Cultivating Discipline When Motivation Runs Out

How to Cultivate Discipline When Motivation Runs Out. Read the inspiring post by Andie Mitchell

We have all felt that rush when we wake up on the Monday morning of our new diet — that feeling of total confidence, excitement, and motivation to change our life and re-route all our bad habits to new, better ones. We feel like rock stars, going through the day passing up snacks and going for a second walk on the treadmill just because we feel like it. We cruise through day two and even day three. And then on day four…after a tough day at work, we skip the treadmill. On day five, we grab a scone with our morning coffee at Starbucks and throw our bagged lunch away and go out with our co-workers — and great misery-loves-company news! They all did the exact same thing. By the end of the week we’re back to our old habits and have come to the conclusion that, yet again, maybe we just weren’t motivated enough.


Motivation is a wonderful and powerful tool, but it’s never going to be enough to sustain real, lasting change. Why?

fotolia Female Runner Shoes closeup on the road, town setting.

Because motivation only helps create the spark to start–it’s discipline that fuels the journey.

Motivation relies on an inside-out method of problem-solving. You wait for the right mood or emotional state to give you the courage to tackle your issues. The problem? Moods are unpredictable and inconsistent and emotional states are usually fleeting. Unlike motivation, discipline uses an outside-in method. You do the work despite your mood and inner turmoil, and as you get closer to your goal, your inner mood will change. You don’t wait until you’re stronger to begin lifting weights, you begin lifting weights to get stronger. Moving toward a discipline-approach helps those of us who procrastinate and who have kinda-sorta been known to make excuses. I was exhausted OK?!  


I struggle with implementing this philosophy. You have no doubt noticed the weeks (and months) at a time where this blog that I love goes without an update. I used to think I needed to wait for the mood to strike me to write a post or create a new recipe. But, because of my depression, that mood may not come…for months. Early last summer, I started trying to do at least some work on the blog every day. And I didn’t always feel like it, but still I knew I had enough energy to push through and get something done. I was trying to cultivate discipline while my motivation was low. For all of us, beginning the work is hard — sometimes excruciating — but once you begin to see results you get a sense of accomplishment. It isn’t a cure-all for low mood or motivation but it’s a whole lot better than the oppressive gravity of shame and guilt.


Do what you need to get done, every day. Don’t feel like doing it? Do it anyway. Don’t think you can do it? Try anyway. Work those muscles required to accomplish your goals even when you don’t feel like it, and over time, it becomes easier. Big changes are hard and scary and you’re programmed to avoid things that are hard and scary. But eventually, you (and I) are going to have to do the work, so start now.



30 thoughts on “Cultivating Discipline When Motivation Runs Out

  1. Erin @ Erin's Inside Job

    All of this is so true. I had a rough time this summer and it was forcing myself to keep writing and working on my blog that helped me maintain some sense of routine and prevented me from spending the day in bed or running from my responsibilities. It’s definitely motivation that gets you excited, but you really have to learn how to keep going when that initial spark isn’t as exciting anymore.

  2. Carol Hansen


    Thank you so much for the encouragement..I needed TODAY! After spending the weekend with my daughters and acting like a college girl…a little to much drink and merriment..I was discouraged and didn’t do so well yesterday, but today I put on my tennis shoes and went out the door only to come home to this blog…it helped me to get rid of the guilt and just press I am so thankful for your willingness to have helped me more than you know! xoxoxo

  3. Heather

    Ugh, this is so spot on. Some days I wake up and I just do NOT feel like doing the things I know will make me feel fulfilled and happy, and those are the days when I need to do those things the most. I’m still working on cultivating discipline in many areas in my life. I feel like it will always be a work in progress.

    Also, I have to mention that I just flew through your book and loved it. You should feel seriously proud of that book and everything you’ve accomplished!

