The river’s journey is filled with bends. Sometimes the current is rolling and swift. Sometimes it is sluggish. At other times it does not flow at all—perhaps for months and years at a time. All rivers flow somewhere—the distant sea or an inland or underground lake. Regardless of the time or twists the water must take, it somehow arrives at its final destination.
Motivation—regardless of the task or duty, the goal or the prize, the dream or the vision—works the same way: it ebbs and flows, it widens for long stretches, and then thins out for miles on end. It rumbles into cascading waterfalls of positivity or trickles into unenthusiastic drops filled with inaction. Of course, motivation runs out. Nothing, after all, lasts forever.
There are days when one’s motivation is high, when it feels like any obstacle can be surmounted: the earliest alarm call can be answered, any race can be ran, and any weight can be shifted or lifted. The first days in the gym, when long-term goals seem closer than they actually are, is defined by an eagerness to show up and train. In the initial weeks of a new job that promises growth and exciting career opportunities, the desire to perform and outperform job descriptions clings to the newest recruits and the freshly-promoted like a perfume. A recently commenced hobby that unlocks hidden creative energy while providing novel avenues of self-discovery is met with commitment. These are the good days, when the rains are abundant and the river threatens to burst its banks. The current of keenness carries the dreamer along.
Strong starts, though, are often followed by stuttering middles. The four o’clock alarm is snoozed once, twice, and then, since nothing untoward happens, more regularly. The promising job shows signs of routine, the very thing that was being avoided in previous employment. Even the hobby, a thing of pleasure and relaxation, withhold its rewards—they are no longer as instantaneous as they once were. At this stage the river slows down but it does not stop. If one is lucky, it remains possible to be carried along on the residual energy of the starts, the magic of beginnings, although fading, still lingers. For the first time it becomes necessary to row. The oars come out and the dreamer becomes the worker.
The river thins out some more. The scraping of rocks can be heard beneath the boat’s hull.
Four o’clock becomes the bitching hour.
And the hobby—what hobby?
Inevitably, and sooner than one always thinks, the current stops.
Motivation runs out.
Because it is emotional, motivation is susceptible to personal temperament. It cannot be perennial because its rain sources remain unknown, even to the individual, and when it falls it often does not do so in sufficient quantities to sustain a flow that goes from start to finish, from the source to its sea.
Remember this: motivation always runs out.
A push of some kind is needed to overcome the attendant physical, emotional, or psychological inertia: discipline is the only way to overcome delayed results, disillusionment, and disappointment. Worked on day by sweaty day, week by challenging week, through the good and bad times, it remains constant even as motivation yo-yos. As impermanent as all things are, discipline is made of more robust materials: the sheer will to complete a task despite its rote nature; the resolve to outlast any hindrance; and the tempered tenacity needed to perform regardless of whether the weather is good or the climate is harsh.
Motivation flows like a river. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, and sometimes not at all.
But discipline, when crafted with care, is like gravity, slowly and inevitably drawing goals to towards the dreaming worker.
Rémy Ngamije is an award-winning Rwandan-born Namibian author, editor, publisher, photographer, literary educator, and entrepreneur. He is the founder of The Forge.