Despite What You May Have Heard, Discipline, Not Motivation, Is The Key To Success
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Politics and Activism

Despite What You May Have Heard, Discipline, Not Motivation, Is The Key To Success

Self-help books have it all wrong

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Despite What You May Have Heard, Discipline, Not Motivation, Is The Key To Success
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Everyone has encountered the countless self-help books, articles, and television shows. Much of the self-help advice involves increasing and maintaining motivation. Students, parents, employees, even children; everyone needs motivation to be successful in life. This is a dangerous assumption, however, because the real key to success is discipline.

Motivation is defined as “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.” Therefore, motivation is an effective tool for success if you have reasons for wanting to succeed. This is not a universal circumstance, though. In some cases during school, life, parenting, work, etc., there will not be any reason for you to desire pushing to continue through difficult situations.

For example, a student in college may decide mid-semester not to get a degree and instead pursue a certificate or enter a trade school. The student wants to finish the semester before leaving the school because the classes are already paid for. Grade point average no longer matters to the student because nothing from the university will transfer and penalties such as revoking scholarships for GPA drops are not threatening. The student feels that there is no reason to continue attending class and completing assignments. In other words, the student has no reasonable external or internal motivation to keep trying.

Another example would be a student who is currently completing an internship with a dance company. Halfway through the internship, the student changes his major to Elementary Education. The internship is no longer relevant to his major and it takes up a lot of time and effort. Once again, the student has no motivation to finish the internship.

The answer in these cases is discipline. The definition of discipline is “the ability to control one's feelings and overcome one's weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.” Thus, discipline trumps motivation because discipline requires no reason to try and succeed.

The disciplined student would continue to work hard at unnecessary classes and finish out a difficult internship commitment. Discipline allows students to succeed without being dependent on anything but themselves.

The hardest part of all of this is cultivating discipline. People cannot make a simple decision and suddenly become well-disciplined in every aspect of life. According to the New York Times, willpower is like any other muscle in your body. If you want to use it effectively, you must exercise it.


Try little acts of discipline in your daily life. Maybe start by choosing a healthy option every day for lunch, or make the choice not to watch television before all the dishes are clean. After these little choices become habitual, work towards bigger goals and more daunting tasks.

However, beware of overusing your willpower because it can become exhausted and useless like any physical muscle. In other words, don’t try too much too fast. Go slow and you will see success in your life as you build your ability to be disciplined.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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