Motivation is a powerful initial force. It provides momentum. When we start projects, we need that momentum to push us through the initial collision with reality when we learn of all the complex choices we have to make to get things off the ground. It’s the motivation to learn, to discover, and to create that propels us forward at first.
That motivation won’t last forever. Just like hedonic adaptation causes us to consider any lifestyle to need further improvements eventually, our motivation will ultimately wane. What once was blinding optimism slowly turns into a more realistic perspective. We start questioning our choices, wondering what-if, and may even feel apprehensive. Looking at competitors, we learn that some things that we thought were easily accomplished have been tried in the past and failed. Our prospective customers’ initial feedback shows that our assumptions were often right, but also sometimes wrong.
The rose-colored glasses are losing their hue.
Many founders give up at that point. They relied on their motivation to carry them through their day, and they suddenly can’t make an effort any longer. They spend less and less time on their projects, slowly abandoning them over time. Motivation alone can not sustain a business. Building a business is a long-term project. Such an undertaking requires something different, something reliable.
That’s where discipline comes into play. Unlike motivation, discipline is not the source of energy: it is a way to generate it reliably. Motivation is the fuel, but discipline is the power plant that provides it daily.
I publish new content in The Bootstrapped Founder blog, newsletter, and podcast every week. I have done so, without skipping a week, since December 2019. For the first few weeks, it was the motivation to share my knowledge that made me write every day. I couldn’t stop putting my thoughts on paper. I started by writing blog articles exclusively, and I wrote dozens of articles in my first month.
A few weeks into writing, I felt my motivation fade. I knew that if I didn’t act, I’d eventually stop writing.
I knew I had to set up an accountability system. Since I was already writing 3000-word articles, I thought, “why not turn this into a newsletter?” If I could get a few people to subscribe to a list, they would expect me to write something weekly. So I quickly set up a ConvertKit list, added the widgets to my blog, and mustered the courage to ask my Twitter followers to sign up.
On that first day, November 13th, 2019, six people signed up for my list. The next day, 13 more joined.
I was ecstatic — and relieved. I had successfully externalized my source of motivation. Now it was not up to me alone. Someone else expected me to create my work. Within a week, I had more than 100 subscribers, which validated several things: people seemed to like my writing, and they wanted more.
Ever since, I have been writing a major article every week. Some weeks, it was easy. Other weeks, it was trudgery. There were weeks where I wrote two or three pieces and weeks where it took days to get a few words out. Motivation was either abundant or non-existent. It could not be relied upon.
But feeling accountable to my readers was always there, no matter how motivated I felt. That instilled a sense of discipline that carries me through every week. I know that by Friday, I want something meaningful to be published. I have to. I owe it to the people that I want to help.
Build accountability systems into your day-to-day work. Externalize the source of your motivation. Understand that your work is an act of service that people rely on. All of those actions will instill a sense of discipline that makes the answer to the question “why should I?” so obvious that you don’t have to ask yourself that question.