A photo of a White woman sitting on the floor looking unmotivated to clean the floor while holding a mob, to represent the topic of the article - Self Discipline And Motivation, Which Is More Important?

Self Discipline And Motivation, Which Is More Important?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always struggled with motivation and self discipline. My issues with both of these were kick started with the racist abuse I endured at school. This quickly destroys your motivation, as any bullying or abuse would do. But, I think I’ve picked up a trick or two since my school days. Which I’m willing to share with you today.


According to Gorbunovs, Kapenieks, and Cakula (2016), motivation and self discipline make up the two big whales of success and boosting success. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll be able to tell me if you agree with their statement or not.



What Is Self Discipline?


There are a few definitions of self discipline floating around. The Merriam-Webster dictionary says it’s a correction/regulation of yourself for the purpose of improvement. Whereas the Collins Dictionary says it’s the ability to control yourself and make yourself work hard or behave without anyone else’s oversight. Of these two dictionary definitions, I prefer the latter.


But my favourite dictionary definition comes from Cambridge Dictionaries. It’s simple and to the point. It’s the ability to do things you know you should, even if you don’t want to.


From a non-dictionary perspective, Gorbunovs, Kapenieks, and Cakula (2016) definition of self discipline is the ability to control daily routines, which is a bit basic. Whereas Pearman and Storandt (2005) said self discipline is the ability to both begin tasks and take them to completion. I like the first part of Pearman and Storandt (2005) definition, but I’m not fully on board with the latter part.


Mind Tools say’s self discipline is the ability to push yourself forward, to take action, and a way to stay motivated, regardless of how you’re feeling physically/emotionally. Which I think is also completely right, as I don’t think motivation is always a factor in self discipline.


Because there are several ways to define self discipline, there’s a lot of wriggle room for interpretation. But for me, it’s the ability to do things you know you should do (Cambridge Dictionaries) or want to do, regardless of how you’re feeling physically and mentally. Allowing you to start a task (Pearman and Storandt, 2005) even if your mind isn’t motivated to do it.


What’s your definition of self discipline? Let me know in the comments section at the end of this article.




What Is Motivation?


Much like self discipline, there are several definitions of motivation that you’ll come across. With motivation having as many versions as there are human desires (PositivePsychology.com).


From the eagerness for doing something stated by Cambridge Dictionaries, the energised goal direction and action taking of PositivePsychology.com, to how motivation instigates our emotions to do something we’re interested in, as stated by Gorbunovs, Kapenieks, and Cakula (2016). But I prefer the simpler definition by Baumeiste and Vohs (2007), which is any sort of drive or inclination to do something.


Motivation certainly taps into our emotions, as Gorbunovs, Kapenieks, and Cakula (2016) said, and it’s definitely any drive that makes us do something or want to do something. But, I would add that motivation can be kick-started once we start a task. This is because we have a drive to finish what we’ve started, using intrusive thoughts to do so, as I mentioned in my to-do lists article.


So what do you think about my definition of motivation? Do you have a better definition of motivation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the article.




Self Discipline Vs Motivation: Fight!


When it comes to talking about our goals, work, chores, etc., it’s all done through the lens of motivation. That’s just the way we, as a society, have ended up talking about something that motivation only plays a part in. Chances are, you’re never going to have the motivation to do chores as chores suck. If they were fun, they wouldn’t be called chores. They’re called chores because they’re tedious but necessary.


What we forget to talk about when talking about stuff we want or need to do is self discipline. This is what leads us to the topic of the article. Which is more important, self discipline or motivation?


The hardest part of any task, especially if you’re lacking in spoons, is getting started in the first place. This is what makes relying on just motivation a problem. Anything can come along and knock the wind out of our motivation (Gorbunovs, Kapenieks, and Cakula, 2016).


Motivation might have kept you going with your new hobbies or exercise plan for the first few days or weeks, but you might wake up one day and just not feel it. Maybe your mental health or chronic health is playing up, or maybe something has come up that’s distracted you. Motivation is fickle. As Gorbunovs, Kapenieks, and Cakula (2016) said, motivation uses our emotions to do something we’re interested in. 


Whereas, self discipline is what will keep you committed to your hobbies, your exercise plan, your work (my blog), etc., even when motivation deserts you. This is what makes self-discipline important because you don’t have to be in a good mood to make gains (Gorbunovs, Kapenieks, and Cakula, 2016).


