Motivation is Overrated

Discipline vs. Motivation

Out of the thousands of emails that I receive each year, motivation is perhaps the most asked about topic of all. A day rarely passes without someone inquiring about how I’ve stayed motivated for so many years. Ironically, I can’t recall the last time anyone asked me about discipline. For some reason, motivation always gets more attention. Everyone wants to be motivated, while few take the time to consider discipline.

That’s a mistake.

Discipline > Motivation

One of the biggest myths of all is that successful people are constantly motivated. The online world that we live in perpetuates this false assumption. Social media only captures what a person wants you to see. As a result, certain people have created the illusion that they operate in a fairy tale land that’s devoid of bad days and bad moods.

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.

If you always wait to feel a certain way before you act, don’t expect to accomplish anything worthwhile. Too much time will be spent procrastinating as you sit around waiting for the perfect mood to arrive. Meanwhile, your successful competitors will be busy putting in the work whether they want to or not.

Embrace the Grind

One of the keys to becoming more successful is recognizing the simple fact that life is tough. There is no such thing as a perfect time to work or start a new task. Therefore, rather than seeking out motivation to begin or continue, your time would be better spent cultivating habits that will eventually lead towards enhanced productivity.

Speaking for myself, I have never relied on motivation to succeed. I certainly welcome those times when I’m fired up and ready to go, but I’ll never limit my output to such moments. I’d rather take pride in my work than wait to feel a certain way before I work.

Do it Anyway

The other night I was running hills at a local park. As I finished one of my last sprints, a passerby walked over and jokingly said, “I wish I had your motivation.”

I had just finished sprinting a long hill so I wasn’t about to engage in a conversation. I smiled and waved in appreciation and began jogging back to the bottom of the hill.

While jogging down, I started to think about what the man said. Suddenly, I found myself shaking my head. I wasn’t motivated at all. It had been a long day, my sleep cycle was off from the holidays, and I surely would have felt better doing something else.

I had already run several sprints but my next one was the fastest of all. I sprinted to the top in hopes of seeing the man. Fortunately, he was already gone. I probably would have sounded like a lunatic, but I wanted him to know that I wasn’t motivated at all. Motivation isn’t what puts one foot in front of the other. It’s discipline and work ethic that keeps me going.

In other words, just because I don’t feel like doing something doesn’t stop me from doing it anyway.

Final Thoughts

As great as it feels to be motivated, it is important to understand that motivation alone will only take you so far. Whether extrinsic or intrinsic, motivation can come and go in a flash. Discipline however is rooted in consistency. It quietly, yet continuously, chugs along in the background. It becomes part of who you are and what you do.

As an old saying suggests, first you make your habits and then your habits make you. A disciplined person gets up and grinds day after day. They don’t wait for the perfect mood to arrive before beginning. Instead, they cherish the feeling of accomplishment that comes after the fact. That’s where the real joy lies.

In summary, don’t give motivation more credit than it deserves. You don’t need to be motivated to succeed. What you need is the self-discipline necessary to work whether you want to or not. Successful people don’t waste time looking for motivation. They are too busy putting in the work that will eventually allow them to enjoy the fruits of their labor.


“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment” – Jim Rohn


  1. Brilliant summary of the very thoughts that I have pondered lately! With the new year nearly upon us everyone is once again talking about resolutions. I just shake my head and continue the unglamorous things I do on a daily basis. I don’t let a specific date determine when I change my habits, but I also know that two months from now I will still be doing what I need to do. Once those resolutions lose their excitement people lose their motivation. Then it all comes down to whether one has the discipline to follow through. In today’s culture of instant gratification that discipline is usually sorely lacking. Thanks for focusing on the importance of discipline.

  2. I love the photo!
    I’m currently overseas but I know there will be snow on the mountains when I return home and am looking forward to trekking in the cold, fresh air.

  3. I can certainly relate to this. My runs were always at night after getting home from 12-14 hour shifts in the ER. Staying in shape for Group meant running 4 days a week while tired. I certainly wasnt morivated accept to say dissapointung the people I supported was an unbearable thought. Fortunately I was disciplined enough to put the work in. It was the only thing that seperated me from the equally talented people who couldve had my job but chose not to

  4. great reading as usual i have got more descipline as i got older i wish this advice was around when i was younger iam now 70

  5. Thanks for your article.

    I was a victim of that, waiting for motivation when the goals must arrive based on the daily discipline, like always.

  6. Hi Ross,

    This is probably one of the most inspiring article you wrote this year (to me, at least).
    I’m not a long time reader, but based on this article + something beats nothing + the world is your gym, I must say I have all I need to perform well, and that’s what I’m currently doing, even with my busy schedule, the lack of money to invest in sports gear and the ups and down life’s putting on my way recently.

    Thank you for this great philosophy.

  7. Great post as usual. I always feel better after my workouts but on most days it’s the discipline that gets me going. This definitely transfers to other areas of your life.

