Motivation vs. Discipline and the Onslaught of Burnout

Are you motivated or disciplined? Is one better than the other?

I would like to look at Motivation Monday through a different lens. I say this because I am writing this Monday Motivation article as a person that at one time was very motivated. I was able to motivate myself, my teams of group ex instructors, and classes full of students. Now, this just isn’t the case.

I used to be work obsessed. Motivated to be the best I could be. Motivated to make my group ex teams the best. Motivated to create excellent classes and programs. Motivated to be innovative and unique.

For reasons that are not important for the purposes of this article, I lost pretty much all motivation I had in literally about one day (for a little peak, read my article: When the Music Stops, But the Beat Goes On). A year and a half later, I have yet to regain any meaningful motivation.

This is a huge problem. Or is it?

I will give you an example of why I ask. A year ago, I started running. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was a way for me to try and find or feel motivation again. It didn’t work.  I didn’t particularly care for running, and a year later, I still don’t like it, and I’m not sure why I do it. Be that as it may, I run 5 days a week.  I have a plan in my head of what I want to accomplish, I have run races, and I have made improvements.

You may think I’m crazy and believe that what I have is motivation to run. I don’t. What I have is discipline. Not and all the other benefits running brings. I am disciplined, if not motivated.

Motivation vs. Discipline??

This begs the question, do you need motivation to survive professionally or personally? In my opinion, no, as long as you have discipline in your principles and practices.

Let’s drill down and examine this a little closer…

Motivation is defined by Webster as “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. The condition of being eager to act or work”.

Intrinsic Motivation

Motivation can be intrinsic…..i.e. you have a deep desire within yourself, uninfluenced by outside factors to accomplish something.

When a fitness professional attends a workshop or conference, it is natural they become inspired.  They are motivated to return home and create amazing classes based on all the great information they received. There is a sense of excitement about getting to work on all of their new material.

A fit pro should always be eager and motivated to learn more, to perfect their craft and take their performance to the next level.  That kind of intrinsic motivation is essential to achieve the level of expertise they desire and as the desire comes from their own internal fortitude, from within themselves, they will have an easier time achieving their goals than someone who feels forced, or coerced to achieve a particular result.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation is established from an outside influence. Rather than a person being organically, internally motivated, extrinsically motivated individuals are prompted by a source other than themselves. A person may be told by a doctor they need to lose weight or they will have a stroke, or heart attack. This person is extrinsically motivated to lose weight. Based on their fear of serious health issues, and warnings from their doctor, they start to exercise.

In the fitness professional world, a similar circumstance could occur. Perhaps an instructor or trainer has received multiple legitimate negative comment cards from members. Perhaps their class numbers are dropping, or they have received a poor performance review. These situations could be viewed as extrinsic motivators to improving performance. Their Director may tell them to improve or lose their class or job. At some point that person will have to transition their extrinsic motivation to intrinsic in order to avoid the same pitfalls in performance or risk damage to their job.


Discipline can be related to motivation, however you do not need motivation to have discipline. Discipline is defined as an activity, exercise or regimen that develops or improves skill and training.

Motivation is certainly something that can aid discipline but it is not a required component.

Memorizing choreography, studying for a certification exam, continuing education, or consistently working to improve skills and technique are examples of a fitness professional exhibiting discipline in their profession.

For very busy fit pros that may have a full time job, family obligations or a variety of other commitments, memorizing the latest Turbo Kick round, or BODYPUMP release may be the last thing they have time or will to do.  Perhaps leaving for a convention is coming at a very bad time and the motivation to go has been hijacked by life outside the studio. It will be important for discipline to step in to help the pro see it through.

Is one better than the other?

Obviously, discipline and motivation are better when they work together as a team, but you can realistically operate with just one. If I had to choose, for me, having discipline is more important. I can be very motivated, just not organized or disciplined enough to complete a task. Or, I can have no motivation, and finish the task anyway because I am disciplined to do so. It is subjective to the individual what works best.

Being a fitness pro can be emotionally and physically draining, and losing motivation, or the dreaded “burn out” is a real concern for many pros (so much that we’ve had 3 other pro’s write articles here on GXunited about how to avoid burnout and maintain motivation, including the 4 articles below):

Let’s look at some ways to find motivation should you find yourself lacking.

Finding Motivation

  1. Take a break!
    Yes you and your students will live if you sub out your class occasionally.
  2. Go to another instructor’s class.
    This is great for team relationship building, but peer to peer learning is also a good source of learning and motivation for yourself.
  3. Write about what got you started in the business of fitness.
    Really? Yes, really.  Why you do it, what used to motivate you. Examine why those things may not be motivating you anymore. Jot down ideas that may help you rekindle the motivation you used to feel. Sometimes, just remembering why you got started is enough of a jump start to get going again.
  4. Spend time with someone who inspires.
    Pick their brain, feed off their energy, get advice, and be reinspired.
  5. Look at your life and schedule.
    Are you over scheduled? Are you teaching too many of your own classes and also subbing? Have you been teaching the same class, on the same night, in the same time slot for too many years? Do you need a change? Talk to your boss and see if you can make that happen.
  6. Take a good hard look at where you are and how you feel about the job.
    Are you still interested? If not, should you still be teaching? Do you still feel joy in teaching others? If not, you may need to examine if this career is still for you, and you know what? That is perfectly ok. There is no shame in re-examining your life and goals.  Remember, the average adult has 7 different careers, there is no shame in hanging up your teaching shoes.

Think of discipline as a habit, and motivation as desire. They can live independently but it is better if they have a symbiotic relationship. They are stronger together.

If you find yourself, lacking both, it may be time to move on. However if you still love what you do, know that lack of motivation, most of the time is temporary. Discipline can carry the load until you find that internal fortitude and discover what it is that will create excitement for you again.

Motivation vs. Discipline as a Fit Pro

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