Motivation vs. Self-Discipline

Hi guys! Hope you’re all doing well and hope you’ve had a good week. For the past few days, I’ve had these different concepts of motivation and discipline racing in my mind as I procrastinated from doing anything useful or productive, so I thought I’d get my thoughts down in words so I could find some clarity in these theories.

“I don’t have the motivation to do XYZ” is a phrase that I am too familiar with and despite trying to reframe these ideas, I’m still guilty of repeating it to myself so many times as an excuse to avoid doing things.

What this phrase really means is “I don’t have to discipline to do XYZ consistently” and let’s face it, consistency really is the key to achieving anything. Every action you take is either part of a bigger picture (for example, learning a song on the piano to get better at playing the piano) or is something you need to do regularly (for example, work, study, cook). Consistency can be applied to both of these types of tasks, the former because without consistency, the smaller sub-parts of a bigger task will never be completed, and the latter because without consistency, these major life chores kind of fall apart.

So, what’s the difference between them?


Most often, when you express a lack of motivation to doing something, you’re implying your lack of enthusiasm or drive to do it.

I find, in my life, motivation is actually just a burst of inspiration that makes me suddenly go, ‘oh I should do that’ and I immediately start working on it. As such, it’s a means of a start to something new but it simply cannot sustain long-term action for that specific project. Motivation leads to a one-time behaviour, and is supplemented by other factors such as capability (your physical or mental ability to carry out that behaviour) and opportunity (being in an environment that allows you to carry out that behaviour).

These specific factors come together to form the COM-B model which was created based on a study in 2011 on behaviour change.

The COM-B model from my notes

Essentially, in an ideal situation, more capability and more opportunity would lead to more motivation and thus, more behaviour (though each of those factors have an individual bearing on behaviour as well).

The reason I’m highlighting this concept is because it showcases the different things that come together to create motivation and in turn, lead to the behaviour you want. Also, even beyond this, this behaviour is a one-time thing. If you had to rely on having all these factors present every single time, then you would never have the motivation to continue a task.


I always say that motivation can get you started, but discipline is what sustains your advancement with whatever it is you want to do.

Discipline involves making habit and routines to incorporate the activities that you might already be motivated to do, so you can actually get things done. When you make time for what you want to do, you improve and become more efficient. I talk about discipline a little bit in my blog post series of anatomy and in particular, using flashcards to learn (you can find it here), which might give you a good example of what discipline means to me in this area of my life.

Whereas motivation is this abstract concept of being in the inspired headspace, self-discipline is taking concrete action towards your goals in a consistent manner, so you don’t need to rely on a specific feeling to make you work.

On another note, it’s true that there can be a fine line between discipline and something infringing on your sanity or mental health. You need to find your own balance and you need to have peace of mind in your decision. For example, when you take a day off doing something, or you oppose the discipline in a different way, you can’t dwell on the decision so much that it eats you up inside. You need to find where the line is, which crosses from “I don’t really want to do this, but I have to” and “I need to not do this today otherwise it will have bad consequences for me”. It’s not even that it has to severe consequences, because sometimes you just need a break and you need to be honest with yourself whether you’re taking a well-deserved break or whether this is an excuse that you’re making for yourself to avoid doing something you don’t like.

How do you stop relying on motivation and start improving your discipline?

  • Make a routine – incorporate your tasks in daily or weekly, whenever you plan to do them
  • Stick to your routine – no point making a routine if you don’t stick to it!
  • Adjust your routine if it doesn’t work – if something starts interfering with the time you’ve allotted to something specific, find a backup time to incorporate it in
  • Don’t make excuses for yourself – at the end of the day, all your actions and habits are there to improve you in whatever way you want them to, so you’ll get the most out of them when you stick to them

That’s it, guys! Hope that was insightful for you to see my thoughts on the matter. What do you think about motivation and discipline? Let me know!

Stay safe! Until next time.

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