Get Disciplined, Not Motivated

The Challenge

It’s hard to stay motivated day in and day out. There are days when I feel pulled in 42 different directions, I’m lethargic, my neck hurts, and I start to think “Is this worth it?” My subconscious starts building this defense that maybe I should remain working for someone else and staying the course. It’s not so bad. It’s certainly less stressful.

There are other days when I see others so much farther along. I observe my boss pitching a new client with ease and finesse, knowing nothing but the name of the guy he’s speaking to. I see a guy I went to college with on CNBC selling a drone that recites your day’s to do list to you while trimming your hair. My younger brother calls to tell me he’s just been promoted and is making more money than me. My subconscious re-emerges to tell me, “You can’t get to where they are. You’re too far behind. It’s not ever going to be enough.”

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Motivation works against you. You wake up feeling energized and determined to control the day, and, almost in an instant, you realize you’ve let the day control you. In order to make motivation an ally, to keep your motivation always on your side, you have to achieve discipline. Without discipline, there’s no drive, there’s no ambition, and there’s certainly no motivation.

Depending on who you are, you can train yourself to be disciplined in a multitude of different ways. For me, my discipline is driven by my to-do lists. I’ll digress for a second with this quote by actor Ben Feldman.

“Goals aren’t enough. You need goals plus deadlines. Goals big enough to get excited about and deadlines to make you run. One isn’t much good without the other, but together they can be tremendous.”

This quote reminds me that your goals are nothing without a plan. That plan has become my discipline.

The Process

I begin each year, rather than with New Years Resolutions, with goals. I then break those goals up until quarters (deadlines). Each quarter, I have a manageable amount of goals I hope to accomplish. These are either baby steps towards a bigger goal, or the big kahuna staring me in the face telling me I must make it happen within the next 3 months. Then, at the beginning of each week, I write my personal goals for the week on a post-it note. This post-it note will be transferred onto each of my daily to-do lists for the week. My daily to-do list include tasks for, you know, my actual paying job. But that post-it note is always with me throughout my day, staring me in the face, challenging me to make things happen for myself as much as I make things happen for my company and clients. This week, that to-do list told me to write this blog. Mission accomplished.

There is nothing quite like crossing something off my to-do list. I think I might like the action of sliding a line through a bullet point more than actually accomplishing the goal.

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The Success

This quarter, I had to accomplish a goal I had been dreaming about for at least five years. I wanted to be published in the Huffington Post. I had researched the process last year (within one of my quarterly tasks) and this year I was determined to make it happen. And this quarter, I accomplished that goal.

When I received the email saying my article would be published, it was a Monday morning and I was sitting in my office ready to take on another workweek. Instead, I became a child. I silently fist pumped onto my legs, squealing inside. I couldn’t believe that I had accomplished my goal. I was smiling for myself and myself alone. I did it. Of course, the accomplishment took motivation. It took determination, considering I had emailed editors a few times with no response. It took a timely, interesting pitch, one that came to me out of nowhere when I saw what a recent editor had written. It took passion, passion for the piece and passion for the goal. But ultimately, all these things would be nothing without discipline. The discipline it took to follow editors I related to. The discipline to write on others’ articles on a consistent basis to understand the tone and structure of the writing. And, ultimately, the discipline to achieve this goal on deadline.

Now, while this process may seem trivial, time consuming or confusing to you, it works too well for me – so well that I was actually impressed with myself (which doesn’t happen often). I am disciplined to deadlines and to-do lists. Without them, I lose motivation.

The next step

Now, it’s time to ask yourself – What drives your motivation? What part of your process needs discipline? How are you most encouraged? How are you motivated to work? Some people need a drill sergeant, some need an accountability coach, some just need personal time. Start with figuring out what will make you more disciplined. Once you’ve determined that, you’re ready to go for the goal.

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