Don’t Rely On Motivation

Have you ever found yourself putting off a project because you just couldn’t find the motivation to get started? Or have you experienced the feeling of motivation planning a new exercise regime in your head? But then never kicked it into gear? Or have you started writing a piece of content but then lost motivation and never finished it? I know I have done all those things. The problem is, I relied on motivation.


“Only the disciplined are truly free. The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites, and passions.” — Stephen Covey


Motivation is elusive

The problem with motivation is that we rely on feeling a certain way to accomplish something which results in not trying if we don’t feel motivated. All these moments of procrastination where we wait to feel motivated before we can do or start something. Motivation itself is hardly in our control so why do we try to motivate ourselves or others?


Have you ever finished something, although you didn’t feel motivated to do it and you felt really good about it? That was discipline you used and taking action, not motivation.


I started writing my book ‘Lead the Future’ in May. I had committed to publishing the book in September and enrolled in a book writing program because I knew that motivation alone isn’t enough to help me finish the manuscript. I was excited about the idea of being a published author and I knew it will give me credibility as a leadership expert, but writing is hard for me. I knew that if I relied on being motivated enough to write every day, the book would never get finished. I needed discipline.


Here is what helped me:

I launched the book from day one of writing and published a landing page with the option to pre-order the book. When the first orders came in, I felt committed to not only publish the book but deliver the manuscript in time to ensure delivery in September. I also needed to find a system that helped to get the work done in a way that worked for me. Turns out I am a speaker that writes, so I interviewed myself on Zoom and transcribed the recordings. An effective way of getting my ideas out of my head onto paper. Also, showing up to book writing sessions every Tuesday for 12 weeks, where I had space to write but also the opportunity to get help, ask questions and access resources helped me to stay on track. When I got frustrated with writing and language (English is my second language so it’s even harder), I reminded myself that I am not here to be a bestselling author. My mission was to get a book out for my readers. I delivered 42,000 words to my editor in mid-June as planned. And it felt good!


Have you noticed that I didn’t use the word motivation once in my story? Because it was discipline that helped me finish the manuscript.


‘Discipline is being able to force yourself to do something, in spite of how you feel, over and over until it becomes a habit.’ – Kim Brenneman


Motivation is your ‘why’ and discipline is your ‘what’.

Feeling motivated is what gets us going, the initial spark or idea, but discipline and taking action gets us much further than motivation. Discipline drives us to do the work we don’t enjoy but is required. Ask yourself: ‘What do you want to do?’ and ‘What’s the right thing to do?’. What you want to do is your motivation, what’s right for you will take discipline.


Discipline in action

I have been practicing yoga for a while and love it. Motivation to go to classes is never a problem -although it works better when I am committed to a booked class at my studio, having the discipline to practice at home is much harder…! I started going to a class once a week where we learn how to get into up-side-down poses like a headstand. I NEVER thought I would be able to physically do this but I was motivated to try. The warmup in each session is strengthening the muscles needed to be able to get into the poses and holding them. It’s hard work but we get through them every week and lo and behold, I got into my first headstand by myself last month. Our yoga teacher keeps saying ‘it’s the discipline of doing these exercises that gets you into those poses.’


Discipline conquers fear

Discipline keeps you going when your curiosity, motivation and excitement evaporate. It takes discipline not only to take action but also to keep trying when that nagging voice within us brings up the possibility of failure. Don’t become a slave to your motivation.


What about motivating others?

Leaders are asking me ‘how can we keep our teams motivated, especially in this fast-changing & ambiguous world?’ Motivating people doesn’t work. But finding out what motivates them and then helping them to have discipline does. Motivation is an inside-out phenomenon. People are actually already motivated, but maybe not in the way you need them to. We must believe that people want to flourish and thrive, that’s actually in our nature. We don’t have to give them something that motivates them, we just have to understand their psychological needs to stay engaged.


Motivation & Engagement

When you believe that people are already motivated but you notice your team members are disengaged, don’t think they are just lazy. More often than not, they don’t need motivation, they need help to stay engaged. And we know that team member engagement has been identified as the main driver of performance.


What fuels engagement?

Dr. Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s research shows that humans have 3 psychological needs that need to be satisfied to fuel engagement:


Autonomy is about having choices. Ask yourself: ‘What choices do I have? What choices did I make?’.  Relatedness is about connection. Ask yourself: ‘How did I demonstrate my values today? How did I contribute to something bigger than myself today?’.  Competence is about learning and knowing. Ask yourself: ‘What did I learn today? versus ‘What did I get done today?’


