What comes first, motivation or discipline?
Many would say motivation, but the truth is that discipline is needed long before motivation comes into play.
Motivation starts many of our journeys; it is how we figure out where we want to go in life, and which paths we want to walk down. But motivation will only take us the first few steps; the majority of our journey will be that of discipline, not motivation.
Do you ever truly want to get out of bed, fold the laundry, or go to the gym? For most of us, the answer is no. But how many times have you found yourself in the middle of the activity, enjoying yourself when just a few moments ago you would have rather done anything else? Now that you are out of bed, it is easy to see the sun shining and hear the birds chirping. Once you are folding laundry, you can feel the soft fabric and the clean smell of the detergent. When your workout is over, you have that immense feeling of accomplishment.
But where does discipline come from? For many of us trying to achieve our goals, that is the biggest problem. Being able to be disciplined enough to stick with it and keep working at it, even when we have gotten to the place where we would rather do anything else.
The struggle to be able to start a task actually has a name; executive dysfunction. It’s something that typically affects those with ADHD or autism but is something that just about anyone can struggle with from time to time.
Executive dysfunction makes it extra difficult to manage time, prioritize activities, have working memory, or, in this case, be able to start tasks. So what do we do about it?
It turns out, there are many things we can do to combat that feeling of hating something that we used to love. Here are a couple of tips to help you out.
Remind yourself why this goal is important
Sometimes when we get wrapped up in the feeling of “I really don’t want to do this” we lose sight of why we started doing this in the first place. Why is it so important to do the thing that needs to get done? Is this a chore that’s going to make you feel better and reduce your anxiety once it’s over? Is this a project that is going to get you recognized at work, or a task that will bring you closer to your goal? Once we remember the importance of the task, it’s easier to want to do the task.
Use the Five Second rule
No, this is not the eat-food-off-the-floor-as-long-as-it’s-been-less-than-five-seconds rule (although it is one that I use too often). This is something that is frequently used to help those with ADHD start tasks, and it’s pretty simple. All you have to do is count down from five, and when you hit one, you throw yourself into the task before you give yourself the extra second to think about how much you don’t want to do it. The idea is that, once you have this initial start, hopefully now the momentum will continue.
Learn how to prioritize
This is a very underrated skill, and a good majority of us think that we’re doing it correctly when this is not the case. A lot of us fall into the trap of falsely prioritizing tasks; there are things that do need to get done that you convince yourself are just as important, if not more important, than the thing you should be working on. Yes, the dishes do need to be washed, but if there’s a project that you should be working on, don’t trick yourself into thinking you need to get the dishes done first. The dishes will always be there.
Get it done first thing
Nothing makes more sense than getting that task done before anything else. If you find yourself wanting to do literally anything else, that gives you extra motivation to get your task done. If you’re not allowed to do anything else before getting this task done, you won’t be able to do anything. If it’s the one barrier standing in your way to enjoying your day, you’re going to want to get it done and not be miserable.
Set a time limit
You may have to do this every day, but you don’t have to do it all day. Set yourself a time limit for how long you’re going to work on your task. Make sure it’s a realistic amount of time; how long can you work on this before you get too overwhelmed and quit? Even if it’s only 5 minutes, working on your task every day for a week will mean you’ve worked on it for 35 minutes, as opposed to not doing it at all. If you set your time limit and hit it but still want to keep working, go for it! This is a guide to help make sure you’re putting a minimal amount of effort into your goal.
Reward (or punish!) yourself
We are slaves to our brains, and our brains love nothing more than instant gratification. At the end of a good work session, reward yourself with something to reinforce your discipline with this task. Or, punish yourself. There are many people who rewards don’t work for because it’s too easy to get that reward anyway when you’re the person rewarding yourself. Try the opposite instead; it’s easier for me to focus on achieving my goal if I think about how I won’t be able to go out with my friends unless I get this done.
Figure out what works for you
This is the best piece of advice I can give you. If you’re like me, you’re likely looking for a guide on discipline that you can follow and that will magically make your life fall in order. Unfortunately, it very rarely works like that. What actually works is trial and error. It’s listening to what others have done, trying it yourself, tweaking it, and changing it until you find, one day, you are disciplined in the way you want to be. And I’ll be honest; it’s going to take time, and it’s going to be a lot of little changes. But as long as you keep making those little changes and moving forward, you will find yourself where you need to go.
And, in the end, as time moves forward, through all these disciplines, you will find your motivation. You will find it like how Ahab found his whale; sometimes you will be looking desperately on the horizon and you’ll see nothing. Sometimes you might see its back crest the waves in the distance. Other times you will see it clearly, swimming along with your boat and blowing streams of water spattered with rainbows as the two of you voyage forth to distant islands.
But the most important thing for you to remember through it all is that the whale is never gone. You might not be able to see it all the time, but it is there, under the waves, ready to breach at any time. No matter what, it is never gone, only submerged.
Good luck, sailor. Use your discipline as the rigging of your ship, to raise your sails and catch your wind. Use your discipline and you will find your white whale.