A two-part study by Duckworth and Seligman (2005), which used two sets of eighth-grade students (study 1 had 140 participants and study 2 had 164 participants), found that self discipline predicted academic performance. Using self discipline, they predicted which students’ grades would improve, whereas IQ did not. That’s because IQ alone isn’t enough to guarantee success. You need to show up even when you don’t want to.


This is supported by Gorbunovs, Kapenieks, and Cakula (2016). They identified a problem with e-learning, in which the ability to learn anywhere at any time could lead to less learning. This freedom to learn at your own pace falls apart without self discipline. Without high self discipline, the risk of students dropping out is higher. I imagine a lot of people have become aware of this thanks to the pandemic.


I know I’ve been having an issue with it for something I’m learning through e-learning at the moment. The first three weeks or so after starting the course, I didn’t do anything at all with it. I’ve now taken action to add a calendar reminder to do one short section of the course a week. Since doing that, I’ve managed to accomplish three weeks in a row. Go me!


Don’t get me wrong, both motivation and self discipline play an important role in our lives. If you can make both of them work in harmony, then you’re got a recipe for success. You can do this by constraining your motivation. By that I mean, say you want to get fitter. Instead of going out and buying all the gear and joining a load of exercise classes, you ease yourself into it with smaller, more manageable goals.


Start with a 10-minute yoga exercise rather than an hour spin class. This will help you retain your motivation for longer. Because “Go big or go home” can destroy your motivation on day one. Which will make using self discipline next to impossible to carry you on.


You can also add healthy rewards into the mix to help refill your motivation. The good feeling you get from getting your rewards will spur you on to achieve the next reward. If you have mental health problems or chronic health issues that sap away your motivation, then the use of self discipline can help you get your head in the game. Coupled with healthy rewards, you’ll hopefully be able to kick-start your motivation as well.


The picture is split in two with the top image being of a White man doing lawn work. The bottom image being of an Indian woman cooking. The two images are separated by the article title - Self Discipline And Motivation, Which Is More Important?


My Experience With Self Discipline And Motivation


If you’ve been following me on Twitter, then you may know I got my ears tattooed. I did this because of my body image issues and because I wanted to reward myself. As I proofread the draft of this article, I just got back from getting a triple ear piercings. This was my reward for getting myself back on track with my blog. Recently, my depression has been bad, but not really bad. Just enough to tank my motivation. I plan to reward myself again with another tattoo in October, for my birthday, if I keep on top of my blog.


I’ve been finishing my articles less than 24 hours before they go live. But since setting up these piercings and tattoos as my personal healthy rewards, I’ve been able to create eight article drafts with images. Putting me ahead for the first time this year.


It’s also motivated me to consider setting up a members section with exclusive content (would that be something you’d be interested in?). This has also had a knock-on effect as well. I now want to get back into doing art, and I’ve taken some tiny steps towards that.


But none of this would have come about if it wasn’t for using self discipline to do work on my blog even when I didn’t feel like it. Nine times out of ten, I had no motivation. But once I start working on an article, my motivation kicks in to drive me to finish it.






Motivation can be a great thing because it can make us feel fantastic. The energy it gives us can be intoxicating, which is how we often go overboard and self-sabotage our motivation. Because of this, it’s self discipline that can keep us going until our motivation returns.


Mental health conditions like depression will stop us from doing things, things that might help us. However, if we can push ourselves to do things even when we don’t want to, then that can help bring us out of depression. To do so builds resilience because doing things activates parts of us that can lift us up.


Before you say it, I know it can be hard to be self disciplined, especially when you’ve sunk so low in depression that you just want to stay in bed. That’s the reason for small easy steps and healthy rewards. Start small, get a sense of achievement, and build upon it. And if you need to, speak to a professional to help get that ball rolling. That would be a small step and an achievement right there.


So, which do you think is most important, self discipline or motivation? Let me know in the comments section below.


As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences with self discipline and motivation in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget, if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.


Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, you can make a donation of any size below. Until next time, Unwanted Life readers.







Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2007). Self‐Regulation, ego depletion, and motivation. Social and personality psychology compass1(1), 115-128. Retrieved from https://compass.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2007.00001.x, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2007.00001.x, and https://www.blackwellpublishing.co.uk/pdf/compass/spco_001.pdf.

Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological science16(12), 939-944. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01641.x, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01641.x, and https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Gorbunovs, A., Kapenieks, A., & Cakula, S. (2016). Self-discipline as a key indicator to improve learning outcomes in e-learning environment. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences231, 256-262. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042816312113 and https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.09.100.