  8. Thanks Ross,
    and if you will lose your self-discipline it is the time for a
    good trainer to recognize and
    give you a kick in the ass at the
    right time to keep you focused toward your goals.

  9. I never had any discipline. I hate disciplin. I do however train every day since what seems to be forever. Not because of motivation, i lack motivation to do anything too! but because I just love it. Hate going to the dojo though. Only randori is fun, the rest takes disciplin and that’s just bothersome. I’m still a white belt 😀 Prefer training in the woods alone, don’t like people screaming. When I’m out running or training in the woods, it isn’t disciplin that is pushing my body mecanicly around. I love doing this, cause i never know what i may bump in too. So I’m fully aware of the slightiest sound around, running around in a low stance to make less sound to not alert animals of my presence and for balance , sharpening my senses and my movement skills. Understand the difference, because disciplin gives you the time to think when you are training obviously. When you are training, you should be training, not thinking. I applied this to every aspect to my life. I don’t own a car for an example, i only have a motorcycle. You don’t get distracted by thinking or anything else on a motorcycle. Sharpening my senses when I can’t sharpen my body because of responsibilities I have. Life is training! and it’s because it just stays immensely fun every time that I continue doing it every single day and will so for the rest of my life.

    1. I’ve been looking through the comments in the hope that I find something that’s, in my opinion, missing in the Ross’s post, and I’ve definitely found it in your comment.

      With all my respect to Ross and his work I’m afraid I can’t absolutely agree with the article. There is the obvious opposition “motivation vs discipline”, but I feel that it’s a bit incomplete pattern. There is a healthy feeling of happiness that drives some people to train and work. I admit that some sports are very demanding and need working hard, but… life isn’t a sport alone. I feel that the above comment is very much right; at least I feel it that way 🙂

      I would say that lack of discipline in many cases can lead to laziness, and too much discipline to lack of happiness. The truth is somewhere in the middle, I guess 🙂

      I like the picture of Ross running in the snow. Every time I see a picture like this I immediately recall my running in the snow or somewhere else and, what is more important, the feeling that it was GREAT to do that.

      1. It is a great feeling to enjoy your work. Speaking for myself, I genuinely enjoy many aspects of training and sport. With that said, success at the highest level requires more than simply doing what we enjoy (or working when we feel like it).

        There are times when we must do things that we don’t feel like doing to make it to the next level. Naturally, some may counter that they don’t want to make it to the next level. That’s fine. No one should feel forced to pursue goals that do not interest them. At least be aware of what it takes though. There’s more to getting ahead in this world than simply doing what we enjoy.

  10. Great article Ross, way I see it, is there are the things that get you started, and the things that keep you going.

    Motivation (or anything else) that helps you start can be invaluable, but once you’ve started, consistency is the name of the game (and whatever that takes).

    Habit is definitely one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox for me when it comes to consistency. Well habit and mental stubbornness (something never to be undervalued!) lol 🙂

  11. It makes sense since everyone would feel a little tired of what they are doing and no one could keep their motivation for a long time. Thanks for sharing this article as I know now that I don’t need to be motivated to get my butt going.

  12. Another great post Ross. This post could’t of come at a better time. I’m sure I don’t just speak for myself, but during the holidays it really took a lot of effort to continue dragging my ass to workout. I guess the thing that kept me going was my routine which is a cousin of discipline.

    All the best in 2016.

  13. Definitely agree that motivation is overrated, though it seems ‘motivation’ has been pitched as a cure all my whole life. Just the emotional high isn’t achievable on a regular basis. I’m glad you share stories of pushing yourself when you don’t feel like it here. So many people think nobody who excels can ever feel that way.

  14. Awesome article Ross.
    Motivation and discipline are correlated with each other and they both together leads to success.
    “Motivation isn’t what puts one foot in front of the other. It’s discipline and work ethic that keeps me going.” inspiring lines…! 🙂

  15. Wow- Just want to say thank you for simply stating this truth.
    I am realizing this in so many areas now
    Being motivated might make you buy paint but it requires discipline to get to the task and get the room painted e.g

    You said it so honestly without a lot of hype. You have my utmost respect

  16. Ross,
    Thanks for keeping it real.

    In this life a person can get lulled into taking the easy way out.

    I have always found that I appreciate someone more when I have to work for it instead of having it given to me.

    Hard work starts with baby steps one day at a time.

  17. I cannot count the times I’ve applied your counsel to more than just training. I didn’t realize it until I read this article, but I don’t remember feeling motivated the first 3-4 months getting back into shape. I don’t remember feeling motivated to achieve the certifications and learn/teach myself the newest tech for my job…I am rarely motivated to write…but I know that unless I do it, I’ll never get any better, never publish anything, never learn anything new…never progress.
    I’ve experienced people asking me the same thing about what keeps me motivated. I never had an answer until now.
    So thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *