Goals + Motivation ≠ Success

running-skyWhen individuals fail to meet their goals, they often attribute it to not being sufficiently motivated enough to see things through. However, in my experience goals plus motivation seldom equate to success.

Consider this common scenario:

  • A goal or desired outcome is conceived, usually as a result of some external influence, and motivation to move toward that goal is high.
  • For a few weeks, concrete progress is made toward the goal and you start to see results.
  • Then, just as everything appears to be going well, life gets in the way: Work gets busy. Events come-up. You travel. Friends and family vie for your attention. Chores need to be done. You get injured. You’re not sleeping well. The list goes on…
  • Slowly but surely, motivation wanes and progress slows to a crawl or even stops completely.

So why is it then that, despite having concrete goals and good amount of motivation, you don’t accomplish your aim?

First, you have to recognize that motivation is an emotional energy reserve, and as such, it is both situational and exhaustible.

What do I mean by that?

I describe motivation as emotional because motivation is quite literally the desire to do something; the drive or energy that you bring to an activity. Think of motivation this way: you act after you FEEL, i.e. motivation is reactive based on circumstance. Taken literally, if you are relying solely on motivation, it often means that you’ll only take action when you feel like it.

Think again about the scenario I described above. Imagine you want to lose some weight and you attend a fitness seminar. You are surrounded by people that share your goal and motivation is literally off the charts! Yet, within a couple of days of returning home to work, family and friends, motivation can quickly wane — the situation has changed, and so has your emotional state. And even if you were able to sustain (or even feed) a high level of motivation for some time, you will eventually and consistently exhaust your emotional reserves.

Bottom line, if you expect yourself to be motivated at all times, I’m afraid you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

So what’s the missing ingredient? What can we substitute or supplement motivation with to achieve success?


Discipline is the ability to do something while ignoring short-term discomfort, allowing you to focus on long-term goals and persevere through hard times.

The self-disciplined person works toward achieving their goals without being derailed by the many dis­tractions we face each day. Moreover, self-discipline trumps simple motivation be­cause it enables you to push yourself to achieve your goals without external stimulus and irrespective of your emotional state.

Said differently, discipline serves you most when motivation says do otherwise!

For example, when it’s raining or cold outside and you need to go and run your 8 miles, it’s seldom motivation that will get you out of bed — it’s discipline. Or that time when you just didn’t feel like [exercising| painting | writing | working | cleaning], in steps discipline, kicking butts and taking names while motivation skulks in the corner.

Another advantage of discipline over simple motivation is that it can be trained and practiced. It’s also habit forming, and good habits drive good outcomes.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we simply rewrite the formula as Goals + Discipline = Success (although you could!). Motivation certainly has its part to play and often brings a heightened sense of enjoyment and satisfaction to the activities we pursue.

But without discipline, success will be harder if not impossible to achieve.

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