Motivation or Discipline: Which Is More Important?

Motivation can provide us with the "what" and discipline guides us on the "how" to help us establish routines and habits to achieve goals. Below, we share with you the keys to put both into practice.
Motivation or Discipline: Which Is More Important?
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 15 December, 2023

Motivation is the first step to taking action, while discipline is what helps us to follow through. Both are necessary on the way to achieving the goals we set for ourselves.

Being motivated invites us to connect with our interests and passions and with the excitement to achieve something. Meanwhile, being disciplined helps us to take one step after another to get where we want to go. Read on and learn some keys that will help you have both motivation and discipline in your life.

Motivation and discipline: How they work together to help us achieve our goals

Many people tend to think of motivation and discipline as mutually exclusive. As if motivation were enough to develop discipline or the other way around: as if discipline were the necessary input to sustain motivation.

Both are necessary for the realization of a goal or achievement. Therefore, when motivation wanes, discipline can help us move forward, but when it becomes standardized and limits us, motivation can bring new airs of change.

On the other hand, both motivation and disciple can have their moments of sorrow and glory. After all, there are situations in which the intensity of motivation makes us feel capable of moving mountains. But it’s only logical that this will fade over time.

The same thing happens with perseverance. There are days when it will be easier to get up and perform the scheduled activities. Meanwhile, other times, it will all feel a lot more challenging and tedius. However, perseverance also facilitates healthy habit building.

How to foster motivation

According to the electronic journal Actualidades Investigativas en Educación, to stimulate motivation, it’s important to look for experiences that generate feelings of pride and satisfaction. Therefore, if you want to exercise this action, you can consider the following recommendations:

Seek new information and data

Drawing from books, movies, and stories as well as examples of success and failure cases of people related to your interest will help you learn more about what you’re truly interested in, discover aspects that you do not know and become even more enthusiastic, having more resources at your fingertips. Motivation is necessary for learning.

Imagine the situations you long for

To achieve your goals, ask yourself the following questions and imagine what it would be like if you materialized them: what would you like to achieve and why, and how would you feel when you reach the goal?

Learn to recognize your emotions and manage them

Motivation can be attacked by certain thoughts and emotions. Try to identify what you think, what aspects play in your favor and which play against you, and how you truly feel. In this way, you will also know where you’re strongest and where you need to improve.

Take care of your intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation is that which arises for internal reasons and is related to your passions, values, and interests, while extrinsic motivation is related to external factors, such as recognition or earning money to take a trip.

It’s important that you not only let yourself be driven by external approval or validation, but also let yourself be guided by your internal compass while paying attention to what makes you feel good and fulfilled.

When there’s only external motivation to guide us, any difficulty is capable of making us feel like nothing has been worthwhile and, therefore, that everything has been a failure.

We think you may also enjoy reading this article: What is Extrinsic Motivation and How Can it Affect Behavior?

How to develop discipline

It’s well known that in order to have discipline, you have to put things in order; this is essential to enhance other virtues. And without discipline, it’s quite difficult to have strength and composure in the face of obstacles that may arise along the way.

That is why, if you want to exercise discipline, some of the things you can do are the following:

Set small, achievable goals

If you find it difficult to maintain a routine over time, it’s a good idea to start by creating small, achievable habits. Imagine the following example: if you want to run a 10-kilometer marathon, you start every day by walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes.

Then, add new challenges. Before you know it, you will have generated a certain habit and you will be motivated to keep progressing. What’s more, little by little, you’ll be getting closer to that place you want to be: running the 10 kilometers.

Establish a routine

Try to set a schedule and get organized so you can dedicate yourself to what you want to do. If you find it difficult to concentrate, you can choose to work for a short period of time, intersperse it with a break, and then continue.

The Pomodoro technique suggests this by helping you to manage the time you spend on tasks that can overwhelm you. Remember that the quantity of time you spend on a task may be less important than the quality of the time spent.

Eliminate distractions

Today, there are lures that can interrupt or take your focus away, such as cell phone use or apps. By limiting distractions, you can improve your concentration and, with it, your discipline.

Set aside a dedicated workspace

Having a place where you are comfortable or where you can move, express yourself and expand, without feeling that you are disturbing others, will help you to be more disciplined in the things you do. Take into account the lighting, sound and temperature conditions, as these are factors that contribute to being at ease and stimulate discipline.

Get regular exercise and try to maintain a healthy diet

Dedicate a time of the day to exercise and eat a healthy diet, in addition to improving your physical and mental condition, will help you have enough energy to devote yourself to projects that strengthen the discipline in your life.

Like this article? You may also like to read: 15 Motivational Movies for Self-improvement

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Both motivation and perseverance require a favorable environment. That is to say, it’s important that you’re able to surround yourself with people who motivate you to move forward and who respect your time and support your goals. Meanwhile, people who drain your energy with their fearful or permanent negative outlooks can actually make you overestimate the difficulties over the resources you have.

Motivation gives us a sense of purpose and feeds our inner fire, while discipline helps us develop tools to conquer that goal. Therefore, more than opposites, they’re actually complementary tools that are both mechanisms to help us work toward our goals.

Remember these important words: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

    • Batista Silva, A., Gálvez Espinos, M., & Hinojosa Cueto, I. (2010). Bosquejo histórico sobre las principales teorías de la motivación y su influencia en el proceso de enseñanza-aprendizaje. Revista Cubana de Medicina General Integral, 26(2).
    • Masacon, M. R. H., López, G. A. C., & Lára, G. A. J. (2017). Motivación: las teorías y su relación en el ámbito empresarial. Dominio de las Ciencias, 3(2), 311-333.
    • Polanco Hernández, A., (2005), “La motivación en los estudiantes universitarios.” Revista Electrónica “Actualidades Investigativas en Educación”, Vol., núm.2, pp.1-13.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.