Motivation vs. discipline: getting the most out of both

By Gabe Scorgie

10 min read

Motivation vs. discipline: getting the most out of both
Illustration by Maya Ramadhina

If you want to reach your goals, you need to be an overachiever. 

No, I’m not suggesting some unhealthy fast-track to get where you want to go. Instead, as the title highlights, the issue is motivation vs. discipline — and understanding they’re not always an either/or situation. Yes, at times they’re exclusive but not always. Which is why you need to be a bit of an overachiever. You want motivation and discipline in your arsenal, and you need to learn to hone and utilize them—both of them. 

Here's a little secret. If you’ve got a good handle on both motivation and discipline, you have the means to accomplish nearly anything you want. 

Sounds good, right?

Motivation vs. discipline: what are they? And why are they important?

Motivation could be described as the fuel that drives you. The spark that compels you to take action, whether in your personal or professional life. Sometimes motivation comes from within—and sometimes it’s an external force that motivates. 

For example:

  • Intrinsic motivation: This is when you’re motivated by internal factors, such as personal satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, or even the joy of just doing something you love.
  • Extrinsic motivation: This is based on external rewards such as a paycheck, recognition, praise, good grades, and more.
  • Social motivation: This is driven by a desire to fit in or be accepted. Peer pressure, family values, and even cultural norms can influence social motivation.

If we look at motivation in the context of a career, here are some other examples:

  • Passion for the work you do: Many professionals are motivated because they’re genuinely passionate about the work they do, making them more likely to excel.
  • Financial goals: Obviously, earning a good income can be a powerful motivator since it offers financial stability, enabling you to provide for your family and have a comfortable lifestyle.
  • Career advancement: Ambition and a desire to grow your career can motivate you to seek promotions or acquire additional qualifications.
  • Recognition and job security: Those who are motivated by recognition and job security often excel in their roles.

Discipline is the ability to control your actions, behaviors, and impulses, ultimately helping you to achieve specific objectives. This can involve setting rules, establishing routines — and then sticking to them even if you’re faced with challenges or distractions.

Here are a few aspects of discipline:

  • Self-discipline: This is your ability to control your actions and behaviors without external pressure. It requires setting clear goals, making a plan, and then sticking to them.
  • Time management: Discipline often involves the ability to manage your time effectively. This could mean prioritizing tasks, avoiding procrastination, and giving yourself enough time to achieve your goals.

Discipline is crucial if you want to achieve success in your career. Here’s how it applies:

  • Consistency: Discipline can help you maintain a consistent work ethic — meaning you show up on time, meet your deadlines, and consistently perform your best.
  • Skill development: As you probably know, if you want to progress in your career, it’s often necessary to develop your skills and knowledge. Discipline will ensure you set aside the necessary time for learning and improvement.
  • Professionalism: It often takes discipline to conduct yourself in a professional manner which could include maintaining a strong work ethic, always adhering to company policies, and handling any challenges you face gracefully.

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The importance of balancing motivation and discipline

Instead of thinking in terms of motivation vs. discipline, it’s better to recognize that the two have a symbiotic relationship.

If you want to achieve success and personal growth, it’s important to balance motivation and discipline. Motivation provides you with the initial drive and enthusiasm to start working towards your goals, but it’s discipline that ensures you stay on track and make consistent progress — even on those days when you’re not feeling so motivated.

This balance is crucial because motivation alone can lead to inconsistency, and it may not be enough to help you face and overcome challenges and setbacks. On the other hand, discipline will give you structure, time management, and the necessary determination to stick it out even when faced with obstacles.

Properly balanced, motivation and discipline can help you set and achieve meaningful goals while providing you with the ability to maintain your mental health. Finding this equilibrium can be your key to a successful career.

The pros and cons of motivation

It might be surprising to understand that motivation isn’t always all good. It can have both advantages and drawbacks when it comes to your performance and or well-being.

The benefits of motivation

  • Increased productivity: When you’re motivated, you tend to be more productive and more efficient when it comes to your work. You’re more likely to complete your tasks on time and with greater attention to detail.
  • A positive mindset: Motivation can enhance your overall mindset, ultimately promoting positivity, optimism, and a can-do attitude, all of which can be contagious and inspirational to others.
  • Personal growth: Motivation can encourage personal growth and development since it often pushes you out of your comfort zone, encouraging you to acquire new skills and knowledge.

The drawbacks of relying solely on motivation

As mentioned above, motivation isn’t always all good — especially if you’re relying on it alone. Here are some examples:

  • Motivation can be fickle: Motivation can depend on your emotional state or some external factor. So if you lose motivation, it can lead to a lack of follow-through when it comes to your goals and tasks.

For example, let’s say your motivation is influenced by recognition and rewards. If these external motivators are absent or change, you can lose your motivation. Additionally, if a goal becomes less relevant, your motivation to pursue it will likely decrease. Even a lack of progress can squash your motivation.

  • Motivation isn’t always constant: We’re often motivated at the start of a new project and then get another spurt when we see the finish line — when we’re almost done. But when we’re stuck in the middle, it can be similar to what I like to call Wednesday NeverEndsDay. Wednesday is limbo, and there’s no motivation in limbo!
    At the middle of a project, if you feel tired, stressed, or close to burnout, your motivation can decline. And without that spurt of adrenaline many get when their goal is in sight, you may not get your motivation back. 

