All of us wish to achieve great accomplishments, such as becoming a successful entrepreneur, mastering a foreign language, or reaching our peak level of physical fitness.
In moments of motivation, we may take the first step, like packing our gym bag the morning of an anticipated workout. While we may be inspired for short periods of time, this feeling can wane at the slightest difficulty, and we fail to follow through.
Have you ever wondered why you didn’t stick with something when you had felt so motivated? The answer may sound simple, but its realization can have a profound impact on your chances of achieving your goals. The answer is that motivation is not enough. Motivation doesn’t carry you through the time it takes to execute. For that, you need commitment.
Since motivation is not enough for most long-term ambitions, we must have a process that brings us to the same conclusion repeatedly–a conclusion that reinforces our motivation when we’re tempted to bail. We need a commitment plan.
Research in economics and social psychology has consistently shown four elements predict our level of commitment. When we understand these elements, we can make important adjustments to align our behaviors with our most important goals.
- How much do you treasure the commitment? It refers to how rewarding it is to be in the process of becoming an entrepreneur, speaking fluent Spanish, or increasing strength and fitness.
- How much you are troubled by the difficulties that emerge? Even a highly valued goal will be abandoned if you are consumed by costs and hardships.
- How much you are willing to contribute to your goal? The more time, energy, and concrete resources you invest, the more likely you are to persevere in good times and bad.
- Do you perceive other good choices? People who limit or ignore other potentially good options will be more focused on and committed to their original goal.
These four elements work together like an equation, according to Rusbult’s Investment Model of commitment. It accounts for approximately two-thirds of our commitment level.
If you want to attain your long-term goals, you can try waiting for moments of motivation. Alternatively, you can increase your chance of success based on commitment science.
For many years, Derek wanted to start his own business. He would become particularly motivated after each frustrating interaction with his boss. Whenever he reflected on the limited creativity and salary potential of his current position, he would give thought to striking out on his own. However, those moments of motivation weren’t enough to let go of his job and immerse him in a new and exciting venture. For that, Derek would need to develop his long-term commitment.
First, Derek should list everything he treasures about both the process and the outcome of starting his own business. To keep these benefits in the forefront of his mind, he could place the most valued treasures in a reminder app and schedule them to pop up at regular intervals. This would serve to reinforce the immediate and eventual rewards of his goal.
Next, Derek can list everything he finds troubling about going out on his own, such as the initial loss of income and the startup costs of the new venture. For each trouble, he should come up with a plan to mitigate the concern. He might dedicate a few hours each week to the analysis of trade-offs between funding his startup out of pocket, seeking investors, or taking a home-equity line of credit against his house. As he comes up with a plan to neutralize the difficult aspects of his commitment, he can move forward with greater confidence.
Contributing to the new venture at increasing levels, and contributing less to his day job, will also reinforce his motivation. He could spend more time reading books in his new area of business, and less time flipping through old trade magazines. He could spend more time in the evening communicating with new contacts, and less time answering work email. Every moment his energy, time, and talent go to the new venture, an accumulation effect kicks in. This is where the real power of commitment lies. Instead of waiting for a grand moment of motivation, he can set his commitment in motion one action at a time.
Finally, it’s necessary for Derek to eliminate choices that distract him from his primary goal. Although his existing job pays the bills and provides financial stability, eventually he will have to eliminate that option. He may go part-time for a while, but his greatest chance for entrepreneurial commitment is to let go of the things that compete for his time and energy.
If you rely on fleeting moments of motivation for achieving your most important goals, then you may find it’s not enough to sustain you through setbacks or periods of adversity. But if you can reaffirm and sustain that motivation over the long haul by understanding the elements of commitment, you will greatly increase your chance of success.
Heidi Reeder, PhD, is the author of Commit To Win: How To Harness The Four Elements Of Commitment To Reach Your Goals, and director of leadership and human relations at Boise State University’s College of Innovation and Design.