Motivation or Discipline

(750 words and approximate reading time 3.5 minutes)

Which is more important?

How many times have you stopped and considered the real meaning of words used every day? More importantly, how often do you challenge your own notion of that meaning by looking it up? Recently, I heard a friend and father I respect tell his son that discipline is more important than motivation.  He said, “Motivation can come and go, but discipline will take you where you must go, even when you are not feeling very motivated”. It was compelling enough to write down, and consider not only the meaning of the words but also the implications. It is great advice, and I thought I would share what I found. Read on.


Better Late Than Never

It would have been ideal to receive this advice a long time ago. I have always considered myself a motivated individual, and am not very satisfied unless I am doing something (constantly). Right now, I am watching the news and writing a blog on a Saturday morning. Yep, that might be called motivated. However, I had the idea for the blog last Tuesday, and was disciplined enough to write the idea down but not motivated to write it until today. So perhaps one could argue that it takes both to accomplish our goals. Hard to debate either way.

Culturally, motivation is a more attractive word than discipline, and often used interchangeably in the noun form, because discipline in the verb form is what we all received when we did not follow a rule. So think about that – we may have been motivated to drop an M-80 in that toilet bowl, but were severely disciplined when the toilet had to be replaced (sharing for a friend). There are literally thousands of instances every day when we follow the rules or guidelines to get things done, often with or without a burst of motivation.

As simple examples, the discipline of a ‘to do list’ should keep us on point during the day, even when we are not feeling particularly motivated. If we are disciplined enough to exercise even on days when we feel tired, the cumulative effect over time is significant. This last point is where the father’s advice collides with Blueprint's business.

The Importance of Discipline on Investing

We write a lot about human behavior and the impact of that behavior on our lives. We focus specifically on investment portfolios and the relationship between behavior and the achievement of our financial goals. Often some of the most counterproductive motivations are instigated by market conditions that, despite being part of a normal market cycle, are irresistible emotionally. Who out there has had FOMO when the market is roaring higher and we feel we are missing out?  Who has not acted on their fear when the news media is screaming ‘the end is near’ after a few volatile down days or weeks in the market?

This is when discipline is more important than motivation, and why my friend’s advice to his son makes a real difference over time.  Discipline will allow us to resist those (negative) motivations, and stay the course, adjusting with the rules we have established and not due to emotion-driven reactions.

Much like exercise, the discipline to stay the course in investing has a noticeable cumulative effect over time. The chart above illustrates the compounding of investment returns over 10 years, comparing the discipline of following the rules of trend following to the more common method of buy and hold. As you can see, following the rules makes a difference, even without any human intervention. Imagine inserting some human behavior in this mixture by buying high or selling low – not good – as studies by Dalbar consistently show. Raise your hand if this strikes close to home.

Motivation v. Discipline

Our research has shown that from an investment perspective, discipline wins the day. Our investment strategies follow strict rules and execute without hesitation or human motivation. We refer to this as behaviorally intelligent investing, for a reason. If the investor can have the emotional intelligence to avoid less rational behaviors, the results will improve dramatically over time. 

The advice was sound.

Motivation comes and goes, but discipline will allow us to stay the course.


For more thoughts on behaviorally intelligent investing and ways to reduce the impact of human behavior on investment decisions visit Or contact one of our founding partners at 1.800.765.6936.

60/40 problem CTA banner

Past performance is not indicative of future results. The material above has been provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended as legal or investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security or strategy. The investment strategy and themes discussed herein may be unsuitable for investors depending on their specific investment objectives and financial situation. Information obtained from third-party sources is believed to be reliable though its accuracy is not guaranteed, and Blueprint Investment Partners makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of the information, which should not be used as the basis of any investment decision. Information contained on third party websites that Blueprint Investment Partners LLC (“Blueprint”) may link to are not reviewed in their entirety for accuracy and Blueprint assumes no liability for the information contained on these websites. Opinions expressed in this commentary reflect subjective judgments of the author based on conditions at the time of writing and are subject to change without notice. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission from Blueprint.  For more information about Blueprint Investment Partners, including our Form ADV Part 2A Brochure, please visit or contact us at (800) 704-6913

Not a recommendation of any security or strategy. Intended for informational purposes only. Investing contains significant risks, including the risk of loss. Investment decisions should be made based on the investors specific financial needs and objectives.
Past performance is not indicative of future results. The information provided in this fact sheet relating to the Blueprint Growth (20% Strategic) sub-strategy has not been GIPS-verified. The information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable and is accurate to the best of our knowledge, but we can't guarantee its accuracy or completeness. Please note, this information is supplemental to the information provided as part of the GIPS-compliant presentation for the Blueprint Growth composite.
The 60% ACWI - 40% AGG Benchmark is comprised of 60% MSCI ACWI Index ETF and 40% Bloomberg Barclay’s US Aggregate Bond Index ETF, rebalanced monthly. Inception date of the Blueprint sub-strategy presented is January 1, 2013. Performance prior to this date is model performance. Performance results are presented in US dollars and are net of sub-advisory fees and trading expenses and reflect the reinvestment of dividends and capital gains. Actual fees may vary based on, among other factors, account size and custodial relationship. There will be brokerage commissions associated with buying and selling ETFs.Investments involve risk and unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial adviser and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Investors should consider the underlying funds' investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses carefully before investing. The Advisor's ADV, which contains this and other important information, should be read carefully before investing. The strategy is subject to management risk and an investor's return and principal value of investment may fluctuate, so that an investment, when liquidated, may be worth more or less than their original investment. ETFs trade like stocks and may trade for less than their net asset value. Blueprint’s reliance on the strategy and its judgments about the value and potential appreciation of the securities in which the strategy invests may prove to be incorrect. Overall market risk, including volatility, may affect the value of the individual instruments in which the strategy invests. The investment strategy and types of securities held by the comparison indices may be substantially different from the investment strategy and the types of securities held by the Blueprint Growth (20% Strategic) Sub-Strategy. Blueprint Investment Partners, LLC ("Blueprint" or the "Advisor") is registered as an investment adviser with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Registration does not constitute an endorsement of the firm by the SEC nor does it indicate that the Adviser has attained a particular level of skill or ability.

New call-to-action

Popular Posts