By Sejal Jamnadas

I’m a sucker for making big audacious goals. Actually, MOST people are suckers for making big audacious goals. Think back to January 1st of every year and the number of times you’ve told yourself you’ll lose 3kg this year, or that you’ll talk to more people to kick-start your business idea or perhaps put 60% of your salary into a deposit for a property. Maybe its because you’ve seen a lot of people do the same already, you went to a inspiring business conference or you read a powerful book. The “ideal you” sounds glamorous and well within reach. Your mind is filled with all the exciting possibilities of everything that could go right. You can feel the “success” when you accomplish that goal. You can see all those around you congratulating you on your incredible feat.

Alas, one week later, in comes your inner talk. “I don’t have time”, “I don’t know enough” and “They’re going to think I’m stupid.”  What a joke. All that motivation you had initially, has well and truly dried up. Our minds shut down. We revert to our substantive lives until the next motivational speaker or Youtube video invigorates another short-lived burst of passion.

So we all know what went wrong in all these cases. We “ran out” of motivation – as if it were some magical elixir that propels us to achieve our goals. We tend to think motivation is limited to certain periods in life and that elite group of “successful” people that have abundant reserves of motivation. In reality, this is true. Motivation is a scarce resource – even the most high-achieving individuals do not feel 100% inspired every minute of the day.

The “secret” elixir, surprise surprise, comes down to discipline and self-control. Why? Because discipline is enduring and discipline is hard; but the ability to exercise these qualities can reap surprising results.

Failures of self-control and discipline for more most people, result in opportunity costs  of goals we never followed through with; whether it was saving up for a new car, fitness goals, improving grades or learning new skills. In the same way, lack of discipline is a root cause of many societal problems, from obesity, gambling, drug addition and bankruptcy.  So will our big, audacious goals ever be in reach?

Yet again my inspiration for this topic comes from podcast with Tim Ferriss and Jocko Willink on Discipline, Leadership and Overcoming Doubt.  They discussed how motivation comes from external triggers, whether its your internal fear and worry, a friend that’s pushing you, a book or podcast you recently read, or the very fact it’s a social trend. Discipline, on the other hand, comes from all sorts of internal battles. Discipline means doing something when you really don’t feel like it and knowing there really won’t be some short-term reward. Discipline is sticking through with something knowing that it’s a pain in a ass to do it, but its who you want to become and gives purpose in your life.

Maybe my lack of motivation to do a lot of things will highlight the clear distinction. I have 0 motivation to fold the laundry. I have 0 motivation to book a long overdue dentist appointment. I have absolutely 0 motivation, yet again, to unravel from my woollen blanket at 4am every morning to run in icy 8 degree temperatures around my neighbourhood. Nobody in their right mind (unless its Jocko Willink or Tony Robbins) ever actually feels like doing any of these mundane activities. But we do it. Well, at least I do all these anyway. Not because I’m ever really motivated, but because I’ve somehow forced myself to muster enough discipline to see the long-term rewards of just ‘doing it.’ There’s a greater purpose beyond the here and now pain and annoyance.

If motivation is a limited resource, then surely discipline is unlimited. It’s been proven time and time again by world-class athletes, business people, creatives and just your everyday person, that the right mindset is fundamental to achieving goals. So here are my 4 key influencers of discipline and self-control:

  1. Perceptions of task difficulty
  2. Our view of self-control as a resource versus a mindset
  3. External feedback on task performance
  4. Mood

Do you think the task is too difficult, or do you truly believe you can do it? Do you only have a limited amount of self-control during the day, or do you see self-control as a fixed mindset? Do you need somebody to watch and recognise your progress, or can you rely on yourself to get something done without recognition? Are you going to let a shitty day be an excuse, or are you fixated on seeing your goal as a necessity regardless of your emotional state?

Nobody said leading a disciplined lifestyle is easy. Nobody said every element of your life has to be disciplined either. Mine certainly isn’t and I have no aspiration to live a military life. But you can choose your battles wisely; the battles that ultimately have a purpose, whether is a long-term goal or a personal trait.

Whatever big audacious goal you do choose, however, don’t ever rely on motivation. Motivation is one big fat shady lie.