I think it’s pretty standard for folks to want to tie motivation to willpower. There’s this underlying assumption that if you genuinely want something, you’ll make it happen. I think there’s truth in that belief. If you have strong enough desires, you’ll work towards that goal. But, it may not be enough to reach it, or your motives might change as you put in your effort.
After all, motivation is simply the reason or reasons behind your behavior. Everything we do is based on motivation, but when we talk about self-improvement, we act as though its a far larger force, especially when it comes to self-discipline.
The two concepts are related; it’ll be hard to change your life completely lacking one. But, I don’t think they’re tied to one another. You can have the motivation to make a change in your life without the self-discipline to make it happen. The same is true for self-discipline; you can have it in spades with low motivation for change.
If your motivation drops to zero, your habits won’t matter. You can only work without reason for so long.
I think this is a pretty natural path for most goals to take as you follow-through on them. You start off with tons of motivation to get something done, but then when the work comes in, motivation, wanes, and discipline need to take shape. As you move on, your motives likely change, and your self-discipline turns into routines and habits.
The first time I hit the gym was roughly ten years ago. My motivations were clear; I wanted to be strong, I wanted people to notice me, and I wanted it to happen quickly.
My first few weeks at the gym were exhausting, but I was still incredibly motivated. It felt good to be sore, and I knew I wanted more of it, but my habits were all over the board. I would work out tirelessly for a week then skip the next because I “earned it.”
By the end of my first month, I created a routine I could stick to based on a workout plan I enjoyed. I was in a good groove, seeing huge gains and developing a healthy habit.
But, a few months later, the amount of growth I experienced started to wane. I faced a common hurdle for new lifters — the plateau.
It was a huge blow, I was nowhere near the size I was hoping for, and I was stuck in a rut. I felt defeated, and my motivation fell off a cliff.
My habits, however, were going strong. I was in a routine, an hour at the gym four days a week. Now when I skipped, I started to feel bad about it. My body was eager to exercise, and I realized my mental health was improving the longer I went. I felt more confident in myself, and the gym was a peaceful place to reorganize my thoughts.
When I think back on this transformation, it’s clear that my motives changed as my discipline increased. And, for a short time, I didn’t have much motivation at all. I was running purely off my habits. If I hadn’t reassessed my motives, I likely would have given up on exercising. Eventually, I would have realized that there were better uses for my time.
In all, motivation is going to affect our behaviors, good and bad. But that doesn’t mean you should cling to it. As you grow and develop new habits, you should expect your motivation to change.