Are You Motivated, Committed, or Both?

Woman staring with determination at the camera. motivated, committed, or both?
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Are you ready to make a change? Want to move forward in a new direction? Are you pumped up? Are you on fire? Are you ready? These are the types of questions I often hear from coaches, encouragers, trainers, and motivational speakers. While it is wonderful if you can answer “yes” to these questions, this isn’t always the case. When considering how to approach a new initiative, I often ask, “Are you motivated, committed, or both?” Let me explain.

Motivation and commitment are not the same thing. While both can be very helpful when we are moving toward a goal, they work in different ways. Take a look at the chart below.

Fluctuates with CircumstancesSteady
Linked with resultsLinked with action
What I believe I can doWhat I choose to do



Motivation appeals to our emotions. I love motivational messages, mantras, and images. Motivational aides can help us rally our energy to follow through with our plans. In fact, I am such a fan of motivation that I did an entire daily series on getting and staying motivated. You can see the first of the posts here (click through to see all 30!).

The challenge with motivation-based efforts is that motivation tends to wax and wane. Our enthusiasm tends to be strongest in the beginning of a new effort. Have you ever noticed that gym memberships go up in the month of January, when many are feeling “post-holiday puffy?” Early days are when we tend to set lofty goals, invest in gear or supplies, and dream about our wonderful results.

As time goes on, if we achieve these results, our motivation will build:

  • Wow, I lost three pounds! I wonder how much I can lose next week.
  • I can tell that I have more energy since I began exercising. This is worth it!
  • It feels so good to be able to find things since I organized my desk. I’m going to stick with the new routine of clearing it off every night.

On the flip side, if our results are intangible, unmeasurable, or potentially absent, our motivation can suffer:

  • I’ve been at this new eating plan for a month, and I haven’t lost a pound.
  • All that has happened since I started exercising is that I’ve gotten sore.
  • I’m frustrated that the surface I cleared last week is once again covered with junk.

Lack of results can destroy motivation. Similarly, the emergence of obstacles, hurdles, and challenges can derail our enthusiasm. Getting up ½ hour early each morning may have sounded good in theory, but after a week of trying, you may feel only exhausted.

Motivation can flag when we lose faith in ourselves. We may shift from empowering mantras to excuses and negative self-talk. Try as we may, we just don’t “feel like it” anymore. We allow our feelings to drive our behavior. Motivation is great when we are feeling energized, but when we get discouraged, its absence can sabotage our efforts.

Now take a look at commitment.


Commitment is based on mindset. When we commit to something, we are making a mindful decision to act in a designated manner. In fact, a true commitment is a binding promise – barring unforeseen emergencies – to follow through.

Unlike motivation, commitments are not based on emotions. For example, notice that the wedding vow doesn’t say, “I promise to love and cherish you when you are being sweet, but shut you out and give you the silent treatment when you hurt my feelings.” When we honestly commit, we behave in a predictable manner, regardless of our moods, circumstances, and emotional state.

Someone who is committed:

  • Arrives on time, ready to go.
  • Completes tasks that he/she has promised to perform.
  • Tends not to complain or make excuses.
  • Does what he/she committed to do before doing things he/she feels like doing.

A successful commitment is not necessarily one that yields a specific result. A positive result may be desired, but the mark of a successful commitment is more about input, conduct, and action than it is about how things turn out.

The power of commitment lies in the fact that it is relatively invulnerable to external attacks and circumstances. Barring events beyond our control that prevent us from sticking with our plan, committed people plod on resolutely. Our mind has been made up. I think of the old Dunkin’ Donuts advertisement, where the employee repeats “time to make the doughnuts.”


Lest it sound like I am oversimplifying, let me assure you that I fully understand that committing is easier said than done. Fulfilling commitments can be very difficult. So difficult, in fact, that it is wise to think twice before making one. A strong commitment should consist of realistic choices rather than “pie in the sky” thinking. Furthermore, commitments are more likely to succeed when they are:

  • Small in scope
  • Specific
  • Trackable
  • Supported by other people, tools, and resources

Being committed doesn’t mean you have to carry on all by yourself. In fact, people who keep their commitments are often the most likely to seek and enlist help. What commitment does represent is a choice to do what you said you would do. It is the starting place from which we launch an effort, collecting instruction, direction, and accountability as needed.

Achieving goals, whether they be organizing-related or otherwise, is likely to feature both motivation and commitment. Some days a surge in motivation will energize your spirits, making you feel invincible and spurring you on. On other days, when your brain starts making excuses for why you don’t feel like acting, commitment will help you persevere.

