Discipline vs Motivation: What is the best tactic for health? | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

We’ve entered the second quarter (time flies!), and the 2021 resolutions that you’ve set for yourself may seem like a distant memory. Why is that?

Why are we all so pumped to set great goals for ourselves, and just after a few months or less, we’ve lost interest? Well, it doesn’t help that we’re still amidst a pandemic. Although there is a light at the end of the tunnel with vaccinations happening globally, we are still very much in the thick of a health scare.

Despite this, many out there work through these obstacles and stay on track to achieve their goals. With that in mind, I’ve really taken the time to do some inner work in trying to figure out what fuels me—is it motivation or discipline?

I have found that the answer is both—but what is more effective?

Discipline vs. Motivation

One of the most common questions I get asked as a wellness coach is, “how do you always stay motivated?” In truth, I’m just like everyone else who struggles with keeping motivation a constant; and that is because it’s not meant to be a constant. Motivation is fleeting, which is why it’s so difficult to maintain. 

If you were to visualize motivation, it looks like waves—it has highs and lows. The expectation of having it constantly high is unrealistic. Now, let’s take discipline. If motivation is waves, discipline is a ladder. It’s a series of small effort-driven steps, moving upwards towards your goal. Once you set off, there is no other place to go than up; no other choice to go but up.

Another way to differentiate the two is that motivation is a feeling, and discipline is a skill. You can’t train to be motivated, but you can train to be disciplined. 

Aim for steady and balanced

Now that we can clearly see the difference between the two, we have to see how to make both motivation and discipline work to your advantage. As with many things in life, balance is the key.

You don’t cram everything upfront with learning or honing any new skill like a new language or sport, right? That’s overwhelming. That also applies to attacking a new diet or fitness routine. When a new client approaches me, they often come to me in a highly motivated state. They’re super gung ho about working out as much as possible and trying the newest diet craze. I don’t like killing anyone’s excitement, but I often find myself ringing them in just a bit, helping them set realistic, steady goals. 

The trick is to set goals when you’re not on a high motivation. When you do that, you tend to challenge yourself just enough; not so much that guarantees failure. Small wins encourage consistency and build confidence. Although this approach is often slower, I find that it proves more effective for my own goals and also for most of my clients in sticking to a healthy program, long term.

Fall in love with the journey, not the results

Tennis legend Arthur Ashe made famous the quote, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” 

It’s so prevalent in the diet and fitness culture to be so focused on the results—how many pounds lost; how you look in your swimsuit; do you have abs? The list goes on. That’s not necessarily bad, but I found that this only works for short spurts of time. Motivation works well for that. 

I’ve observed that many of my clients have no problem setting goals and being motivated to achieve them, especially at the start. The issue lies in knowing the best method and executing that to reach their goals. More often than not, the method they do choose turns out not to be the healthiest—crash dieting, overtraining, whatever means necessary to reach the goal. That’s the problem. Looking good in a swimsuit is great and all, but if you’re setting out to be the healthiest version of yourself, the end does not justify the means. 

This is why I am a big advocate of understanding and learning to love the process. Know why you’re choosing a healthier meal over junk food. Know why you’re going to the gym instead of going out for a drink. It’s essentially learning to take care of yourself and appreciate it, rather than being so laser-focused on how you may feel or look in 6 months. 

Motivation is very results-driven, and discipline is driven by consistency. If you embrace and enjoy the process, the results will follow, and you’ll be happy. If you only focus on getting results, you may get them, but ask yourself–will you be happy?


This is the perfect segue to probably the most important part of this article. How you perceive your endeavor of becoming a healthier version of yourself will determine your success. 

I often see people look at taking care of themselves as very restrictive. “I can’t eat this because I’m on a diet.” “I can’t buy this because I’m paying for a gym membership.” “I can’t do that because I have to work out instead.” These may all seem very true statements when you’re making healthier decisions for yourself, but how about reframing them to be more positive?

“I’m choosing to eat healthier food because I promised to treat my body better.” “I’m choosing to invest in a gym membership and spend less on other things because I want to be more active.”  

You’re not being forced to do anything. This is your choice. It’s your choice to treat your body better. This is a practice that I not only encourage others to do, but one I do myself, and it’s been life-changing. 

For the first few years of my fitness and wellness journey, I felt the need to constantly set goal after goal for myself to “stay motivated.” It was great for a while, and I’m so proud of all my accomplishments, but after so many marathons, photoshoots, and competitions, I had to ask myself, does it always have to be a constant chase? This was when I realized that I’ve come to a  place where relying on goals and motivation is not enough for my long-term health and happiness. I instead take a look at all the decisions I make day in and day out that help me become a better version of myself. The choice to sleep more. The choice to cook a healthy meal. The choice to wake up early and start the day with cardio. I love that I do these things, and I’m proud of my choices. 

It’s those decisions day in and day out that have helped me stay on top of my health, even amidst the pandemic. It’s not the upcoming photoshoot or beach trip. It’s not motivation, although it does give me an occasional boost. It’s primarily because of discipline.


Intermittent Workouts Might Be The Best Exercise for 2020

Tricks to Control Overeating


Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.