Motivation or Discipline — What does it really take?

by | Feb 16, 2021

I’ve had many bright ideas in my lifetime. Some of them are just so-so, like the one where I wanted to start a cleaning business with my girlfriend, until I realized how dirty some humans can actually be. But some are real humdingers, like starting a blog about living a French life in America and writing a book once I figured out how the French stay thin no matter what they eat. I get so fired up when I have them – I’m motivated, passionate; I have a burning desire to do that and nothing else.

But here’s the thing about burning desires or things that burn in general – they can flicker and fizzle.

Motivation – to lose weight, run a marathon, climb a mountain, start a business – yeah, that’s great. It fires us up and gets us launched out of the gate. It’s what makes us order that gym equipment, buy that online training course, or start that DIY project.

But people who really go the distance to get things done don’t necessarily have a constant, burning, unrelenting desire to do the thing – to run an ultra marathon or make the world’s best paper towel or sell the most life insurance. What they do have, though, is discipline.

Discipline, well that’s another thing. It’s what keeps our butt in the chair writing, our fingers on the strings playing, and our ear to the phone calling. It what keeps us tying on our gym shoes for a 6:30 run instead of hitting the snooze button. It’s consistently doing the repeatable actions required to get the job done, regardless of how we feel about it.

Desire is emotion. Discipline is action. And between the two, the one that really matters, once you’ve figured out what you desire, is discipline.

As someone who works 50 or so hours a week, writes a blog, keeps a house, and wears a dozen or so other random hats, I can swear on a stack of cookbooks that I do not always have a burning desire to do the next thing I have to do. What I do have is well thought out priorities and a damn good schedule.

It’s been said that what we don’t hate, we tolerate, and that changes over time. I hate a messy house, can’t tolerate it. So I have to spend a little time each day cleaning up. But I can live with the laundry hamper filling up for a few days. Ok maybe a week. Or two. I’ve got plenty of other things to wear.

What can and can’t you live with? What do you really have to do yourself, and what can you delegate to a person or service? What’s going to enhance your life, and what’s more trouble than it’s worth?

Priorities can change massively over the course of being a student, a parent, starting a business, continuing a career, so it’s good to take a fresh look every now and then, as if nothing existed before – ignoring all the ruts in the road, outlines of old pictures on your mental wall, and skeletons in the closet.

Once you hit refresh on priorities, the next step is to figure out: What are those repeatable actions that must be done to see progress? What jobs must be done by you, and when are you going to do them? What can you delegate, and who are you going to delegate to?

Then there’s the schedule. As long as it’s realistic, a good schedule bypasses the ebbs and flows of motivation and relieves the anxiety of doing one thing but feeling like you should be doing the other thing. And that includes taking time for yourself and your relationships.

In terms of priorities, think about:

         What makes you happy?

         What helps others?

         What makes you healthy in mind, body and soul?

         What makes you more wherewithal to live better?

         What improves your status, in work or in life?

Do you have some goal, some once-burning desire that’s flickered a bit, or maybe it’s just a glimmer at the bottom of an ash pile? Well, it’s not too late and you don’t have to give up – just work out and prioritize those repeatable actions you need to do, get them on a schedule, and then pull up your big-person panties and get it done.

I can’t promise you’ll get there – that’s up to you. But I can promise you’ll make progress.

And isn’t that what the game’s all about?


  1. Bobbi Kassowitz

    I love them. Look forward to each and every one!

  2. Koko

    So true Kelley joone!! Another great blog with awesome advices. I will work on them :))

  3. Jodi

    This was great to read! Thank you!

  4. Tina

    Dang it! Just when i was going to go back to sleep. Another good one, Kelley!

  5. Jo

    I recently heard an interesting vlog about willpower and how it depletes throught our day. Basically we need to identify when we have it (e.g. mornings) and do our gym (or whatever task it is) then and NOT put if off till later as we’ve acknowledged that later we won’t have any willpower left.

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