Entertaining Interests Versus Fulfilling Commitments

Generally speaking, there are two basic relationships we can have to our desires: interests and commitments.

Interest is when you are fascinated by some topic or thing. A good way to know if you’re interested in something is by asking the following question: “If someone could wave a magic wand and cause your desires to be realized without any loss on your part, would you take it?” If you answered that question “yes,” you have yourself an interest. Another way of gauging interest is by asking yourself the following: “Does it make you feel good to think about the possibility of having what you desire?” or “Would you be pleased if you were able to have what you wanted?” Again, if you say “yes” to these types of questions, you’re definitely interested in what you say you’re interested in.

Commitment, on the other hand, is characterized by the willingness to set goals, endure trade-offs, and make sacrifices. The person who commits to their desires chooses to express their interests within a context that involves structure, accountability, and discipline. A good way to know if you’re committed to something is by asking the following: “Will I be guilty of breaking any promises or failing to keep my word if I decide not to invest time and energy into my interests?” or “Will my reputation be negatively affected in any way if I fail to act on my interests?” If you answer “no,” to these kinds of questions, then you’re probably not committed to the things you’re interested in. You may feel passionate about your interests, but you’re not committed unless you’re accountable to something other than your own personal passion.

The important thing to remember when making distinctions like this is that neither one is superior to the other. It’s all contextual. Some desires are best related to as interests. Other desires are best related to as commitments. If you have desires that you’re uncommitted to, you shouldn’t feel guilty about that. A healthy life needs both. If you treat all of your desires like commitments, you’ll burn out. If you treat all your desires as interests, you’ll never experience the forms of progress and mastery that can only come from engaging in constructive activities independently of your mood.

The key is to be honest with yourself.

Don’t take on commitments because of guilt or the desire to impress others. And don’t limit yourself to interests because of the fear of failure or the belief that you need to always feel inspired in order to do meaningful work. Challenge yourself to make more commitments and push yourself to be brutally honest about the interests you only want to informally indulge in. We only get ourselves into trouble when we fall into the trap of playing social games that seduce us into lying about the degree to which we want things.

Desire doesn’t have to be that complex. Be real with yourself not only about what you want, but also about how you want it. When you can do that, desire can start to be fun again. It’s supposed to be. If it doesn’t feel good to desire what you desire, you’re doing something wrong.