Motivation vs discipline… and Spitfires

over 8 years ago by Vilius Martinkus
Ray Flying Legends 2005 1

​If you’ve spent a reasonable amount of time on the internet recently you’ll likely have noticed that we have been bombarded by a great deal of productivity-based blog posts and articles filled with advice on ‘how to stay motivated’ or ‘how to motivate your team’, or ‘ how to be productive by staying motivated’, or ‘how motivation is key to success ’. The list goes on ad nauseum…

Truth is, motivation is important. Motivation will make you rally, put yourself into overdrive and do the things you need to do. What is not true though, is the claim that all of your success, productivity and so on comes down solely to being motivated.

In the real world, in which the great majority of us live, it is cold hard discipline that keeps you going.

Just think about it – how often do you feel motivated to take your meter readings? How often do you actually feel motivated to wake up at 7am to go to work? The truth is, most days and in most of the things we do, we are human – imperfect, and inherently slightly lazy. This is perfectly normal, and it is high time we accepted that. Yet we do these things anyway. Why? Because they need to be done; no other reason. It is self-discipline that drives us to do things when we do not feel ‘motivated’.

How does this translate into the workplace environment?

Let me give you an example – you have a job that on a day-to-day basis you really enjoy and feel it is rewarding. Yet how many of you have felt the ‘3pm slump’? Or the ‘Friday afternoon’, or the ‘Monday morning’ for that matter? My bet is you were probably not feeling very productive at that time, even if you had quite a lot of things that you needed to do. The way to defeat these dips in productivity, to be able to revert to an unwavering discipline, is to recognise that things need to be done. It is your job, after all, especially when it is one that you enjoy (most of the time).

There is a flip-side to this, though.

Let’s be honest with ourselves – when we do things based only on the discipline of having to do them, we are less likely to put all of our effort or passion into it. And once again, that is human; we all function that way. What we need to admit to ourselves and understand in others, is that motivation – that is, the desire to do things – is what carries you towards the goal of 100%.

However, even saying that, no matter how motivated you are even the very best can only keep up the 100% activity for so long.

This is where the Spitfires come in! The what?! Yes, Spitfires. As the title of this post promised.

What do WW2 fighter planes have in common with worker productivity and activity? I find it sobering to underline humanity by comparing it to machinery.

The way a Spitfire’s engine operates is quite dedicated for one purpose – to win air fights. How does it achieve this goal? The way a pilot is supposed to operate a Spitfire, is to run the engine at 80-85% of power for the journey to the target (say, some 500 miles, for several hours) and upon reaching the target area, cranking up the engine to 100%, effectively put it into overdrive for dogfighting that would last for anywhere between 5 to 30 minutes. In this time, the engine running at 100% would use up a great amount of fuel and overheat. Given that the pilot was skilful – and, remember, had to make the journey home – he would turn it back down to 80% to cool it down and conserve fuel to get it back to the airfield. I see quite a good parallel here – most of us do operate at 80% for most of the time, so that we are able to work at full pelt when necessary. Otherwise, the chances of being burnt-out increase exponentially!

At the end of the day, motivation is important, but only if it has a good base in the discipline you need to start doing the things that need doing.

Motivation without the necessary discipline to know what needs to be done (rather than what you feel you could do) could soon see you having an activity level of near 100%, with actual productivity being nowhere near it, and in the end leading to you feeling burnt out by doing too many unrelated things at once!

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