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Beyond motivation – discipline as a tool for success

I used to think motivation was everything and there was a time when it seemed like it. Everyone with an ounce of charisma became a motivational speaker (or a Pentecostal pastor, but that’s for another day).

It was the buzz word in business, in sports and in almost every aspect of life. We all bought into it. We bought podcasts of the best motivational speakers, followed their social media accounts and invested in their books. Whenever I had something big coming up, I’d psyche myself up on their inspiration and I would feel like I can conquer the world.

Whenever I had something big coming up, I’d psyche myself up on their inspiration and I would feel like I can conquer the world.

Who among us didn’t tear up and swell up in the chest at the greatest motivational speeches that Hollywood gave to us?

Immediately I think of Achilles’ speech to Myrmidons in “Troy”, Billy Bob Thornton inspiring his team in “Friday Night Lights”, Al Pacino in “Any Given Sunday” or Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”. Our blood rushed and our endocrine systems went into overdrive. These movies have created the expectation that what stands between us and the lives we want is just a good dose of motivation.

Our blood rushed and our endocrine systems went into overdrive. These movies have created the expectation that what stands between us and the lives we want is just a good dose of motivation.

However, I quickly realised that although motivation is vitally important in most of what we do, it’s nowhere near as important for success as we are led to believe. Consider the science and anatomy of motivation for a minute.

A state of motivation is usually accompanied or initiated by a surge of endorphins or “feel good” hormones that give you that “let’s go” feeling. That means motivation is a feeling and the downside of a feeling and a surge of hormones is that it’s temporary. Its temporary nature means that it is vital for the start of a

Its temporary nature means that it is vital for the start of a process or for that one moment but it cannot be the reason that you attain long term success. Moreover, positive feelings can be drowned by overwhelmingly negative feelings like fear or doubt when those arise. In the drudgery of the search for achievement and when things are tough, we may not feel motivated but we still need to press on for

Moreover, positive feelings can be drowned by overwhelmingly negative feelings like fear or doubt when those arise. In the drudgery of the search for achievement and when things are tough, we may not feel motivated but we still need to press on for achievement to be realised.

The memory of how you were motivated cannot be enough to keep you focussed and working the way you should. I actually believe that motivation plays a much smaller role than we have given it credit for.

Here’s why.

I have learned that the most important ingredient to success is discipline. This I put down to being an ability to maintain a prescribed course and obey the rules therein. In my research, I looked at sports teams, armies and businesses and realised that motivation alone could not be the reason for continued success.

There had to be more.

You see, motivation is like a spark plug. It gets you started and gets you to get up and move but once the feeling dissipates, discipline takes over. Moreover, discipline isn’t a feeling, which means that discipline builds habits and good habits build success.

Whether you feel like it or not, a habit endures. It’s a cyclical recipe for success.

One example is that I am currently on an intense fitness journey. When I started, I was motivated to change myself and my body. I can assure you that what wakes me up at 4.30am to go work with my personal trainer when I don’t feel like it, is discipline and not motivation.

What makes me consistently choose a fruit salad over a chocolate cake as a dessert is discipline and not motivation?

What will make me see through this process for the next 6 months is discipline.

So yes, I credit motivation for getting the process started but people who rely only on it are those that will most likely drop the hard stuff when they no longer “feel” motivated. Disciplined people will see it through.

My thinking is reinforced even more when you look at sports teams. I looked at teams that consistently outperformed others over a significant period of time without a stark advantage like money.

A team that came to mind Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United Team of the 90s and 2000s. They dominated those 2 decades with different sets of players. Yes, when people joined the team and trained so that endorphins were excreted, they were motivated.

However, because of the nature of feelings, it is nigh impossible to maintain motivation levels for 20 years across different people. Moreover, the individuals there can’t be motivated at the same levels at the same time, all the time.

So, the question is, what is it that brings unconnected people together, to work in tandem and achieve goals? The answer is discipline.

Discipline in training, in coaching an in executing on the football field. Discipline says regardless of how you are feeling, as long as you can remember, respect and follow the agreed course and tactics, you will be closer to achieving results.

Military armies offer the same level of analysis and thinking. Again these are groups of different people brought together to achieve a goal. Yes, there are elements of motivation in training and camaraderie.

However, what makes some armies consistently outperform other even when they are outmanned and outgunned? I read an article from a former fighter pilot, retired Marine pilot Dave Berke where he says that in the 23 years that he served, he was consistently afraid.

Afraid of dying or letting his team down or getting people killed. He was constantly full of doubt. I can be certain that in the face of debilitating fear and doubt, motivation dissipates. The one thing that made certain that he performed every time was discipline.

The discipline to respect and follow his training and tactics. The discipline to stay true to the war plan and when the entire squadron maintained similar discipline, they achieved success. The moral here is to be disciplined enough to train right and to stay true to your plan and your strategy.

In business, the manifestation of discipline comes through what I believe to be the secret to business and entrepreneurial success. The secret lies in systems and structures and the discipline comes in through creating them and religiously following them. The greatest failure for most entrepreneurs is the lack of systems and structures to manage what they are building.

When the emotions of success are overtaken by fear and fatigue, the house of card crumbles. What makes sure that you get up when you don’t want to? What ensures that you have those internal meetings when you don’t feel like it? What pushes you to maintain budget control when as an “owner” you can blow the money away?

Discipline does. The discipline to see each process through to completion and to review and improve current processes religiously. I have employed this in my own businesses and in the last 12 months we have tripled revenues and grown in efficiency.

 

Discipline invariably brings another concept to the fore. Work. Have you noticed that in all the examples I’ve given and probably in most of the examples you will find, discipline comes in when you need to put the work in?

Therefore I just had to mention that nothing substitutes good hard work. The good thing about attaining and building discipline is that it lends itself to encouraging a good work ethic. That’s part of what discipline is.

I will hasten to say that there are several things that one can do to encourage motivation and to sustain it. That’s all very good but the nature of motivation means that as much as we can attain and maintain a peak for some time, it will at some point drop.

Therefore, for the athlete, its discipline you need to get up and train every single day. For the military man, it’s the discipline that ensures that you perform optimally each time. For the business person and entrepreneur, its discipline that guarantees that the business works as though you are there even when you are not.

I would never say that motivation is useless, because it definitely has immense value. But relying on it as the solution and cause of your success will leave you disappointed. Embrace it and the launch value that it gives you, but create the support systems that ensure that discipline will carry you across the line to the success that you so desire.

Garikai Nhongo

Garikai Nhongo is the Managing Director of KG&A Advertising in Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe and he is the Group Head of Strategy for the Global Firm. He is also a blogger (www.thinkingentrepreneur.gq and www.garikainhongo.blogspot.com), an entrepreneur and a poet.

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