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Motivation, Discipline, and Why It Is So Hard to Put Your Life in Order

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Generalist. One of the older millennials. Life-long IT practitioner, freelancer and entrepreneur.

This article tries to define what “motivation” and “discipline” are, what is holding us back from achieving our dreams, and what can we do about it.

Don't you think that everyone of us has had a soft spot for some activity or topic ever since childhood?

Then, at some point in our lives, many of us decide to give it a shot. Whether it's a closely related opportunity or a new thing on its own, we roll up our sleeves and . . . start busting our heads as to which way things are supposed to go.

Some of us make it eventually, but many of us are stuck in a loop – trying and trying and trying . . .

Then we run out of money or time, get older, get over it, get a job and do our best to forget the whole thing.

And this, my friend, is how dreams die at birth. If there was just a way to find the right attitude or the right approach towards our goals, it wouldn't be so.

As it happens, I was not a self-sufficient, self-organized, young person. I was one of the people that were chasing their tails on and on, more years than you would stand to believe. Now that I am done chasing my tail, I decided to share what I have learned from countless hours of . . . bashing my head against the wall.

The path to your dreams is a path to self-discovery. Since you can only walk it alone, there is nothing stopping you from achieving your dreams . . . except your own Self.

Step 1: Understand Thy Self

Do you like to create? Or perhaps you want to free-climb mountains? Or you want to step up and help people but you're scared?

In order to make sure this article is useful to you, either of those two cases should apply:

  • As a creative, you have high expectations to the people around you just as you keep them high towards yourself;
    - or -
  • You know what you need to do, in order to improve your life, but there is something stopping you from making that first step and, perhaps, you feel scared for some reason.

Personal Example:

I've always been a creative. Whether it is a cardboard toy in my childhood or a fine-tuned computer assembly in my early to mid teens, I always wanted to create something useful with a signature level of quality. Back then I always strove for perfection and (naturally) was super strict to anyone involved.

One day a friend told me something I will never forget:

“You expect a lot from people because you expect a lot from yourself.”
Note: Practice your listening skills because wisdom can come from the most unexpected places.

It took me quite some time to realize what I was being told. Back then I took it as a compliment – “You are not being mediocre, so why let anyone else be mediocre.”

Years passed, I took on my first website projects, and my first couple of jobs. There was always this feedback from my superiors that I could not quite get: “You understand correctly what is required of you and you learn fast. It's just that there are a lot of small errors in your overall work.”
So, I, the Perfectionist, was freaking out: “Why can't I spot those mistakes on time?!” – I was thinking.

It took me several more years to realize what I was doing wrong. I think I was 23 at that time. One day my brain finally figured it out. It dropped like an anchor on my head.

“You just think you are so good.”

That was it. That was my ego telling me my whole life that I am doing so good. That I am some sort of computer genius, so ahead of myself and my time. It was this high perception of myself not letting me assume the most basic of truths: I might do a typo here and there or I might not be able to complete a project in time. Let me switch over that to you: Because You are human. You can do errors. All people do errors.

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The difference between a successful person and a defeatist is the attitude towards those errors. Successful people see mistakes as opportunities for growth. They identify the reason for that situation, the solution, memorize it and move on. Simple!

Every time you screw up you receive invaluable data. Why did this happen? What were the consequences? What was the solution?
That is how you build up life experience.

Your Ego

Your ego is lying to you! In either case it's something like:

“You're so good that you can't allow yourself to fail at this. You better play it safe and do nothing or all you've worked for will crumble before you.”
- or -
“Look at you! What would people think of you if you fail? You can't do anything right anyway. What are the odds of you succeeding this time!?”

We are not “too good” or “too bad”. We are constantly evolving and changing and the only reason this is happening is because we don't give up.

Don't mistake your ego for your own thoughts. Don't let your ego say that you look bad when you fail. Everyone looks bad when failing but it's awkward only if you make it awkward. Just look at the majority of politicians. Nation goes into crisis. Millions of people look up to them. What is the attitude? Cool, calm: “We are looking into the matter.”

The major barrier to skill acquisition isn't intellectual, it's emotional.

