Confidence, Discipline, and Internal Motivation

Guest Blogger Dan Owolabi shares:


Franklin D. Roosevelt was known for his ability to inspire confidence. Leading through the Great Depression and World War Two, FDR had the incredible challenge of finding a way forward in the midst of the darkest days of American history. But, throughout his presidency he consistently projected a supernatural, infectious confidence. But the source of his confidence came from an unlikely place.

In the summer of 1921, when he was 39 years of age, the FDR contracted polio. At the time, there was a grim prognosis and no cure. After days of fever and intense pain, his legs were completely and permanently paralyzed. During the difficulty, Roosevelt initially battled depression. But then, he rallied his strength and focused on winning back some of his original mobility. As he committed himself to daily physical therapy, his progress caused his confidence to grow.

Years later, when asked about his unflappable confidence in the face of impossible challenges, he said "Once I spent two years in bed trying to move my big toe,” he said. “After that job, anything seems easy"

In that phrase, FDR highlighted a secret source of confidence. Discipline. When you discipline yourself to accomplish a difficult task, you get more than the feeling of accomplishment. You learn to lead yourself, and you realize you have the capacity to make things happen. That creates a deep sense of inner confidence. Show me someone who’s naturally confident, and I’ll show you someone who is well acquainted with long seasons of self-discipline. Those who learn to lead themselves take a more disciplined approach to life and accomplish more than most ever dream.

To endure long seasons of discipline, you must start with an internal motivation. In my book, Authentic Leadership, I explain how the best leaders have an inner drive to improve. They don’t need conditions to be perfect to produce results. They show up and work whether they feel like it or not. They move the needle whether people are watching or not.

Sometimes leaders succeed for a short time simply because they are externally motivated. They are surrounded by an environment perfectly tailored for their success. That’s a dangerous situation for a leader because they’ve never really been tested, but they believe they’ve learned self-discipline.

For example, The Biggest Loser became popular for incredible transformation of the contestants. The show documents individuals who experience extreme weight loss. Every episode involves scenes of people running, lifting, and generally pushing themselves more than they ever have. There are always moments when they cry and quit, only to get back on the treadmill again.

Finally, each show culminates in a “big reveal” when the final contestant comes out from behind a curtain to reveal him- or herself. Every time, they look like a totally different person! They’ve lost hundreds of pounds, they’ve received a wardrobe makeover, and they’re more confident than they’ve ever been. The show ends as they hug their family and friends, ready to enjoy their new life with new clothes and a new physique. It’s all very inspirational.

If you follow up months later, you’ll see something far less inspirational. Most contestants regain the weight they lost. Some weigh more than when they started the show. The unfortunate reality is that their weight loss was propped up by tremendous external motivators.

Imagine trying to dramatically alter your body composition. You have your entire circle of family and friends, and a bigger throng of total strangers watching your every move on national TV. Situations like that create a very compelling reason to lose weight. Add a celebrity exercise coach screaming in your ear and a cash prize at the end, and you’ve got a very strong chance of losing weight. But once the cameras stop rolling and the audience changes the channel to The Masked Singer, former contestants lose all external motivators. All they are left with is the internal motivation to maintain the weight loss.

The secret tragedy of The Biggest Loser is that most people haven’t developed that critical internal motivation to do it on their own. They achieved dramatic results due to the intensity of their environment instead of their ability to lead themselves.

Their success was less about their internal motivation, and more about their external circumstances. If you choose to lead yourself, then by default, you are choosing to put yourself in a position where you test your internal motivation.

When a leader decides to lead themselves, it’s a decision to be consistent. Your internal motivation is tested in the consistency of your actions when no one is looking. Setting goals, creating a plan, and finding accountability partners will help you. But there is no substitute for simply doing the work. No one can do that for you. My friend, author and speaker, John Gordon agrees. He says:

“No matter what anyone says, just show up and do the work. If they praise you, show up and do the work. If they criticize you, show up and do the work. If no one ever notices you, just show up and do the work. Just keep showing up, doing the work, and leading the way. Lead with passion. Fuel up with optimism. Have faith. Power up with love. Maintain hope. Be stubborn. Fight the good fight. Refuse to give up. Ignore the critics. Believe in the impossible. Show up. Do the work. You’ll be glad you did. True grit leads to true success.”

About the Author:


Dan Owolabi is co-founder of a Owolabi Leadership, and Executive Director of Branches Worldwide. A sought after and captivating keynote speaker, Dan has spent over a decade leading leaders. A retired pastor, he works with a wide variety of leaders inside and outside the church as well as around the world, helping them clarify their identity and leverage their influence as a service to others.


Dan's latest book "Authentic Leadership: How To Lead With Nothing To Hide, Nothing To Prove, & Nothing To Lose" was an Amazon #1 New Release. Dan holds a bachelor's degree from Malone University, and master's degree from Ashland University. He lives in Ohio with his wife and two daughters.