What’s the Difference between Motivation and Discipline?

Updated: Apr 27, 2020


The dictionary definition of motivation is “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.” For instance, you may begin exercise because you want to lose weight, or, you may cut gluten out of your diet because you are allergic. In regards to fitness, there is a whole host of motivating factors: 

i.e. you want to build muscle tone, you want to set a good example for your children, you want a better quality of life, you want an activity that you and your partner can do together, and the list goes on and on! 

Usually, motivation is the stepping stone to begin a new habit or activity in your life. It’s your “why”. 

Now, motivation is fantastic! It can get you all excited to reach goals and explore new boundaries for yourself. You may spend time reading articles about your new interest or finding out the best equipment to use. Maybe you call up a friend that has participated in the chosen activity to get their perspective on how best to enjoy it. And you’re probably going to buy new clothes to get you started! You’re all ready to begin! 

However, the problem with motivation is that it comes and goes. Some days you will feel very motivated to pursue your new challenge – some days you won’t feel like participating at all! And to be honest, motivation usually starts out at the beginning and wanes as you progress. If you base the achievement of your new goal strictly on how motivated you are from day to day, odds are, you won’t make it very far before you’ve used up all of your motivation reserves and you don’t feel like continuing on. 

So…how on earth are you supposed to reach a goal you set for yourself if motivation can’t carry you through? That’s where discipline comes in!


The dictionary defines discipline as “control gained by enforcing obedience or order”. While at first glance, this definition might seem a little bit abrasive, let’s take a second look. You can gain control over something (for our purposes, your health and fitness) by enforcing obedience or order on yourself. Discipline isn’t always fun. You aren’t always going to feel like taking that next step to reach your goal. You won’t want to go to the gym or pick up your dumbbells at home. But, think of it as enforcing a new order in your life, so that you can become a better version of yourself! 

Discipline sticks around. It isn’t fickle like motivation. Discipline gets you up and out of bed when you feel like sleeping for another hour. Discipline gets you off the couch when you’d rather binge watch your favorite show for the rest of the evening. Discipline gives you the structure and order that you need in order to accomplish the goals that you set for yourself. 

Now, discipline is a lot harder to come by than motivation. You might see an encouraging quote on Pinterest that motivates you to get your workout in on any particular day. But what if you don’t find that quote so motivating tomorrow? That’s when you have to rely on discipline to enforce the behavior that you are trying to mold within yourself. 

Ideally, motivation and discipline work hand in hand. Discipline gets you through the hard days and motivation makes the good days enjoyable! Motivation also reminds you of your “why”. You reason for setting your goal is so important and you don’t want to lose sight of that. Let that reason be the motivating factor for you to instill the discipline needed to accomplish all your goals and be the best you that you can be! 

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