I’m reading Do it Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management by Mark Forster when I came across an interesting section where the author talks about the difference between interests and commitments.
Interests are things that appeal to you that you think about trying. You may have some non-serious hobbies now that you do that may be considered interests. And the defining feature of interests is that they are based on your emotions. You are interested in an activity because it has gotten your attention and you feel that it would be something enjoyable to do.
Commitments, on the other hand, are activities that you are dedicated to no matter how you feel. You made a conscious decision to invest your time and energy to it, and you are determined to make things happen. Even if you feel tired, bored, or stressed, you suck it up and go.
Just note the difference of hearing: “I’m interested in writing a book” with “I’m committed to writing a book.” I’m sure I don’t have to explain the contrast.
Looking around, I think we live in an age where people don’t understand the difference between the two (unless they’re doing a task that is given to them through school or work). It certainly was the case for me.
I was what people would call ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ I had many interests and tried many things throughout my life, but I never really dedicated myself to a single one of them. I have played four musical instruments, and only one of them somewhat seriously before I gave up on that too. I tried learning three different languages before I embarked on my current one which I have decided to commit to. I tried various sports and exercises, including two martial arts, but my commitment never lasted more than two or three years. I’ve also tried sewing, acting, singing, dancing, skating, skateboarding, painting, spirituality, picking-up women, and many more all without serious effort. Heck, I even lacked dedication in video games which I was gravely addicted to.
But they weren’t all completely in vain. By trying many different things, I was able to learn more about myself and what I really wanted (and didn’t want) in life. But I digress.
The problem today is that people put far too much importance on their feelings. People want to be guided by what they feel is right, what feels pleasurable, what feels important. They waver in whichever direction the social current blows. They are slaves to their fickle desires that jump from one thing to another.
The second way people are influenced by their feelings is in regards to motivation and discipline. Unless they feel “motivated” young people today don’t want to do anything. They disregard discipline because “passion” is all that matters for them. “If there’s no passion, why bother?” is the attitude today. They associate discipline with being controlled and see doing as they feel as freedom. They don’t realize that they are being controlled by not having discipline.
The result is that many weak-willed individuals have a proclivity towards activities that are easy and entertaining. They want the antiphysical engagement of sitting and watching whatever captures their attention, they want to escape to an artificial world where they just have to move their fingers to achieve imaginary goals. They are the mindless drones that profit the entertainment industries. An awakened man must repudiate such lifestyle like a disease.
Besides shunning meaningless interests that add no value to your life, you must reduce your interests or at least be more selective as you mature. As you get older, you’ll appreciate time more and more and realize that you only live long enough to commit yourself to select few activities. I’ve met a girl few years ago who wanted to literally travel the world (“every single country”), study and get a dream job, marry the perfect guy and start a family in a big house. It just might be possible if a person is truly committed to making it happen, but this girl possessed no character to make me believe that she would do as she says. She had no discipline, didn’t know how to manage money, and she was living in a bubble where she thought she could do anything she wanted. If you want to commit to manifesting your dreams or goals, you have to be realistic.
I still have number of interests and things I want to try, but I don’t know yet whether it is realistic to do them all in my short life. And I sometimes wonder if they are as valuable and important as I think they are. For example, I want to travel and live in various countries around the world and learn new languages (and re-learn the ones I gave up on). Almost everyone wants to travel the world and experience different cultures if they had the chance, but is it really that great? I remember the first time I travelled internationally to a different country at a different continent. I had no previous travel experience and I was going alone, so I expected adventure, excitement, and a life-changing experience, but I got none of that. Although it was memorable, it was actually boring and exhausting for much of the time. I didn’t learn anything profound and I didn’t notice any personal change when I returned home. So I wonder: are my future travel plans something that I really want or are they just interests that I have because everyone else is doing it and it appears like something I should do? And if I learn various new languages, are they actually going to benefit me or do I just think it would be cool to speak many languages?
In fact, by spending so much thinking about these things that I may or may not do in the future, I’m losing the vital focus necessary for commitments that I have now. Future plans can wait.
How to Separate Interests from Commitments
My recommendation is to have a list of all the things you are interested in (electronic documents work best as you can edit them) so that you can have an overview to analyze and decide on what is important and what you’re willing to commit yourself to. Once you fully appreciate how valuable time is and how brief your life is, you’ll be able to let go of the many interests that you once felt were something you had to try.
A second method to compliment the first is to organize your commitments into short-term projects and long-term dedications. For example, I am currently working on a book which is my project. I don’t have any other projects and I’ve cut down on other activities to dedicate more time towards it. I have other projects that I will start once this current one is finished, but I’m not even going to think about them for now. In addition, I also have long-term dedications that I will continue doing regardless of what short-term projects I may have. One of them is this blog. And once I am clear about my short-term and long-term commitments, I can use whatever free time I have to explore my interests to see what I would like to delve in more deeply in the future.
Last, forget about your feelings and passions. Let your rational mind decide what you should dedicate yourself towards and commit to it. In fact, if you want passion, you must first have discipline. Passion without discipline will come and go, but once you become one with your work, it will stay with you to motivate you.
I know I am better focused and accomplishing a lot more now that I am differentiating between interests and commitments. Because I have a list of interests and commitments organized in a document, I know when my mind is drifting away into thinking about things that are mere interests and can shut it off easily. Whatever I decide do in the future, I will do then, I have other things to focus on now.