: something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act
: correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement
Given the above definitions, motivation is clearly a driving force to act, whereas self-discipline is a regulating force asking a person NOT to act.
This distinction is HUGE.
Since motivation is a need or desire causing you to act, it is essentially limitless. If you are thirsty, you will act until your thirst is quenched. If you are pursuing a field, such as strength training, where your thirst lies in becoming stronger, there is never a point where that thirst is extinguished because you can always become stronger. That force drives you on to act forever without any outside involvement.
On the other hand, I believe that most people that pass today as "motivated" are simply self-disciplined. This is relevant because self-discipline has been shown to be finite and exhaustible. It is believed to be similar to a muscle in that while it might grow tired in a single session of use, it can become stronger and gain stamina over time through training.
If we are labeling some of our students as "unmotivated" when in reality they just have a completely exhausted system of self-discipline, who is to blame for their poor attitudes, behaviors or failures?
Let's be honest, most of school is hardly enthralling. Sitting through most classes is entirely an act of self-control. No one is really motivated at 15 years old to sit through a 90 minute class period on the Russian revolution.
This means that by the time kids get home and are required to do homework, they have already spent a huge amount of finite "control" energy just sitting in class and attempting not to die from boredom. The very act of forcing themselves to sit silently and without moving is a huge requirement in self-control.
Once they've accomplished this feat of willpower over the course of six to seven school hours, they are asked to go home and do homework. Clearly, only the students with the largest amount of "reserves" are capable of doing this. The rest turn on the TV or X-box.
Matching tasks with desires is important if you want self-sustained and indefinite work to be done. I can read for hours or days on a topic I am genuinely interested in, just like I can go to the gym for hours each day because it is something I have deep need to improve at.
The art of finding congruence is certainly quite difficult in the K-12 sector of education. Kids rarely have a desire to do much of anything other than play and socialize with friends. However, this is not the case with higher education.
Higher education has the ability to match a student's desire with the tasks asked of that student. This is usually not done very well, however, and is often a repeat of of K-12. I think this failure to find congruence between student desires and program requirements is what leads to so much dissatisfaction in schools. It is the equivalent of a client asking a personal trainer to help them get a faster 5K time and the trainer having the client get a bigger bench! There is obviously little carry over, yet this is what we do in college all the time.
I want to become a better teacher of English as second language.
Things not desired:
The above bullet points are definitely not all-inclusive. They simply illustrate a few examples of items I could spend an indefinite amount of time getting lost in and a few examples of tasks that require huge amounts of finite self-control on my part.
The short list of topics I don't care to learn also represents close to fifty percent of my graduate program. That means fifty percent of my time is spent on activities that require me to exert huge amounts of energy in simply not quitting. Just getting through the material is a major task, let alone analyzing, evaluating, summarizing, and responding in written format.
CONCLUSION AND SUMMARY
1. Motivation and self-discipline are opposites in behavioral terms
2. Motivation is essentially limitless, self-discipline is finite
3. Most of K-16 education requires self-discipline
4. Students require work that matches their motivation if meaningful work is to be done