If you want to motivate your team members, think about how you can satisfy their psychological needs to increase engagement. It will have a much longer-lasting effect.


  • Autonomy: Empower your team members and give them autonomy to make decisions. It is proven that autonomy fuels engagement and people take ownership
  • Relatedness: Help your team members to contribute to the purpose of the project or company. People connect better to values than external recognition.
  • Competence: Make sure your people have all the resources to do the job and support them to develop the skills needed. Make it about progress not just performance and celebrate small wins. Ask your team members: what do you need from me to help you with this?


Extrinsic vs. intrinsic vs. aligned motivation

Leaders often resort to external rewards or imposed pressure to motivate, but research shows that extrinsic motivation doesn’t work or at least doesn’t last long. That’s not to say you shouldn’t reward people, there is a place and time for it. Just don’t rely on it to motivate people. In fact, once employees have reached an earning threshold that satisfies their basic needs, salary increases are not the main motivators for people to stay in an organisation.


Intrinsic motivation is when you love something for the sake of it, not for any kind of external reward. Don’t expect to do something because it helps but you don’t love it and by doing it, it becomes an intrinsic motivation. I still don’t like the core exercises at yoga, they won’t ever be intrinsic. I will still use discipline to do those.


Susan Fowler found something called ‘aligned motivation’. It feels like intrinsic motivation but has an integrated motivational outlook. It is developed through values and a sense of purpose. She says: ‘When you’re doing something and you can directly align whatever you’re doing to a value that’s really important to you, that brings a sense of meaning to your work.’ For example, she has become a vegetarian and started off as ‘aligned’ with strong values to avoid meat for environmental and health purposes. Now it has become second nature and she doesn’t even think twice about what she eats, as it has become ‘integrated’.


‘Being willing is not enough, we must do.’ – Leonardo da Vinci


Here are some strategies for taking action and using discipline:

  1. Small steps. Avoid big and sudden changes as they can be overwhelming. Even if you have a big goal, break it down into small, achievable goals so you can start rather than procrastinate because it looks impossible. When I wrote my book over 6 weeks, I only ever looked at the next section or next chapter for the day. That kept me going until I finished.
  2. Systems & Structure. Create systems that support you to be disciplined. This could be an accountability buddy, hiring a coach or enrolling in a course. It’s about creating a structure that works for you to hold you accountable, especially if you struggle with self-accountability. Also, find ways how to best stay engaged with your task or project. Remember, for me it helped to record passages of my book instead of writing everything. If you help your team members to stay engaged, ask them what structure, system or resource they need.
  3. Prioritise. Have a focus area and only accept work within the area. For business owners for example, figure out the 3 main things you focus on because they make you feel strong and contribute most to the success. Start with the one that feels most inspired and delegate tasks if they are outside your focus area. For employees, I hear repeatedly that people feel they can’t say ‘no’ but end up doing too much work and are exhausted. Say ‘no’ to work that others can do and learn how to negotiate around tasks and projects. Delegate to stay in your focus area.
  4. Bigger Picture. Remind yourself why you started the business or why you want to stay healthy and become fit or learn something new. When I wrote my book and got frustrated, I reminded myself: I am not here to become a bestselling author, I am doing this to get a book out.’
  5. Create habits. Don’t wait for motivation. It’s only ‘imagining’ you feel motivated. Start routines instead. Start with small steps and think that you can stop whenever you want but start anyway. For example, when I plan to get fit and run a 10km race, I put my running shoes and gear out the night before and set the alarm. I just do it and get started. Then I repeat this 3 times a week with small loops and at the end of the week I accumulate 20kms. The first step of the routine to get to the race.


Don’t rely on feeling motivated or motivating your team members. Use discipline instead. If you get stuck, read the blog again.


‘Motivation gets you going, but discipline keeps you growing.’ – John C Maxwell


If you want to work with me, email me at



Jessica Schubert

Jessica Schubert is a Leadership Expert, Executive Coach, Facilitator, Author and Speaker. She is obsessed with helping people realise their potential and unlock their inner genius.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Jessica has travelled the world and has spent more than 20 years leading cross-cultural teams in competitive markets throughout Europe and the Asia Pacific. As she worked with and coached her own diverse, cross-cultural teams, she came to realise that learning about yourself and developing interpersonal skills is the most powerful tool to lead and influence people around you.

In 2013 she launched Intact Teams, where she and her team have worked with thousands of leaders in organisations worldwide, delivering custom-designed leadership programs and workshops. These interactive and engaging programs are offered both virtually and in-person, helping leaders and their teams succeed in a complex and ever-changing business environment.

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Jessica Schubert