— Josh Kaufman

The difference here, however, is that you actually have to do something about it. After that, simply memorize or even write down, what caused the challenge and how you have solved it. That's it! You are already getting better at this.

By the way: this reminds me of a saying I learned at a major hosting company I was working for:

“A mistake is not a mistake if it is caught on time.”

Just assume the worst, check your work and make sure it's flawless after checking it, not before that (as your ego would try to tell you).

Here is something you can add to your To Do list. Be Human. Don't be perfect, be authentic. Note your good and bad sides. Build upon your good ones and get rid of the bad sides. One day at a time.

There. This should keep you busy for a lifetime or two!

Also, a quick takeaway from failures:

Currently, I'm 28 years old. Reviewing my past 7 years I realized that I could have gone on a non-empirical approach like a lot of my classmates did. Just do at least 2 times the research you need before you starting-off at something. Also note that while it is always a good thing to be prepared, overdosing with info can bring “paralysis by analysis”. That's why it's best to bundle research with practice. Keep both in moderation. Life is always about balancing between the two ends of the spectrum: good or bad, active or inactive and so on. Me? Naturally, I started-off with an extreme. I'd read 1/4th of a book on sales and blast-off immediately into chasing clients and deals. Also not a good idea. Moderation is key.

However, here is something funny. After all those mistakes I have in my past, I realized that I got really good at identifying most mistakes in their early stages and applying old solutions that did the trick the last time. Life will never be exactly care-free, but it does become easier to handle once you've had your fair share of tough times.

Quick Summary:
(in completely random order)

  1. Don't be perfect, be authentic. Find your pros and cons. Grow on the pros and get rid of the cons.
  2. The only person who thinks you are not allowed to fail is your Ego. The Ego hates when you fail. It prefers to keep you paralyzed in your comfort zone, keeping you away from any new changes or endeavors.
  3. Review your mistakes: note how you got there and what you did to solve it, memorize it and move on. Plus, it will be much easier to forgive yourself when you have learned something new and have became a better version of yourself.
  4. “It's always better to regret something you have done, rather than something you haven't.”
  5. If you want to stop failing, become an expert at failure

Step 2: Breaking The Myth of Motivation

Wait, but what is motivation?!

Motivation is the emotional charge that empowers us to do something. Movies are a great example of how motivation works.

An Example

Meet the protagonist – someone bold, good looking and intelligent – throwing away everything just to get into an adventure, a “high risk, low pay” job, or to save the world. This depiction of heroism inspires us to some extent to try something new, go out of the mundane and find a better life for ourselves. And this inspiration is just one of the many forms of motivation we can get throughout our daily lives.

There is a great article that opened my eyes to this topic: “Screw motivation – what you need is discipline”

It paints a similar picture: Once you run a 10km course you will feel good. This will make you feel motivated to run some more on the next day.

Action drives motivation.

— Azeria

The Problem

Is that, commonly, motivation is mistaken as part of the achievement process while it's just the result of achieving minor goals.

Therefore, it is common sense not to expect relying on your initial motivation to start a business in order to keep calling customers for 6 months straight, with an 85% refusal rate. Furthermore, there are lots of things you cannot expect to be motivated doing at all. Whether it's doing squats, keeping some sort of log or writing similar web design code over and over again, you just have to do it, whether you like it or not, because you know this is keeps the ball rolling.

Just don't forget: when you complete a task, you can use the emotional charge, the motivation, to get on with the next one. Except if it's 1am. Or you haven't eaten for more than 6 hours. Or both.

In fact, you will feel even more productive when you save up some motivational charge for the next day. There is nothing like waking up, hyped to continue doing your thing.

Yet, the question remains – what do we need to start our day and make those first steps towards changing our lives?

As the link above suggested already, what you need is discipline. And focus I might add. But the latter is a result of the first. Please read on.

What Is Discipline?

The skill of discipline is the ability to ignore your own discomfort and bodily needs in order to remain focused on your current activity.
When you need to, not when you feel like.

Please note the emphasis on the word “skill”. It's not something you are born with. This is an ability that needs development. Just keep trying until you are good at it. The world's best athletes have heroic discipline in order to become who they are or, put in simple words, they work really hard.