  4. Hootie

    This is where those habits come in :) you recommended Gretchen Rubin’s habit book a while back and I have been listening to the audio version when I travel for work (so sporadically). For 5 yrs at my job I would get sucked in first thing in the morning and look up at the clock and it would be 11:00 or 11:30 and I haven’t had coffee or eaten anything or worked out….then I decided to cultivate the habit of not sitting down until I had “done me” so I wake up and stand up to check in with work, put out fires standing up…do me…then sit down to get sucked in. I cannot tell you how much relief my new habit is and how much better I feel about my day. Just keep swimming :) thank you for sharing

  5. Ashley

    I LOVE this – YES! Discipline is what gets us through when our motivation is low. Do you have specific ways you stay disciplined? Some of mine include setting realistic goals (ie I’ll go to the gym three times/week instead of deciding on five times because I know I can’t sustain 5, but 3 is manageable (and better than none!)) I also promise myself that if I just get on the treadmill and run for the first 5 minutes, then I can quit. And sometimes I do. But often, I feel like I can keep going and I do and it feels SO GOOD to have accomplished more than I set out for and that helps with MOTIVATION! They’re not separate – they’re a continuum, in all actuality.

  6. Rochelle

    Are you reading my mind again?! I was just telling a friend basically all of this yesterday…I love and miss the gym but ALWAYS have a reason to not go after working a 10-12 hour day all the while knowing that if i just went it would a) relieve my stress from said 10-12 hour day b) get me to my goals faster c) basically solve most of my problems d) take out that stress on the barbell and not sitting on my couch throwing myself a pity party…the list is endless. This…I needed this. THANK YOU!!!

  7. Erica@ Everday rica

    What a great post! You descibed motivation so well as being “the spark.” I often get comments on my lifestyle all the time like…how do you stay motivated etc? It is SO much more than motivation. It is making these changes and your discipline into a lifestyle and a way of life. Do it because you want to and it makes you feel like your best self and make it who you are.

  8. keetch*

    Thank you for this becasue right now I am sitting with my CPT text in front of me procrastinating on reading about benefits of cardio fitness for clients. I want you to know that I read your book. I have had weak moments over the last 5 years and your book helped me through a more recent one..turning 30, parting ways with a boyfriend, moving and changing careers all at the same time. Thank you!

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  10. Kerstin

    I have four fundamental elements that I try to observe during my weight-loss journey and the one I probably use the most is “Do it anyway.” So reading your post was a great affirmation of that, thank you! You might also like this quote, I love it: “Your degree of resistance around something will be proportional to the amount of power waiting for you on the other side of that resistance.” ~ Barbara Stanny

  11. Savvy

    You are so spot on that I want to call you psychic today!! Just put your book on hold @ the library. Thanks for adding my next good read!! will get me past the ‘grumbling’ that has occupied too many of my days of late…blame allergy/congestion/sneezing…and me! Back on board as I have a wedding in just 3 weeks…perhaps I’ll grade my days by looking @ motivation and discipline?? Ohyes!! Thanks again!! Chicken salad with roasted garlic coming to dinner @ my house tonite. Thanks!!

  12. Cindy B

    I really like this distinction between motivation and discipline. I find the word discipline often triggers people because of its connection with “punishment.” I like to think of discipline as “steady and consistent effort.” I don’t include any attachment to the outcome. AND I fail over and over to maintain steady and consistent effort. Returning again and again to the starting point is part of my discipline.

