There’s a fine line between commitment and stubbornness. Commitment gets you a gym membership, while stubbornness has you keep that membership for two years despite never going to the gym after initially signing up. In our personal lives, recognizing the difference between commitment and stubbornness can save us from bad relationships, financial hardships, and general stuntedness. In our professional lives, recognizing the difference can not only save us from those things but can save our employees, partners, and clients from them, as well.
So, how do you distinguish between commitment and stubbornness? In basic terms, commitment is purposeful dedication—with the best results, at least in my own experience, coming when that dedication is predicated on a clear, measurable vision or goal. It’s why, “I want to lose 10 pounds,” feels more attainable than the ambiguous, “I want to get in shape.” On the other hand, stubbornness is blind dedication. It’s an unwillingness to change course, despite having a host of good reasons to do so.
Seeing the difference between commitment and stubbornness in others can be easier than spotting it in ourselves. For example, the persistent bad habits of a journeyman carpenter who refuses to adopt new and improved methods is definitely stubbornness. The phrase, “That’s how I’ve always done it,” rings hollow when a better way has been demonstrated and proven.
The hubris that keeps the carpenter from learning new ways to do his or her job is the same as that which keeps a business owner steeped in outdated systems and ineffective strategies (at least the carpenter is subject to some oversight), and this is where recognizing the difference between commitment and stubbornness becomes so important.
Actively and objectively evaluating ourselves and the way we operate, think about, or do certain things is a defense against our inclination to believe the decisions we make at any given time will always be right moving forward. It’s another reason why clear, measurable goals are helpful. If I’ve just spent 24 months paying for a gym membership, hoping those monthly dues would motivate me to lose 10 pounds, yet in that time I’ve gained five, it’s hard to defend the continued commitment to that means of motivation. It begs the question: Do I care more about losing weight or sticking to my guns?
Of course, even faced with cold, hard calculated figures, some of us will still refuse to relent. Because of that, self-awareness and humility must accompany self-evaluation—not only in recognizing what isn’t working, but having the courage to react and make changes. That doesn’t mean abandoning all commitments at the first sign of hardship. You’d don’t start ignoring your health if you’re having difficulty losing weight. It simply means being more measured and responsive in your decision-making.