial. Let’s say you’ve set a goal to run three miles every morning. Sometimes, the goals we set can be so big that they become demotivating by their existence. The goal itself is so overwhelming that we never achieve it. So, instead of committing to run three miles every morning, what if you just commit to putting on your running shoes and going outside every morning? I know it doesn’t sound like much, but here’s what I’ve seen happen. When you step outside, you think to yourself, “well… I’ve come this far… I might as well run.” The motivation succeeds the action. Today, I just decided to sit down and start writing something… anything. And guess what! The ideas started flowing and here I am talking with you.

4. Give others permission to hold you accountable

I’ve got some bad news… you’re still not always going to be disciplined and follow through 100% of the time. But if you’ve told other people what you’ve committed to, or they’re counting on you for something, it tends to give you just the push you need to follow through. When you lack internal motivation, having skin in the game is a good way to have some external motivation. Pro tip: you don’t necessarily have to tell the whole world or post it on social media for all to see. Even just telling your spouse or a best friend is enough to give you the boost you’re looking for.

Just D.W.Y.S.Y.W.D.

So, start with your why, make it easy to get started, give yourself a simple goal, and give others permission to hold you accountable. If you do those four things, I believe you’ll find it a whole lot easier to stay disciplined and do what you say you will do.

I Can Help You

You weren't designed to go through life alone. It's okay to ask for help when you're trying to grow and reach new levels. If your goal is to lose some body fat or set new personal records, hire a fitness coach to help you. If you're trying to be more disciplined so you lead a life you love, let's talk. I love helping leaders redefine success on their own terms so they can be the leaders they were created to be. Simply click the "Let's Talk" button below to schedule a free discovery call.

If you're not ready to get coached, follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.

* Cover image photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash