Is discipline better than motivation?
In early 2019, a friend informed me that I lacked discipline. I argued I did not lack discipline; I lacked motivation. She sent me a South Park meme in which the karate instructor says, “Cartman-San! You rack disciprine!” Cartman replies, as can be expected, “Nuh uh, I do not rack disciprine!” But he did, and, as it turned out, so did I.
The more I thought about it, the clearer it became. If I waited until I became motivated, I would never get anything done. Motivation, as great as it feels to have it, really is a false god. It’s an ideal way to get something half done. It’s discipline that pushes you through the other half. In my case, in the deepest of my dark holes, it was the only thing that could get me moving at all. I was the only person who could make that happen.
That’s not to say it was easy, or that I suddenly yelled, “Discipline! Yes!” and ran about changing the world. No, there was quite a bit of arguing with myself that had to occur first (and along the way). I didn’t want to do the thing because I didn’t want to do anything. It wasn’t just that cleaning out my storage room, which had become a wonderfrak of chaos, was actually important to me. But it did need to be done, for the good of myself, the house, and my finances. After all, it is amazing what you don’t have to buy when you realize you already have it, hiding under an unused humidifier in another room.
So with new, better working medication and the voices of some YouTube gurus in my head, I set about forcing myself to clean that damn room. It was hard. My right shoulder was not healed yet. My lower back still gave me problems. I constantly questioned myself. And I didn’t really care if it was clean or not. At that point, I simply wanted to prove I didn’t rack disciprine.
A strange thing happened as I chugged along, however. I started to realize I was getting something done. The more hours I spent, the more important it became. Friends offered to help and I declined, because I’d come to see this was something I had to do by myself. I wasn’t just cleaning a chaotic room. I was trying to save myself. By not allowing my wandering mind to lose focus and go veg in front of the television, I proved that I was capable of doing something.
I became so enamored with the project, motivation became a welcome addition. I didn’t just clean the room. I set up a monitor on an old microwave table, secured a cheap multi-game arcade box to it, and made a close approximation of an arcade console. Then I moved an old television in there with a repurposed Wii, hung up a dartboard, organized my old board games and card boxes, and ended up with a game room I didn’t know I wanted. With my late brother’s photos on the wall to remind me how he would have loved such a space.
That room was an important step. It wasn’t a cure-all, because nothing is, but it was necessary. After that I cleaned out another chaos room, brought in all my tools, and turned it into a shop. Then I started transforming areas of my yard I hadn’t bothered with for years. Sometimes it was fun and I started out motivated. Sometimes I had to force myself to do it, but as those things neared completion, motivation almost always came.
Motivation makes things easier, but relying on it risks stopping halfway through when the feeling fades or boredom comes. Discipline can not only get things done around the house, it can save a business, a town, or a life. Motivation is a false god. Discipline is mental royalty.
Try it. Make yourself do something good, no matter your circumstances, no matter how down you feel. You might just find something motivation alone can never provide: the strength within you. I promise you it’s there. It just might not be motivated enough to let you know. Go get it. With discipline.