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The pros and cons of discipline

There’s no question that there are several advantages to being disciplined, whether in your personal or professional life. But like motivation, discipline can have drawbacks as well.

Advantages of discipline

  • Self-control: Discipline involves self-control and the ability to resist immediate gratification for the sake of long-term benefits. It can help you make better choices and avoid impulsive decisions that could have potentially negative consequences.
  • Accountability: Discipline can make you more accountable. When you set goals and expectations for yourself, you also take responsibility for your actions and decisions, and this can lead to personal growth and maturity.
  • Better focus and concentration: Discipline can help you concentrate on tasks without being caught up in distractions. It allows you to stay focused on your goals and can lead to increased productivity and better results.

Potential downsides of too much discipline

You’ve probably heard it said that too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing. And that’s true with discipline. Being too disciplined or rigid can have several potential downsides.

For example:

  • Stress and burnout: If you relentlessly pursue a goal without allowing for relaxation and downtime, it can lead to chronic stress and burnout. Overworking yourself because of too much discipline can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health.
  • A lack of flexibility: Too much discipline can make you inflexible and resistant to change. You may end up struggling to adapt to unexpected situations or opportunities because you committed yourself to some strict routine or plan.
  • Reduced creativity: Many people who are overly disciplined find it challenging to think outside the box, making it hard for them to embrace creative or spontaneous ideas. Creativity often thrives in people who are more relaxed and open-minded.

The synergy of motivation and discipline


Again, it’s not about motivation vs. discipline. One or the other. Put the two together and you have a powerful combination that can significantly enhance your ability to achieve goals and excel in various endeavors. If you can manage to properly balance the two, they will complement each other’s strengths.

Here’s how motivation and discipline can complement each other:

  • Motivation sets the direction: It’s motivation that will provide the initial spark that gets you started on a task or goal. Essentially, it’s the initiator and the goal-setter.
    Discipline provides the structure: Once you’re going, thanks to your motivation, discipline will ensure you work consistently toward your goal even if motivation starts to dwindle. It will help you to effectively manage your time in ways that align with your goals.
  • Motivation inspires you: Motivation can fuel your passion and enthusiasm and may keep your energy and determination high even when faced with difficulties.
    Discipline ensures follow-through: If your motivation does dip for whatever reason, discipline can keep you on track, ensuring that you follow through on your plans by stepping in to provide structure and resilience when necessary.

  • Motivation fuels growth: It drives and inspires you to aim higher, encourages you to seek new challenges, and continuously improve.
    Discipline ensures balance: Discipline and self-control can help you make balanced decisions and avoid impulsive choices. Additionally, it ensures that you make time for self-care, preventing burnout.

Tips for finding the right balance

If you want to achieve your goals while maintaining your well-being, it’s important you find the right balance between motivation and discipline. This balance will be unique for everyone and may require some experimentation and adjustment over time.

Strategies for increasing motivation

If you need to work on your motivation, here are some suggestions. 

  • Find out why: Identify why your goals matter to you. If you’re able to connect your goals to your values and passions, you can increase your intrinsic motivation.
  • Create a vision board: Try visualizing your goals by creating a vision board that has images and words that represent your aspirations. Keep it somewhere where you can see it daily so that you’re constantly reminded of what you’re working toward.
  • Use positive affirmations: Set the negative self-talk aside and replace it with positive affirmations. Keep reminding yourself of your capabilities and the progress you’ve made to date.
  • Visualize your success: Take a few minutes every day to imagine yourself successfully achieving all of your goals. This visualization can increase your motivation and self-confidence.
  • Celebrate your achievements: Big or small, celebrate your accomplishments. Rewards, recognition, and self-praise can reinforce your motivation.

Techniques for building discipline

Put your hand up if you have loads of motivation but little discipline. (Waves both hands!) Right, so there are lots of us. The good news? All is not lost. 

Here are some effective techniques for developing and strengthening discipline:

Establish a routine: Creating daily or weekly routines around your goals will create consistency in your schedule and help you build discipline over time.

Develop self-control: Learn how to say no to distractions, how to delay gratification, and resist making impulsive decisions.

Set deadlines: Assign a specific deadline for each task or project you undertake. This creates a sense of urgency which can encourage discipline by providing structure and accountability.


Instead of thinking of motivation versus discipline — an and/or situation — you need to learn how to balance the two. Remember that it’s motivation that gives you the initial drive and enthusiasm, but it’s discipline that offers the structure and determination you’ll need to maintain consistent progress, even when your motivation begins to fluctuate.

It’s motivation that will inspire you to set meaningful goals and envision a desirable outcome. On the other hand, discipline breaks these goals into manageable steps and helps you stay the course with focused and consistent effort.

It can take some time to instill the qualities of motivation and discipline. And it will take even more time to learn to balance them — in a way that works for you, not someone else. 

Expect setbacks and learn from them. Celebrate achievements. Embrace a growth mindset. Get a handle on those things, and over time you’ll strengthen your motivation and discipline. The more you practice them, the better you can harness the full potential of each, helping you to achieve your goals without losing sight of your well-being.


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Gabe Scorgie

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