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Discipline Is Superior To Motivation

So a few days ago someone on the r/lawschool section of Reddit asked about how to keep up their motivation. Being Reddit, most of the responses were snarky jokes. But the person seemed to be seeking genuine advice, so I gave some:

Be disciplined, not motivated.

The problem with motivation is that it is often situational. “That seminar made me feel inspired.” “That blog post really got me motivated.” That’s fine and well, but those are external factors that you are allowing to affect your mood. Unless you are consistently stimulated by those external factors, their effect will fade and you’ll be back to your usual routine.

The ability to do challenging deep work is usually fueled by internal factors, namely self-discipline. Self-selecting that you are going to do activity X (draft motions, study con law, schedule informational interviews), then creating an environment and pattern that you adhere to is a much clearer path to success than constantly needing to seek motivation or a muse.

Multiple people responded saying that they had found the above to be true in their lives as well. Here’s why:

  • Motivation is fleeting. You can’t remain in a constant state of feeling motivated. It comes and goes. You read something or hear something that boosts you for a time, then you fall back to your baseline.
  • Motivation is like a drug. It can lift you up, but you fall back down. Then you need to chase it down again. And overtime, its effects become less pronounced. Eventually you get to a state where you need something incredibly motivating to feel inspired for only a brief time.

In contrast, discipline is enduring. Discipline is stable. Discipline allows you to build momentum.

Discipline Is Superior To Motivation

Sometime ago, probably high school, you learned about Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion which laid the foundation for classical mechanics. I want to touch on Newton’s first law:

Every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. This is normally taken as the definition of inertia.

If an object is at rest, it tends to stay at rest. If an object is in motion, it tends to stay in motion.

If you have tasks to complete, work to accomplish, but are waiting for motivation…you are an object at rest.

You have to start fresh every time on your work, which means you’re constantly starting from scratch. You have to generate energy to get the ball moving. You might be motivated for a time, but then you let hours or days go by without working on your project. You feel bad about slacking off. You need motivation to get going again because you are at rest. You haven’t built up inertia in the project.

But if instead you rely on discipline for your tasks, then you begin to build inertia.

Setting a schedule, sticking to your routine, and cultivating constructive habits all help maintain forward motion. You don’t have to rely on external factors to get you going. You cultivate the drive from within by virtue of self-discipline.

It takes far less energy to keep something moving, than it takes to start something in motion from a state of complete rest.


Cultivate Consistency

Stephen Covey, the author of the classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, often said, “Only the disciplined are truly free. The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites and passions.

  • Relying on motivation to accomplish your work makes you dependent on your emotional state. You need to “feel like it” in order to accomplish tasks. Ultimately this means you are relying on external factors to direct your life.
  • Relying on discipline to accomplish your work makes you independent of your emotional state. By creating a routine environment – by creating a system in which you force yourself to be productive – accomplishing tasks becomes much easier. Ultimately this means this means you rely on yourself to direct your life.

Motivation is temporary, but discipline is consistent.

If you have work to be done, goals to accomplish, tasks to complete, then don’t wait for motivation to get started. Instead cultivate the self-discipline to finish what you have started, regardless of how you feel.

Discipline is how I was able to write a book, I sure as hell wasn’t motivated to do it.

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