    I wanted to say that I just finished reading your memoir and I liked it really well. I love that you are very genuine and come from a tough background. I can relate to that. I am currently 53 and went on my own weight loss journey as a 30-something adult. This resulted in an 85 pound weight loss (from 240 to 155). I became a vigorous exerciser, yogi, and vegetarian during those years, and my diet changed naturally to be healthier. I never really focused on what I ate, though. In the years since, I had a baby and have aged quite a bit with so many changes in role, career, marriage, emotions, geography, Spirit….My body now carries more pounds thank I am happy with and I’d like to lose about 30-35 pounds. Your book was helpful to me in a number of ways. First, refocusing on why I eat more than I need and why I gravitate to certain kinds of comfort. Second, I am getting the idea that (at least for me) that exercise and nourishment are actually quite separate. I can’t rely on exercise to control my weight (I don’t have the time or interest in working that hard). I want to exercise and be active in order to keep my organs and tissues healthy, to maintain strength, balance and flexibility, reduce stress, sleep better, etc. That leaves me actually needing to attend to the details of my nourishment. And make sure I am nourishing my body and Spirit. I’ve been resisting this because I hate feeling restricted or limited or controlled. I am starting to look at it differently. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  13. Mandi

    Andie, every time I visit this site, you’ve posted something that hits home. Now to pick up my arm weights and dust off the books I’ve been meaning to read this year…

  14. Jody Wallace

    I have struggled with this since my father passed, then I hit a deer, totaled my car, then my best friend who had been staying with me passed away, and then my youngest son was in an accident, he got hurt pretty bad.
    I am trying to let go of these tragedies but it seems extremely difficult…there were just too many in to short a period of time
    Thank you for your inspiring words. They were much needed today.

  15. Krystale

    Andie, you hit the nail on the head here. Before I had my (almost) 2 year old I had such motivation and drive to get fit. I lost 30 pounds, then immediately found out I was pregnant. After he was born (and 60 pounds heavier) I have lost all of that drive and discipline. I have the motivation but not the discipline to continue on. Your post gives me hope that I can keep on, keepin’ on. Thank you.

  16. Joanna

    “Because motivation only helps create the spark to start–it’s discipline that fuels the journey.” Wow! This one phrase blew out of my screen at me today, while reading! I am a first time reader of your blog and absolutely love your voice. This piece was beautifully written. Thank you for your words.

  17. Taylor

    You are completely right, We start with a vengeance and go on it for some days, but after some days when ever we feel sick and tired we skip the gym and start binging again, It takes lots of efforts and dedication to pursue anything,

  18. Jaclyn

    Hi to all this morning,

    My two cents — a plan is the ultimate goal for success. Think about it in easy terms…would you dress yourself without a plan for the outfit you are creating….will you decorate your home without a plan of what you want the finished look will be? Envision the body image, weight/healthy goal and plan it out.

    Having a plan is a HIGH, natural high for success.

    Jnr, CT

  19. Tara

    I only just found your blog and I am so glad that I did. I have heard of your book but I have been ignoring the true issue and continuing to try diet after diet and eliminating things from diet, believe that must be the culprit. The truth is, the issue lies within me and when I started to realize that I stopped researching diets and started researching emotional eating – and I found this blog!!

    I am two years recovered from alcohol addiction. Since getting sober I have gained 30 pounds. I can relate to so much of this since I have done a lot of work on myself regarding my substance abuse but what i hadn’t realized is that I had transferred my addiction to food. I am filling some sort of void and only through stopping relying on the substances and acknowledging and dealing with whatever void this is will I recover.

    I am only 28 so I am so grateful to be figuring this out at such a young age (silver lining). I look forward to reading your book and continuing to follow your blog.

    Thank you for giving my hope!!

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  21. the gold digger

    I am never ever ever motivated to exercise. I hate exercising. I like having exercised. I force myself to do it almost every day.

    Same thing with writing – I am not enjoying writing my book, but I have been setting a timer for 30 minutes and thinking, “I can do anything for 30 minutes.” And I like having written

  22. Addie

    Andie Mitchell, you are quickly becoming part of my learn-the-discipline and motivational circle. You know, that circle of inspiration that you always try to place yourself in so that you are always surrounded by what helps to make you move forward toward your goals? Yeah, that one. ❤️ Thank you.

  23. Tam

    Good Morning, I needed some inspiration, something to urge me on in this journey of life. So here I am once again digging through your archives. I Love reading your blog. You have a powerful voice!

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