The short answer is both. But that's not particularly helpful, so let's take a deeper look.

If you’ve been planning for your future you might have seen quotes like this:

And then something which seems like the opposite a little bit later:

So it can be difficult to know which one you actually need.

First, motivation…

Motivation is all about how much you enjoy a particular thing. How rewarding and fun is it? How willing are you to try it? People also talk about ‘staying motivated’ – making sure you keep wanting to work on your goals. Keeping ‘on track’.

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Because motivation is all about how you’re feeling it can often change or disappear. It’s also not something which people spend a lot of time thinking about. It can be tempting to assume you just know what motivates you – no thinking necessary!

But it’s often useful to make sure you know your motivations and how they’ve changed. Here are a few starter questions:

  1. Think about where you want to be in 10 years. What’s the first thing you think of?
  2. How do you feel when you achieve a goal you set? Do you feel different depending on what the goal was?
  3. What are your 3 main strengths?
  4. What cheers you up when you’re feeling a bit blue?

The important thing to remember is that there’s no right answer. Some people are motivated by earning money. Some people want to make a difference to others, or discover new things, or make people they care about proud. They’re all valid reasons. The process you go through trying to figure out what motivates you is the whole point.

Where does discipline come in?

If Motivation is the excitable ideas-gremlin who visits you at the start, then Discipline is the one who has to get the work done.

Motivation might say ‘I’m going to start all my coursework early this year, because then I’ll have more time to relax’. But then discipline is the one who has to turn off YouTube and actually start writing.

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We can think of discipline as our ability to stick to rules which we’ve set for ourselves, even if no one else is looking.

So how do we balance them?

The most important thing is this:

You need both motivation and discipline to succeed.

This might seem like extra work, but it really isn’t. The great thing about motivation and discipline is that once you’ve got one it makes the other easier.

When you have options, try to pick things that motivate you. Spend some time thinking about the bigger picture – where do you want to be long term? What targets will help you get there?

This extra work during the ‘motivation’ stage will help when you reach the ‘discipline’ bit. When the initial enthusiasm has died down and you have to power through just ‘because’, it’s helpful to remember why you’re doing it.It also means you set realistic targets. This is super important because when you achieve goals it’s easier to reach the next one.


This article was written by Chloe Adams-Pickford, Operations Coordinator.

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Want to discuss this with other young women in STEM? Why not join the Stemette Society to continue the conversation.

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