It feels great when you commit yourself to achieving a big goal. You feel the motivation running through you.
You realize all the hard work in front of you, but that work seems satisfying and challenging. You even look forward to doing it!
You commit to working day and night, and nothing can stop you!
You psych yourself up by reading motivational books and listening to motivational talks.
So getting to that goal is a slam dunk now, right? Well, not quite.
You wake up the next morning after setting the goal, and know you should get to work. But maybe you did not sleep well the night before.
Or you may also have some unfinished business on your mind related to your job or family. Maybe you have a headache. Or you feel a little sluggish from eating a big dinner the night before. For whatever reason, you are just not feeling it.
You convince yourself to forget about working toward your goal for now, until you feel more like it.
But things are never perfect. The real world is much different than the lofty scenarios your mind dreams up when you committed yourself to the goal.
Don’t get me wrong, motivation is good — especially to push you to get started. But motivation is surprisingly fickle and fleeting. It just does not like to be bothered by the everyday reality of life.
Motivation vs Discipline
In order to meet the goals you set, you have to actually put in the day to day work in the real world to accomplish them.
Look at your journey to reach your goals as needing two separate things — motivation and discipline.
Motivation is the desire and enthusiasm of committing to a goal and reminding yourself why it’s important as you go. It sees the endpoint and gives you energy in launching it.
Discipline is the habit of actually planning and implementing what is needed on a daily basis — in a busy and imperfect world — to actually carry out the goal.
When both work together — it’s magic.
To emphasize this distinction, let’s look at four problems that can occur when you rely on motivation alone to achieve your goals.
Not Working Since Not Feeling Motivated
How many times do you delay starting a task needed for a goal because you just do not feel motivated or inspired that day?
You may find yourself trying to increase your motivation — maybe reading inspirational material or something similar.
But this is unreliable.
In fact, you may just declare that you are no longer interested in achieving your goal — just because you are not feeling motivated at the time. Then you may get motivated later, only to give it up yet again.
The problem is that trying to force motivation will not save you consistently since it comes and goes. The answer is discipline.
You simply need to put in the work, using sheer discipline — regardless of if you are feeling motivated.
So once you set your goals, take time to plan a work schedule, and stick to it always — even if you feel no motivation at all. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a session, but bring yourself back to the schedule instantly.
After all, achieving goals only happen in the real world when you actually dedicate time and do things. Otherwise, those goals just remain as a pleasant dream.
The Bane of Perfectionism
Another trap of motivation is that it tends to form perfect goals in your mind that will not match reality. This can result in frustration and discouragement.
Even the hard work needed to reach your goals seems glamorous before you begin. You picture striving to the result, feeling motivated, satisfied, and unstoppable.
But as I’ve said, reality comes in the way, and nothing is perfect.
Expecting your work and the results of your work to be perfect — otherwise known as perfectionism — may seem like a good thing, but it actually will sabotage your efforts.
In fact, perfectionism is a major cause of procrastination since it leads you to hesitate to do anything that does not lead to perfect results.
Perfectionism can also lead you to either quit pursuing the goal altogether or to push off working on it since you would rather have the ideal dream in your head, than the messier reality.
Non-perfectionists end up doing better because they keep at it — even when things seem to be a mess. This enables them to practice more, learn from their mistakes, and generally move forward.
You should not expect things to be perfect since they never are. Accept that your mind will form those expectations because — that is what minds do! But commit yourself to the discipline of working hard through imperfect conditions and results.
Don’t worry about mistakes, focus on simply doing things toward your goal. As you reach milestones celebrate them.
When Things Get Boring
You start putting in the work, but then find that the tasks are extremely boring. How can you get motivated and be productive when the work is boring?
Welcome to the reality of accomplishing great things!
The world’s accomplishments revolve around what many would say is boring work. The work could be boring and simple, or boring and hard. But whatever the case, to really succeed, you need to do the work anyway.
Think of it like working toward the goal of being a world-class runner. When you are preparing by running long distances outside, or on a treadmill, it is boring in many cases. But you plow through, getting stronger and heading toward your goal.
There can even be a pleasure and sort of zen working on boring tasks.
Those with the endurance to simply do the work needed for the goal — no matter how boring and tedious each task is — are the ones that will be the most successful.
Slow Progress is Progress
Motivation has you wanting results fast.
So when relying only on motivation, you can feel discouraged at how slow things seem to be going. Instead of working, you find yourself just going back to dreaming about the end goal — and thus not getting any closer to it.
With discipline, however, you know that it can be a long road toward your goal. Be the tortoise and keep plowing on — even when it seems that the work you are doing is just barely inching you along toward your goals.
Picture a rocket on a launch pad preparing to launch. It starts with all the fire and vapors coming out expelling tons of energy yet it is still just sitting there. But then it slowly starts to lift, and before you know it it has left the atmosphere and is in space.
So put in the time and the work even when it feels like you are making no progress and nobody cares. You’ll find yourself lifting off.
Also put these sayings in your mind:
“No matter how slow you go you are still lapping everybody on the couch.”
and of course:
“Slow and steady wins the race.”
Great things are accomplished in small steps. Set small milestones for yourself, and celebrate each one. Go forward steadily, even if very slowly.
The funny thing is that due to the sheer accumulation of work hours — doing small bits of work at a time at a steady pace — you will end up being surprised at your overall long term speed!
Many self-improvement books and talks focus on motivation as the force that will help you reach your goals. While motivation is important, be sure to really think about your work schedule and habits for accomplishing your goals.
Build and maintain the discipline to keep going no matter what the situation is or how you feel each day.
This work discipline will mean the difference between actually obtaining your goal in real life, or having it remain in your head as a dream.