Adding Discipline to Passion

Muhammad Ali - I hated every minute of training

In a recent article, I stated that motivation is overrated. The premise of the entry was quite simple. Rather than constantly seeking out new forms of motivation, it’s useful to instead cultivate the discipline necessary to work even when you aren’t in the mood. In other words, it’s not enough to just work hard when you are motivated. Successful people also have the discipline to work hard at the tasks that they don’t enjoy.

Although few will deny the importance of discipline, there appears to be some confusion regarding its relationship with passion. I’ve received several questions since sharing the article last week. For instance, one person asked whether discipline is necessary if an individual enjoys his or her work. Similar comments were also posted to the blog. With that in mind, I believe a brief follow up is warranted.

The Best of Both Worlds

Throughout this site’s history, I have repeatedly highlighted the power of passion. It is a tremendous feeling to be passionate about the work that you perform. What some fail to realize though is that a passionate person is still a person. Human beings are emotional creatures. We all experience ups and downs.

Just because you are passionate about something doesn’t mean that there won’t be times when you don’t feel like doing what needs to be done. Using myself as an example, I’m genuinely passionate about the work that I perform. I enjoy training as well as the career that I’ve chosen. My passion doesn’t negate the significance of discipline however. There are certain tasks that I don’t enjoy performing, but I do them anyway. I don’t rely on passion or motivation to get these jobs done. It’s work ethic and discipline that keep me going.

I. Business Example

As I’ve stated before, there are several parallels between entrepreneurship and training. The world of fitness and business are both marred with deception. One example is the idea that there is a perfect career waiting for you. Unfortunately, there’s nothing perfect about any career.

Regardless of how passionate you are about your work, there will always be tasks or people that you’d rather not deal with. It’s not enough to just do what you enjoy however. To succeed in business, you must tackle each task with the same enthusiasm.

After a long day of training athletes, there’s been many nights when I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about answering the slew of emails that filled my inbox. I do so anyway. Even this particular blog entry was started at 11PM. The 5AM workout that started my day was a long time ago. Once again though, it’s not enough to just do the things that I feel like doing. Running a business isn’t all fun and games.

Yes, I’m passionate about my career as a whole, but without work ethic and discipline, my business would have failed many years ago. Thus, while I enjoy the bulk of my work, I don’t just perform the tasks that keep me smiling. If there’s work that needs to be done, I’ll find a way to get it done whether I want to or not.

II. Training Example

To no surprise, discipline and work ethic are just as important to training as they are to business. Aspiring athletes cannot just perform the work that they enjoy if they wish to succeed at the highest level. Even the most passionate athletes will have days when they don’t feel like doing what needs to be done.

Speaking as a boxing coach, there’s often a point during a long training camp where a fighter will temporarily stop enjoying the sport. We actually joke about how fighters love boxing at the beginning of camp, hate the sport in the middle, and then find the love again as the fight draws closer.

For example, suppose a boxer is about to begin an 8-week training camp. There’s naturally excitement at the beginning of camp as a contract has just been signed. Motivation and passion are running high during the first few weeks.

As we approach the half way point though, it’s natural for a fighter to experience some physical and/or mental fatigue. They have been training several hours each day for many weeks, and still have several weeks to go. It almost feels like you are rowing a boat across the ocean. You might be half way there, but there’s still a long way to go before you see land again.

Furthermore, it’s not just the training that is difficult. Many fighters are also cutting weight throughout camp. And if you’ve ever cut weight, you can surely testify to the fact that it is never fun. Discipline becomes extremely important, not just with training, but also the sacrifices that must be made outside the gym.

The fighter can’t eat what he wants, he’s tired, and there’s a coach like me yelling to keep going whether he wants to or not. The brief highlight videos that are filmed certainly don’t tell the full story. Those on the outside looking in don’t see the ups and downs experienced during camp. It’s not all fun and games. It’s a long, arduous process that isn’t for the faint of heart.

Without discipline, the athlete will inevitably fail.

Final Thoughts

Although I’ve beaten this topic into the ground, I am a big believer in brutal honesty. The last thing that I want to do is deceive a young athlete or entrepreneur about what it takes to succeed. It’s not enough to be motivated or passionate. To excel at the highest level, you’ll also need work ethic and discipline.

Life is tough and getting ahead is even tougher. If you aren’t willing to work when you don’t feel like working, there’s only so much that you’ll ever achieve. And to some people, that might be okay. I’m not suggesting that everyone follows my lead. It’s up to you to decide. I’m simply sharing my own observations after many years in business and sport.

The choice is yours.

Related Entry:

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“Hustle isn’t just doing the things you love all the time. Hustle is doing the things you don’t enjoy sometimes to earn the right to do the things you love.” – Jon Acuff

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5 comments:

  1. This reminds me of a quote by the American painter Chuck Close. The context is different but the idea behind it is the same. “Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
    ― Chuck Close
    It’s not meant to talk down to amateurs, in my opinion, it means there’s no magic bullet.

  2. I guess I was one of these people you have mentioned at the beginning of this post. I don’t know what the others meant, but personally I didn’t mean that discipline isn’t needed. I just shared the PERCEPTION which I had after reading the previous article. Having read it I felt that a training process is something dismal, something which must be hated. After your reply I smiled and talked to myself “I knew Ross like it” 🙂

    I think that in the previous post you laid so great stress on the need of discipline that something important remaind forgotten, the joy of training, passion, as you say. I like this post “Adding discipling to passion”, because the picture of training, in my opinion, has become more impartial. I think you are very much right and agree with you on this topic and many others. Have I said that I’m your fan? 🙂

    Peace, Yan.

  3. Just listened to an interesting podcast on the Art of Manliness website. It centres around the myth of ‘following your passion’ as means to achieving happiness and success in your work. There are more articles on that site about discipline, and they correspond with much of what you say Ross. I am really trying to focus on discipline and self control now and realise that they may well be the key to future success and happiness. Thanks for your terrific writing!

  4. Hey what’s up Ross? This post i’m sure will be different then the rest when i say i found inspiration in your articles about discipline today.

    Been reading your articles for the last 13 years probably…always a pleasure to read what you have to say. I’m a Christian and often compare reading the bible/prayer/going to church as Spiritual exercise. Just as in physical exercise and going out in doing sprints or training for a fight and how there are days you just don’t want to step foot in the gym cause you’re tired…there are days you don’t want to read the bible or continue to study in the Word of God or go to church.

    Earlier today i was getting a bit of harassment from colleagues- why are you always reading the bible? Small passive aggressive remarks towards me that were kind of getting me down and my motivation was wearing thin….then i opened up your page and read your article about Motivation is Overrated and then this article. I really liked this:

    “The reality though is that no one lives in a constant state of motivation. We all experience ups and downs, and moments when we don’t feel like doing what needs to be done. Successful people don’t just work when they feel like working however. Instead, they are disciplined enough to get the job done regardless of their mood.”

    And it reminded me of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:

    The Need for Self Discipline:

    Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

    So while I think your article is great inspiration for fitness i also have to say that this is great advice for any endeavor you set out in life and can be used for all applications in life- for me it was inspiring and helped strengthen me and stay steadfast in my walk with Jesus Christ.

    Take care Ross.

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