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We often use the term ‘motivation’ out of context. ‘Motivation’ literally means ‘a reason for doing something’, but what we usually mean when talking about ‘motivation’ is ‘a reason that makes us do something’. The distinction may seem pedantic, but I assure you, it’s important. Having a reason for doing something consists of an intellectual understanding. It’s a rational, impartial evaluation of the logic behind the action. Having a reason that makes you do something requires a personal treaty. It is a private, subjective and emotional negotiation of whether the reasons for doing something are sufficiently compelling to actually make you do something. You may possess a sophisticated understanding of the benefits of regular exercise but nonetheless struggle to get yourself to the gym: motivation is not necessarily enough to motivate you to act.
Motivation has been privileged as the essential ingredient to success. Time again, we’re told that motivation is the key. Without it, you’re incapable. You’re a docile being lacking reason to do anything. But what if I were to say this is all wrong? That you don’t need motivation (at least not in the sense of a reason that “makes you get out of bed in the morning”)? Instead, all you need is commitment.
The problem with relying on motivation to get things done is that in most cases, it is too fluid a term. How do we define what it means to be motivated? How do we measure, quantify, monitor our levels of motivation? How do we cope when our motivation – the thing that is supposed to be keeping us going – disappears? What if we don’t feel motivated in the first place? These are all problems that most people encounter when they try to make a positive change in their life.
Commitment, on the other hand, does not linger in this state of flux. Commitment is defined, robust, and fathomable. It holds us to account; like the fixed point of a compass, it limits our path of motion, insisting that we continue to orientate around our central resolution. Motivation is meaningless in that it does not require you to execute your thoughts and desires. Commitment, by contrast, demands action.
We often say we’re “lacking in motivation” when what we really mean is “there is nothing forcing us to do what we need to do”. The very awareness of a need to get motivated suggests we do acknowledge the existence of a valid reason or “motivation” at stake. We talk of being “unmotivated” (say, to start an essay) in order to express an anxiety that the motivation-reason (such as a deadline) isn’t inspiring action. So we hope that with time (procrastination), an aura of “motivation” will descend upon us and breathe life into the reasons filed regimentally in our heads. I think I’m right in saying that few of us have encountered such an experience.
By freeing ourselves from the emotional attachment to the need for motivation, and replacing a state of motivation with one of definitive action (nailed in commitments), we unlock our potential to get things done. Perhaps the old saying ‘actions speak louder than words’ could be reimagined as ‘actions speak louder than thoughts’ because ultimately, our reasons are immaterial unless they translate into gestures, behaviours, and results. Motivation is situational, and relies on a certain degree of confidence in the stability of our emotional and physical situations conveniently lending themselves towards the tasks at hand. Commitment is more assertive. It forces you to prioritise. It requires intention. It demands that you be consistent, and therefore can expect consistent results in return.
The thought of actively choosing to commit, rather than allowing motivation to transport you in luxury, towards your goals is, in some respects, pathetic. It fractures that idealistic vision of waking up to smell the bacon (and resisting it, depending on your goals…), but then again, it is in many ways liberating. No longer are you waiting lamentably on the arrival of the promised solution to your problems. Your actions are the solution. It’s a case of making a commitment, following it through, and repeating it. Again and again. Day after day. Sticking it out regardless of how you feel. Why? Because you need not surrender your potential to a transient, elusive figure of speech, which, for all intents and purposes, may not ever present itself. Think Twice before relying on motivation to offer you the way forward – the power lies in your individual capacity to commit to just do it.