Back when I was 22 (read: smoker and a drinker with the attention span of an infant monkey) I always used to fall into an enchanted circle. While I'm working on a project I would need a smoke. I go out on the balcony for 10 minutes, have a smoke, get back in. “Hmm, my throat is dry after this smoke. Need a cup of water.” – I'd say to myself. One glass of water later I realize I need to use the bathroom. Few more minutes later I am back on my desk. Just to repeat this procedure in a different version about an hour later. Zero discipline and focus.

Have you ever summed how many minutes per day you spend smoking? Don't. You might become upset with yourself.

Discipline is great and very useful; one final thing to consider.

Apply in moderation.

Don't starve yourself just because you feel like working 8 hours more. You will regret it at some point in the future. Trust me. It always get back at you. Take it from a 28 year old guy with 3 transient strokes behind his back.

Another Quick Summary:

  1. Discipline. When you work, think about work. Not about food and fun. When you rest, think about rest, not about work.
  2. The key to happiness is balance. Don't overdo it.

Step 3: “Increase Success by Lowering Expectations”

Recently I got back to my projects after more than 3 weeks of inactivity. Started my day with all those wonderful things you can do to increase your productivity – get up early, make your bed, work out and so on... Started crunching down my to do list and less than an hour later I found myself reading through irrelevant articles with Facebook open in the other tab. The next thing I realize is this brain fog that practically puts me in a productivity block. As if I'm tired but I'm not. I just can't begin my work flow. “What am I going to do?...”

Can you relate to this story?
If you've tried starting-off on your own, you most probably have met the good old friend of creatives – procrastination.

A funny thing about procrastination is that, aside from being an issue on it's own, it can be the symptom of another issue.

To finish my story – lunch passed and I got back, trying to work through that very same block from the morning. Without any success. Frustrated by my lack of productivity, I decided to take a break. For as long as its needed. Then a client and a friend of mine called. We discussed a task that has been waiting for my return. By the end of our call I decided to tell him about the situation I am in and ask for advice.

“After all, he runs his business for 13 years.” – I thought.
- Just start small, like 5 minutes the day. You gotta trick your brain into getting to work.

I thanked him, we finished our call and I got back to work. I did my 5 minutes which turned into 20, got myself a treat for a job well done and called it a day. On the next day these 5 minutes turned into 2 hours and another 45 minutes in the afternoon.

Turns out that it was not laziness or lack of attention span that was holding me back. It was the expectation for a full, 8-hour work day which I had unintentionally set for myself. It was my ego again, telling me “you can go all the way!”, only this time I couldn't. I had to accept that I needed to get back into shape first.


To wrap things up, we just learned that, alongside moving your progress forward, you always have to keep an eye out for... yourself!

Check your work, results, knowledge as if you are no good in order to produce flawless results. Dream big but set yourself small milestones so that you can dominate them with ease.

Results will keep you motivated and give you drive for achieving higher goals. It really is a simple balance between the two ends of the same spectrum: demand the impossible from yourself yet expect less when you go for it. I know it sounds contradictory, but don't worry. Practice makes perfect.

© 2017 ItKnol


ItKnol (author) on July 19, 2017:


It seems appropriate to couple the 5-minute technique with the 5-seconds rule.

The 5 seconds rule: "if you think of doing something, start doing it within 5 seconds after thinking of it."

This way you can drop everything as (initially) it will be just for 5 minutes and come back to it later.

With enough attempts this sounds just about right for creating a healthy habit.

As for myself, I am always on the lookout for procrastination. I do my best to be physically active or be away from the screen, so that I would just love to sit down and do some things on the laptop.

What an endless battle into tricking ourselves to be productive, isn't it?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and keep on pushing forward!

Mary Wickison from USA on July 19, 2017:

I can relate to at least two of these. I procrastinate but will attempt your time limit idea. I tell myself, I will sit at that computer until my work is done. Then, I go out, pet the dogs, rake some leaves, flop in the hammock. Breaking my habit of making excuses with a time limit should work well.

My determination is hindered by my procrastination! I want to be a determined focused person, but I get in my own way.

Thank goodness I am not a perfectionist! It isn't that I like to produce less than perfect work, but I know I can call it good and move on. If I have to make changes later, I do. The key is just to start and keep pushing forward.

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