Reminder: you're doing the best you can. No one can fault you for that. Not even yourself.

Motivation vs Discipline

What is more important for success—motivation or discipline? Chances are if you are a neurodivergent person, you have been told that if you had more discipline, you’d be more successful. You are probably someone who faces unique challenges when it comes to managing your day-to-day life. Perhaps you've struggled with executive dysfunction, which can make it hard to stay motivated and disciplined.

But here's the thing: for you, motivation might be a bigger factor than discipline.

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I'm going to offer you some tips and insights on how to stay motivated and build discipline in your daily life. In this article, we'll explore the difference between motivation and discipline, and how you can use both to overcome executive dysfunction and achieve your goals.

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Understanding Motivation

You've probably heard the term “motivation” before, but what exactly does it mean? Simply put, motivation is what drives you to do something. It's the reason behind your actions, whether it's completing a project, going for a run, or tackling a difficult task. Without motivation, it can be hard to get started or keep going.

As a neurodiverse person, you might struggle with motivation more than others. Maybe you have trouble getting started on a task, or you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you need to do. Perhaps you're easily distracted or find it hard to stay focused. These are all common challenges that can affect your motivation, and ultimately your executive functioning.

Motivation vs discipline for the neurodiverse person - chalkboard on a table that says Get inspired and stay motivated

How can you understand your motivation? Here are some tips:

  • Set goals: Setting clear, specific goals can help you stay motivated. Make sure your goals are achievable and relevant to what you want to accomplish.
  • Find your “why”: To stay motivated, it helps to understand why you're doing something. What's the underlying reason or motivation behind your actions?
  • Use positive self-talk: The way you talk to yourself can impact your motivation. Often, our own nagging, judgy voices ruin our motivation. Learn to speak more kindly to and about yourself. Consider using daily affirmations.
  • Find intrinsic motivation: Intrinsic motivation comes from within. To find intrinsic motivation, think about what you enjoy or find meaningful.
  • Use extrinsic motivation: There is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself for getting a task done.

Understanding Discipline

Discipline is another important factor in achieving your goals, especially if you're someone who struggles with executive dysfunction. Simply put, discipline is the ability to stay focused and committed to a task, even when it's difficult or uncomfortable. It's what helps you stick to a routine, resist distractions, and keep moving forward.

Any wonder why this is a struggle if you have executive dysfunction?

Discipline taps into many of the things that challenge you. You might get distracted easily or struggle to keep to a schedule. However, there are ways you can develop discipline and make it a habit. Here are some tips:

  • Create a routine: Having a set routine can help you stay on track and build discipline. Try to establish a consistent schedule for things like waking up, exercising, working, and winding down for the day. This can help you stay organized and feel more in control of your time. Use a planner to create and keep track of the schedule.
  • Break tasks into smaller steps: It’s hard to stay disciplined when you feel overwhelmed. Big projects or large tasks can make you want to give up (mostly because you’re not even sure where to start). Breaking tasks into smaller steps can help you focus on one thing at a time and feel a sense of progress as you complete each step.
  • Use positive reinforcement: Rewarding yourself for staying disciplined can help you build a positive habit.
  • Eliminate distractions: I’m sure you’re aware that distractions can make it hard to stay disciplined and focused. Try to minimize distractions as much as possible. You can’t get rid of everything that might distract you, but if you can eliminate or at least minimize the ones that have the biggest impact on you and your time, you’ll be in a better position.

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The Relationship Between Motivation and Discipline

So, now you know what motivation and discipline are, but how do they relate to each other? The truth is, motivation and discipline go hand in hand. While motivation is what gets you started, discipline is what keeps you going. Without discipline, when your motivation fizzles out, you might struggle to see things through to completion.

Think of motivation as the spark that ignites a fire. It's what gets you excited and inspired to take action. Maybe you're motivated to finish a project, learn a new skill, or achieve a goal. However, motivation alone isn't enough. To see things through to completion, you need discipline.

Discipline is what helps you stay focused and committed to your goals, even when the initial motivation has faded. It's what helps you stick to a routine, resist distractions, and keep moving forward. Without discipline, you might find yourself procrastinating or giving up when things get tough.

It’s important to have both.

That’s the key that a lot of people struggle with. For many neurotypical people, discipline is enough. They can force themselves to plod through and complete a task even when they don’t want to. Chances are, if you’re neurodivergent, you can’t.

It’s not that you don’t want to. It’s not that you don’t have discipline. It’s that your level of discipline isn’t enough.

You need the motivation.

Neurotypical people don’t get that. They’ll tell you, “Just do it. It’s not that big a deal.” Or, worse, “Stop being lazy. We all have responsibilities and things we don’t enjoy.”

You might not ever be able to convince them that it is a big deal for you and you’re not lazy. So what do you do?

Reminder: you're doing the best you can. No one can fault you for that. Not even yourself.

Figure out how to use motivation and discipline together. Here are some tips:

  • Start with motivation: Use your initial motivation as a launching point to get started on your goal. Tap into what excites you about the goal, and use that energy to take action. When it’s something that you’re not naturally motivated about, try to find some motivation (find your “why”).
  • Use discipline to keep going: Once you've started, use discipline to keep moving forward. Set up a routine, break down tasks into smaller steps, and use positive reinforcement to stay on track. Often, once you’re over the hurdle of task initiation (getting started) it’s easier to keep going. You build momentum.
  • Revisit your motivation: When you feel your motivation flagging, take a moment to remind yourself why you started in the first place. Or offer yourself a reward. Motivation will spike when you see progress and feel accomplished.

As a neurodiverse person, you may struggle with motivation and discipline. However, by understanding these concepts and how they work together, you can start to build positive habits and achieve your goals.

Remember, motivation is what gets you started, but discipline keeps you going. By tapping into your initial motivation and using discipline to stay on track, you can make progress toward your goals and build positive habits that last. Don't be afraid to make adjustments as needed to find what works best for you.

It's important to be patient with yourself and to celebrate your successes along the way. Building motivation and discipline takes time and practice, but by implementing the tips and strategies we've discussed, you can start to see real progress. Whether you're striving to complete a project, reach a goal, or simply build better habits, using motivation and discipline together can help you get there.

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