Winners need discipline, not motivation.

This is contrary to what a lot of people think. They think the more we motivate or inspire people, the better off they’re going to be and the more freedom they’re going to have. But here’s the truth: freedom without discipline is a trap. When you take the discipline away from freedom, it’s empty. It’s a lie.

I’m going to give you a great example of this — parenting. There are plenty of examples of how this plays out in our professional lives, but just for a moment, let’s think about parenting. If you don’t have kids, think of people you know who do.

Discipline Solved Our Chaotic Mornings at Home

When our kids were young, my wife and I were both working. We would get up in the morning, get ready for work, and get our two kids ready to go where they needed to go. Our boys were three and six at the time — one in preschool and one in the first grade. Our older son had to catch the school bus at a certain time, and it was always a challenge getting him out the door.

Every morning was absolute chaos. One kid would do the opposite of what we told him to do, not wanting to eat what we were having for breakfast. The other kid would change his outfit 17 times.

But we dealt with it because we wanted to provide freedom for our kids. We wanted them to wake up, eat a nice breakfast, have some iPad time, relax, and not feel the stress that we feel every day. So we would try to motivate them and encourage them to do what we needed them to do.

But we were lying to ourselves. We were caught in the freedom trap.

Motivation didn’t work; we tried it. Motivation starts like this: “Hey, if you get up tomorrow and do all these good things, we’ll make you a special breakfast” or “We’ll take you somewhere fun this weekend.” We said all the dumb things parents say that rarely work.

The truth is, you can’t give someone enough motivation to make them do anything. You can provide them with the structure and the discipline to succeed, but you can’t motivate them to get where you want them to be. This is true in the workforce, too: “If you do this, you’ll get this benefit.” With both kids and team members, you have to provide them with discipline. Discipline is the path to freedom.

In our house, it got to the point where I was at my wit’s end. I couldn’t focus anymore. If you have kids, you know that they know exactly what they’re doing. I don’t care how young they are, they know how to manipulate us every day.

  • If you have children at home, how could discipline improve your life? What would it look like to instill discipline into your children’s lives?
  • How will you explain your expectations to your children?

Begin with the End in Mind

To put an end to our chaotic mornings, I took the advice Stephen Covey shares in his book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Habit no. 2 is to begin with the end in mind.

I asked myself, “What would a perfect morning look like?” To me, a perfect morning would start out with both boys waking up to an alarm, getting up and getting dressed, and brushing their hair and teeth on their own. This was certainly doable for our six-year-old son, and for the three-year-old, we would just expect him to do these things to the best of his ability. Ideally, both boys would come downstairs fully ready to leave, except for putting their shoes on. If the only thing I had to focus on was their shoes, it would be easy. And we would leave on time.

My wife and I sat our boys down and told them what we expected of them and why. We explained exactly what they needed to do each morning. We knew they wouldn’t fully understand, or appreciate, this life lesson until years later. But we needed to develop the structure, habits and discipline at that time so our lives wouldn’t be so chaotic.

  • What would the ideal morning, or day, look like for you and your family?
  • What needs to change before you can achieve that vision?

Motivation Comes After Discipline

The first night, I set the alarm. The next morning, both kids woke up to the alarm. Both kids got up, brushed their teeth and hair, and went downstairs. But, as I expected, they weren’t consistent. When they tried to get away with skipping a step or two, I did not budge.

Our kids go to Catholic school. At that time, our older son wore a uniform to school, but the younger one didn’t have to wear a uniform yet. He loved to change outfits, and that took a lot of time in the morning, so we had to alter his routine a little bit. We began requiring him to lay out his clothes the night before because getting up when the alarm went off was hard enough. It took two or three weeks, but he finally developed the discipline to choose his clothes at night for the next day.

Now, on the weekends, our boys didn’t have to follow these rules. They woke up and lived in a chaotic state. There was nothing they had to do when they woke up on a Saturday or Sunday morning. But Monday through Friday, when we had to be somewhere, we were all ready to go at the same time.

And you know what? It changed our mornings, it changed our lives. It changed everything about the way we felt about each other in the morning. Plus, the morning ride to school was a more joyful experience. They were in a better mood. When they gave us a goodbye kiss or hug, it was genuine. They weren’t carrying the frustration of the chaotic morning into the day.

When they got downstairs, they were ready. And they got iPad time — which, to them, meant freedom. Freedom arrived when discipline was started. When they started their day with discipline, they now received freedom. And that’s where their motivation came from.

Their motivation came after the discipline. The motivation said, “If I do everything Dad says to do in the morning, I’m going to get free time in the morning to watch my show and to eat the breakfast I want.”

Some days were challenging. There were days when one child didn’t feel well. There were times when we had to make some exceptions, but I did not build a structure around exceptions. The discipline that my wife and I instilled in our sons provided them with the motivation for them to have more freedom to succeed.

  • How could you gain more freedom by building discipline into your routine, specifically in the most important aspects of your life — love, impact, faith, and energy?
  • What practical benefits can you envision for yourself by becoming more disciplined?

Discipline Is an Important Life Lesson, Both at Home and at Work

I know there are moms and dads out there who can relate to this message, but they are scared about providing discipline in any capacity. They think it’s not worth it or that it’s going to be too hard. The thing is, it isn’t hard at all to build discipline into your kids’ routine. What’s hard is not doing it — and dealing with the chaos, day in and day out.

All it takes is your willingness to put in the hard work on the front end to get results on the back end. Teaching your kids to be disciplined is an important life lesson that can impact their capacity for success in all aspects of life. In sports, coaches instill discipline in their players. We can do the same for our children and for our team members. We can develop people into winners by building discipline into their lives.

This works in the professional world, too. I cannot motivate people to be more than they want to be. No matter how hard I try, I can’t do it. I love to be the kind of leader who helps people see the greatness inside themselves. But I can’t motivate them. But what I can do is, I can provide them with structure, resources, guidance and discipline to create the perfect scenario they see in their lives. I can help them build their best lives — starting with the end in mind, just like I did with my kids.

I don’t have it all figured out, I have struggled on many days. If our lives hadn’t been crazy and chaotic when our kids were young, I might not have figured out this solution the way I did. We all struggle. We all face challenges, both in our personal and professional lives. But often, that’s how the best ideas are born — because something isn’t working and we need a solution. As the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

  • In any scenario, remember that you can turn chaos into order with discipline, and discipline leads to freedom. You can’t have the freedom without the discipline. Without discipline, freedom is an empty promise.
  • Execute! Stop worrying about motivation, and start focusing on the discipline that is going to change your life.