Pearman, A., & Storandt, M. (2005). Self-discipline and self-consciousness predict subjective memory in older adults. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences60(3), P153-P157. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/psychsocgerontology/article/60/3/P153/559392 and https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/60.3.P153.

44 thoughts on “Self Discipline And Motivation, Which Is More Important?

  1. Good article. These two complement each other but I think that self-discipline is more important. It’s what keeps you going even when the motivation is low

  2. Because I have a chronic illness for me it’s a bit of both. Self-discipline is needed for me so that I do not over do it and I have to learn to pace and so discipline is needed. Motivation comes when I am feeling better. Thank you for sharing this post. It will be interesting to see what other people’s experiences are.


  3. Discipline is more important, of course. But when the motivation comes in, boy can I do a lot. Sometimes, you discipline yourself by finding ways to keep you motivated. Thanks for this!


  4. This is a very thought provoking article! “motivation and self discipline make up the two big whales of success and boosting success.” I have to say I think I would agree with this statement, although I I wonder if they come from the same place. I would say for me anyway, the motivation comes from the WHY for me. Why am I going to the gym? Because I find it releases stress and I FEEL better, it makes me healthy, etc. I enjoy it and I have a reason with a big payoff. With discipline, it could be raining, I don’t want to go at all but I force myself and it’s about WHAT I’m trying to accomplish as there is no looking forward to it, it’s something I have to do. In my coaching practice and from what I’ve learned, the WHY part is the most important in terms of getting started and understanding the emotional payoff is what makes most people keep going. Interesting take. I liked this article.. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I am heavy on the motivation and dreaming aspect and lacking greatly in the self -discipline. I’m working really hard to correct that and become more balanced. Thanks for causing me to stop and think! Great read.

  6. Self dicipline brings motivation and motivation develops self dicipline. Both r complementary to each other 😊

  7. First, super congrats on your accomplishments! Second, for me, self-discipline trumps motivation 10 times out of 10. Like you said, motivation is fickle. Today it’s cold and rainy and my motivation is telling me to skip out on the day, snuggle up and read, BUT my self-discipline got me up, got me to my mat, and got several things accomplished! Motivation is usually my starting point…a hope, dream, goal, but self-discipline is the follow through I need to achieve that hope, dream or goal. They absolutely work together.🙂 GREAT post! ✌️

  8. This was very interesting to read. Seeing as I’ve grown up with the Webster dictionary as my main source for definitions, it was nice to see other forms of definitions from other sources. I just started looking into motivation and self-discipline myself because I struggle with both also. Now there have been times where I’ve started something but didn’t finish it because I didn’t have the motivation. And there are times where I have finished things but it was not because of motivation. It was because of a built in routine developed over the years. I feel like self-discipline is the stronger out of the 2 because motivation is more of a feeling where as self-discipline is centered around action. Just my thoughts. But you really made me think more about the 2 and I appreciate the article. Thank you for sharing!

  9. This is so good to read. I’m so sorry you have to suffer racist abuse, that must have been so sad and debilitating for you. I have joined a gym and I find the motivation to go really hard, but I’m going to use your advice in your great article 👍

  10. Very good article. I agree with the idea that going big can lead to less action. I’ve also experienced e-learning in an office environment and most learn very little from it. I have to be careful with my depression, as I have moments of mania that lead to high motivation, followed by moments of wanting very little. It’s being aware that is most important, and I love the idea of rewards because we tend not to reward ourselves for doing something. Discipline I am not so good at, but I have learnt to lower my expectations which has improved my motivation.

  11. It is difficult to find motivation at times and now with the pandemic it has made it harder to feel motivated. Thank you for sharing your story. Depression is one of the difficult things someone can go through, and a lot of people do not understand it.

  12. These two are easily confused or even mixed together so I think it’s great you have put together this post explaining them in depths. I totally agree with your favorite discipline definition (the ability to do things you know you should, even if you don’t want to.) and the times it gets hard to do those things motivation has to come to the rescue. For me motivation is a blend of goals-dreams and achievement satisfaction. Not sure is it a term really, but the feeling you get when even the dullest task gets done and your like – did it! hated it, but did it!

    And congratulations for getting ahead of the blog plan!

  13. I struggle with motivation especially since I struggle with SAD. I love all the research you quoted. It’s a wonderful way to learn more on self discipline and motivation on the academic side.

  14. I agree with you that self discipline is more important. There are countless tasks like chores that we don’t have the drive or motivation to do, but we do them anyways because we should. Also that is a good idea for rewarding yourself for doing tasks that you don’t have the motivation to do.

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