Are you motivated? The answer may waver from one day to the next.

Are you committed? The answer is either yes or no.

*     *     *

What motivates you? How do you stay committed?

Seana's signature

25 thoughts on “Are You Motivated, Committed, or Both?”

  1. I love this distinction on what helps us really start a project! These tiniest commitments can yield big results. The goal is to execute and commitment is really what helps us begin any task.

    1. Commitment really can be helpful in getting us to finally start what we’ve been doing. Instead of waiting around to feel like taking action, we make up our minds and begin!

  2. This is such a fascinating distinction you make between motivation and commitment. You gave me a lot to think about. When the two are paired together, it’s an unbeatable combination. You got me pondering about motivation being linked to results and commitment being linked to actions. I’m not sure there is such a clear line between them. Motivation can be spontaneous, but it is also be encouraged and supported through progress and action. With commitment, while it makes sense it is linked to actions taken without debate (because you’ve already made the commitment,) something has motivated you to make that commitment.

    They are definitely different, but most often intertwined. And if they aren’t learning how to access more of one or the other can help to move you forward and focus on what’s truly important.

    1. I think there is a magical connection between the two. They feed each other! When I’m motivated, I have the energy to push a bit more and maybe try something new. I guess one of them feeds my emotions while the other is more connected to my mind and will. Just interesting to consider both when contemplating a project!

    1. Ideally, we will have both motivation and commitment. That’s the goal, right? However, we aren’t always lucky enough to have them both in action. One is more connected with our emotions and the other is more connected to our will.

  3. This is an excellent explanation of something I hadn’t thought much about. I can actually feel a difference between being motivated (“I want to do this”) and being committed (“I am going to do this, whatever it takes”). Definitely something to keep in mind, especially when (or even better, BEFORE) I start feeling stuck.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Using Your KeywordsMy Profile

    1. Ideally we will have both motivation and commitment. However, sometimes our emotions can undermine our will, and in that case, it is helpful to have the ability to carry on through that “stuck” mentality!

  4. I love the clarity you bring on the difference between motivation and commitment. In our support groups Diane and I always start off with what is your motivation for working on this now. But without really using the word commitment, we then go into having them say exactly what they plan to do in the coming week, when they are going to do it, and what might get in their way.
    Jonda Beattie recently posted…Make A Difference DayMy Profile

    1. Sounds you are incorporating both of these aspects when you meet with clients, which is the ideal! When we have both, that really helps us be successful in our endeavors.

    1. I have some things in my life that I do exclusively because of my commitment. My emotions are all over the place on any given day. In fact, sometimes I just need to sort of ignore how I’m feeling and focus on what I’m doing. Being too much “in my head” is a sure way to sabotage my success.

  5. I love this Seana, I think this is really helpful when you think about setting goals. We might be motivate initially with the goal but some days we will really need to push it…..but if we are committed to doing the thing…..I can see and feel the shift. Thanks for this.

    1. They sort of feed each other, right Kim? Motivation kicks off our commitment, which sees us through the low-energy days, which breeds results, which jumpstarts our motivation. Then it starts all over again!

  6. There’s so much wisdom and clarity. We humans are at the whim of our emotions so much of the time, and as you note, our motivation will flag if we don’t see progress. By committing, we’re focused on the ritual, not the reward. You have to have the “why” of the motivation, your reason for committing, and the “what” of how you’ll commit. Motivation without commitment is pie in the sky, but commitment without motivation will eventually lead to burnout. Long-term, the combination is a one-two punch. This post is an instant classic!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…3 Simple But Powerful Productivity Resources — Right in Your Browser TabMy Profile

    1. Love that observation about the ritual and the reward. There are certainly days when I don’t feel motivated, but I have committed, so I hang in there. That said, love those days when I wake up full of energy and excitement. Life shouldn’t just be a slog through perpetual mud!

    1. It’s a fine distinction, but I do think it helps to understand the role each plays, and also the downsides of relying exclusively on one when pursuing a goal. Food for thought, anyway!

  7. I love that you make this distinction, and it’s important to remember in any aspect of our lives: fitness, budgeting, organizing- it works all the way around. Sometimes, yes, we may not FEEL like doing any one thing, but if we’ve committed to it, then we have to realize that those feelings may be lying to us. Thank you so much for this.
    Jana Arevalo recently posted…Stocking Stuffers for the Whole FamilyMy Profile

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