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Ready To Reach Your Goals? Discipline Over Motivation.

First things first. If you don't have your goals yet for the year, it's a good idea to set one or two. To help you with ideas, NPR has put together their Life Kit expert guides and created a resolution planner for all the aspects of your life that you might want to improve or change this year.


When it comes to sticking to our personal and professional goals, motivation is often a fickle ally. While it's essential, relying solely on motivation can lead to inconsistency in application and - as a consequence - frustration over results. Or, to be more precise, a lack of those, just like Steven in this video:




This is where discipline comes into play. While you may not like the word "discipline", thinking of a strict teacher or a drill sergeant, it is a steadfast foundation for success. As Dr. Angela Duckworth highlights in her book "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance," the key to success isn't raw talent or even motivation, but rather a blend of passion and persistence she calls "grit". In our own experience, maintaining a yearly plan and a disciplined routine of sticking to it has been pivotal in achieving long-term goals, even when motivation ebbed.


But what else can you do? We've researched there 5 powerful, practical strategies to harness discipline effectively, even when motivation wanes.


Break Tasks Down

Harvard psychologist Dr. Teresa Amabile's research on 'The Progress Principle' emphasizes that small wins are significant motivators. By breaking down larger goals into smaller tasks, we create manageable steps that lead to these wins. Ticking off a task produces a boost of dopamine, which make sus happier and more motivated to go on. An anecdote from a client illustrates this well. Faced with a daunting project, they began tackling it in 20-minute segments. This approach transformed an overwhelming task into a series of small, achievable objectives. Regularly reflecting on and celebrating small achievements reinforces these elements, providing a motivational boost.

Diversify Activities

Try engaging in a variety of activities to rekindle your interest and motivation. As a teacher, I learned it early in my career. In language learning, alternating between listening, speaking, and writing exercises can keep the process stimulating and effective.

Eliminate Distractions

Creating an environment conducive to focus is vital. Cal Newport's concept of 'Deep Work' suggests that minimizing distractions is key to achieving high-quality, productive work. It is a well-researched and proven technique. A study strategy adopted by a student involved disabling social media notifications during study hours, significantly enhancing their concentration. The latest episode on the Ezra Klein Show features the leading scholar in the field of attention Gloria Mark, who shared a shocking statistic of the average attention span being just 40 seconds. (Tired? Distracted? Burned Out? Listen to This.)


Find Joy in Work

Intentionally incorporating enjoyable elements into a task can significantly boost engagement. Dr. Stuart Brown, a leading researcher on play, asserts that incorporating play into work can ignite creativity and satisfaction. A client once shared how they turned a tedious proof-editing routine into a fun activity by using interactive apps and writing meetups, thus maintaining their discipline through enjoyment.


Take Breaks

The Pomodoro Technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo, is a testament to the effectiveness of taking breaks. It suggests working in focused intervals followed by short breaks to enhance productivity and mental well-being. An executive we coached found that integrating regular breaks into their schedule not only prevented burnout but also re-energized their focus.


So, while motivation is a fluctuating force, discipline provides a reliable framework for achieving goals. Which of these 5 techniques will you try out first?

  • Breaking tasks down,

  • Diversifying activities,

  • Eliminating distractions,

  • Finding joy in work, or

  • Taking breaks.


Remember, discipline, not motivation, is the steady drumbeat that leads us to our desired destinations.






Disclaimer: the opinions expressed here are the authors' and don't represent the opinions of any other organization or institution.

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