What Comes First Motivation or Discipline?

Motivation and discipline are two concepts every person aspiring to be successful is familiar with.  But what comes first?  Motivation or Discipline?

And how familiar?

The two concepts are intertwined together that most people think them the same or confuse one for the other.

So before we answer the question, which comes first, let’s look at these two concepts separately.

What is the meaning of motivation?

Motivation comes from the root word, ‘motive’– meaning ‘the reason for something.’ It is the driving force behind people’s actions.

Motivation is what causes you to initiate, build, and maintain behaviors and habits.

All our actions are driven by reason(Motivation). It could be starting a business to make more money or going to the gym to be physically fit.
It could also be as simple as getting something to eat because you’re hungry.

These days Motivation is a common term people use when they need to procrastinate about actually doing the the thing they know they need to.

Motivation can be extrinsic or intrinsic.

Extrinsic Motivation

This is the motivation derived from outside (external) sources. It could be the promise of a reward or a punishment.

Examples can be studying hard to be awarded as the best student or working hard to claim bonus packages at work.

It’s why people keep reaching out online and to their coaches with questions like this:

How do I get motivated?”

“I know I need to make a change but I just can’t get motivated. Any suggestions?”

They’re craving external motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation

This motivation is gotten from within. You do things for personal gain.

Like going to the gym because it makes you feel and look good or starting a business to make money.

Studies have shown that between the two types of motivation, intrinsic motivation is more rewarding.


In this case, we are talking of self-discipline. That is, the ability to make yourself do the things you are supposed to do even when you don’t want to.

Even though you aren’t motivated, self-discipline is that habit that makes you push forward and work hard towards your goals.

Which comes first, Discipline or motivation?

Before any action is carried out, you need a reason (motivation)

Motivation is the first push towards your goals. The catalyst that propels you to take action.

After looking at the two concepts, the answer to this is glaring, right?

Yes, it is.

If Motivation comes first, what then is the need for Discipline?

Think of motivation as that first explosion that propels the rocket into the sky. But long after that explosion, something keeps the rocket between the clouds. That is self-discipline.

To achieve your goals and be successful, you need the push (motivation) to take action and also, the discipline to keep taking action when that push is gone.

Motivation isn’t constant. It can change with time. Discipline is like a shadow, ever constant, ever by your side, helping you achieve your goals.

Your mind has to be stronger then your emotions.

Fact is, if you want to move your life forward then you need to get out of the habit that you’ll do it when you feel like.

If you’re always waiting to be motivated, chances are you’re not going to achieve your goals.

How to improve self discipline and motivation?

Tips on building Discipline over time instead of relying on motivation.

1. Have a solid purpose

Happiness comes from solving meaningful problems.

When you do things that are in line with your highest values then you won’t need motivation to execute.

2. Taking action when you don’t want to is discipline.

Stop being a slave to your mood – but do what you know needs to get done.

3. Practice

it’s about repetition in everyday and improving every aspect of your goal. Not because you want to but that you have to.

4. Slowly build habits

If you want to form any habits, take steps to slowly build them.

e.g for healthy diets start with replacing water for soda, snacking with meals when you’re hungry.

A good book to learn more about habits is Atomic habits by James Clear.

5. Do hard things 

We often procrastinate and crave motivation when we only seeking the easy path.

6. Think long term rather than short term gratification

Would you sacrifice your 3, 5, 10 years dreams just to wait until you feel ready to do what you know would take your closer to those goals or habits that is required of you?

7. Use motivation for what it is.

But don’t solely rely on them!

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

In summary,

You need both motivation and discipline to achieve your goals. While motivation is the first push, discipline is more important in the long run.

Discipline will keep you consistent. It will be the fuel keeping you going on the days you aren’t motivated.

However, if you don’t have discipline, you need the motivation to cultivate the habit of self-discipline.

These two concepts go hand in hand.

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