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  • Writer's pictureChris Gordon

Change is hard, not impossible

How often have you heard the statement: “I just don’t have the motivation to do it”? Or, have you ever found yourself thinking or saying, “If I were just more disciplined I’d be able to…”? What about, “If I just had something to keep me motivated…”?

Change is hard, very few will dispute this. There likely will come a time in life where certain change is necessary, new habits need formed and old habits removed. Sounds simple enough, right? Sure, it’s a piece of cake to choose the carrot over the Snickers, to go to the gym versus scroll Netflix, to log off Facebook and have a meaningful conversation, says nobody! Like many changes we make, at first they go well, we are excited and motivated to become better, we are putting forth some real effort; and then, we find ourselves creeping back into our old ways. Why is that? Remember, change is hard. What makes it even more difficult is making a change for the wrong reason, changing the wrong thing and trying to change too much at once. What’s more, we tend to focus more on the outcome we want as opposed to who it is we want to become. In theory we just need to be motivated and disciplined enough, if we can do that we can make those changes stick. Right?

So, when we dig into motivation and self-discipline, we might find that one of the barriers is this inability to identify as being a motivated or disciplined person. People want to be motivated, and they want to have the self-discipline to see it through, but there tends to be this difficulty in stating, “I am a motivated person” or “I am disciplined and will get it done.” Instead it's "I want to be a motivated person" or I want to be a disciplined person", eventually they go back to the Snickers and fire up Netflix because they have not yet developed the appropriate belief system. This is something we will expand on in the future; for the purposes of this article we want to zoom out and learn a little more about motivation and self-discipline.

First, let’s define them. By definition, self-discipline is the correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement. Discipline…. "drives you to do the work you don't enjoy, but is required. Discipline conquers fear. Discipline keeps you going when your curiosity, motivation, and excitement evaporate."

Motivation, on the other hand, has two types, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is defined as the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separable consequence. A person driven intrinsically is motivated for the experience rather than reward or external factors. Extrinsic motivation is fueled by external factors. Those who are extrinsically motivated engage in behavior or activity because there is something to gain, such as rewards, praise, or fame.

What are the differences between the two, motivation versus self-discipline? As stated earlier, discipline is what some say we need to “stay the course” while motivation is the factor that gets one “up and going”. Previously it was stated that discipline is what keeps you going when motivation is gone. If this is indeed true, then it seems obvious that discipline is the more important trait to develop rather than motivation.

A study of elite athletes, ages 16-20, by the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences found that both factors were evidenced. The researcher, Gro Jordalen states in her findings that… “We used to regard self-discipline as a tool to become more motivated. Now, we see that strong self-discipline influences how motivated the athletes are.” So, one can assume that it takes both based on these findings.

Here’s the real question. How does one become a motivated person and also develop self-discipline? First we should understand that a person who motivates themselves via external things, or who are extrinsically motivated, need to know this will only last for a short period of time. Eventually the constant chase for the reward, the outcome, more often than not ends in burn-out and exhaustion. To steal a line from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits… The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. When a person can go from being the type of person that wants, to the type of person that is… well, that can be a game-changer. More to come on this in later editions.

The development of self-discipline, just like intrinsic motivation, takes patience and an understanding that we are looking for a return, but it will not be immediate. Let’s use the term delayed gratification. If we are doing 1% better each day, this small incremental change will compound over time. If we can let ourselves focus on progress, no matter how small, we can increase our likelihood of sticking to it. This is a process that will require one to inventory and prioritize certain aspects of life, as well as, learn to recognize diminishing returns.

Lasting change is hard, but not impossible with the right approach.

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