October 30, 2017

The Difference Between Motivation and Determination (updated)

In January of 2012, I wrote a blog post about the difference between motivation and determination. At that point, I had kept off the weight I'd lost for well over a year, and people asked me all the time how I managed to stay motivated.

The truth is, I wasn't motivated--but even though I didn't feel motivated, I was determined. It may sound like the same thing, but I learned from experience that there is a big difference! Here is how the difference between motivation and determination helped me to lose 125 pounds...

I only felt the drive of motivation at the very beginning of my journey and for a few moments here and there, sprinkled throughout the years. For me, motivation only lasts for a short while, which is why everyone seems to have such a hard time maintaining it--as well as why they have such curiosity as to how I stayed "motivated". Most people who want to lose weight feel motivated in the beginning, but it fades quickly.

The difference, in my experience, is subtle--but very significant:

Even the definitions of each word are very similar:

The definition for motivation that sticks out the most to me is "the condition of being eager to act or work", because I think that's what most people tend to think of when they are referring to motivation to lose weight. What is it that keeps us excited, or keeps us going, when it comes to doing what we have to do to lose weight?

Motivation is that feeling of being fired up to do something (like reaching a weight loss goal). When I was obese, I used to feel motivated by reading weight loss success stories, watching shows like The Biggest Loser (while I ate a pint of ice cream, haha!), meeting other people who had lost a large amount of weight, and seeing before and after photos in magazines (like People magazine's Half Their Size issue).

(It's still so crazy to me that I would get so motivated by things like the above photo, and now the person in that photo IS me--I never ever would have guessed that when I started my journey, I would one day be one of those "success stories".)

Those things that I found motivational made me think, "I'm going to do this! I can't wait to be one of those success stories!" Then I would sit down and write out a plan for how I was going to do it, and put the plan into action: I would typically go grocery shopping for all the "right" foods; I would binge on all the junk food in our pantry, just to "get it out of the house"; I would write out a meal plan for the week; and I would find out everything I could about how those people stayed motivated while they lost weight.

And each time, I would last a day--maybe two--before I lost that excitement. My new, healthier food became boring; I was constantly hungry; I was tired of counting Points or calories or whatever it was at the moment; I was irritable from being hungry; and eventually, I would just say, "Fuck it! Give me some ice cream. I'll start over again tomorrow." Or Monday. Or on the first of next month.

Determination, on the other hand, is long term. It was determination that made this time different for me. Determination caused me to keep working on my weight loss when I wanted to quit. Determination pushed me to get out of bed and go for a run when I wanted to sleep in. Determination got me to the finish line of all three marathons I've run. I owe it to determination for each pound I've lost; each binge I restrained myself from.

The definition of determination that sticks out to me the most is, "The act of officially deciding something."

Deciding something. Determination means to make the decision and it's done. There is no question of whether or not we're going to do it, because we've already decided--we've determined that we're going to do it.

When I switched my thought process from "feeling motivated" to "being determined", it was actually a huge relief. I didn't have to make those choices anymore, because I'd already made them the moment that I determined that I was going to lose the weight. That I was going to run a marathon. That I was going to set a nearly impossible personal record in my 10K when I was extremely out of shape. That I was never going to quit working on weight maintenance.

When I determined that I was going to lose the weight, I didn't feel motivated at all. I was sick and tired of having high hopes of reaching my goal weight "some day", only to fail for the hundredth time. I was tired of starting diets every morning and quitting every afternoon. I was tired of the deprivation, the binge eating, and the restricting. I wanted to just forget about losing weight and move on with my life! But I was unhappy and unhealthy, which is why I kept up the hope that one of those days, I would stick with it.

You've all read the story umpteenth times about how I couldn't teach Noah to ride a bike because I was too obese for the physicality of it; and that moment ended up being one of the turning points for me to finally lose the weight.

That day, I could feel some sort of fire ignite inside of me, and it was unlike any motivation I'd had before. I didn't want to try losing weight again. I was sick of trying and failing! But when I couldn't teach my son to ride a bike because I was too obese, I knew I had to do it. If not for me, then for my kids.

Even if I failed again and again, I wanted my sons to know that I did everything in my power to be the best mom I could--which included being active and healthy. I wanted them to know that I was willing to do whatever it took to get down to a reasonable weight and stay healthy.

I never would have gone ice skating with the kids when I was 253 pounds!

I already knew how to lose weight. And I was never one to make excuses for my weight--I was always the first to admit that I was fat because I ate way too much and wasn't active--and this time was no different. I didn't make any excuses. I determined that the weight would come off when I did what I needed to do: I needed to eat less food.

When we feel that fire of determination, we're not making the decision to just get it done; we're making the decision to do whatever it takes to get it done. And that is the difference between motivation and determination, coming from my own personal experience.

Now, having said all of that, how do we get that fire of determination started? Here are some tips that helped me:

**I like to picture a scenario in my head of the goal I want to accomplish. Not just, "I want to lose weight." Even though my long-term goal was to be a happy and healthy mom, there were other reasons I wanted to lose weight--vanity being one of them. I would envision myself wearing clothes that I'd always wanted to wear if I was thin, cute lingerie, etc. I literally pictured myself wearing these clothes and imagined how it would feel to wear them.

There were a few other things that I envisioned, too. This next photo is a great example. The determination I felt in that photo is the most I've ever felt in my entire life. When that race got so hard I wanted to quit, you know what I thought about?

I thought about the comments that some of my haters had made in the months leading up to the race--saying that I would never PR my 10K because of my "atrocious" diet of sweets (and too many grapes, of course). Ha! My victory that day was also the sweetest I'd ever felt. And then I celebrated with beer and tater tots from McMenamins ;)

**When I found myself starting to come up with excuses not to do something (or to do something I didn't want to, like binge eat), I stopped those thoughts immediately and focused on something else--anything else at all. It's very easy to talk ourselves into quitting; but when we're determined to reach our goals, we have already decided that we won't make excuses. Being determined means sticking with our original choices/decisions, and not making excuses to change them.

**Another thing that helped me was to write a list of non-negotiables--things that we cannot talk ourselves out of or make excuses to do/not do (the prior link is to a post I wrote that will help with this). This can be something like going for a 30 minute walk three times a week. When we determine that this is non-negotiable, then there is NO question about whether we will do it. Excuses are invalid. We've made the decision and there is no going back. (Obviously, these non-negotiable items should not be too ambitious, like "I will never eat dessert again" or "I will go to the gym seven days a week, no matter what.")

**While working on long-term determination, like the kind needed to lose a large amount of weight, it helps to come up with little "practice" situations as well. "I am determined to make it through this day without binge eating." That way, it's not overwhelming to look at months, year, a lifetime, of determination; it's just for one day. And by practicing several little things like that, the determination for goals such as losing 100 pounds comes much more easily.

**Using motivation can help us with the determination. Since motivation is temporary, we can't rely on it to get us through an entire 100+ pound weight loss journey. But when we are tempted to binge on an entire chocolate cake, for example, we can use something that motivates us to keep us from doing that. That would be a good time to read some success stories online, or browse before and after pictures. Whatever gets us motivated for our long-term goals.

This post is way too long already, so I'll end with a couple of final thoughts. Motivation certainly has its place in a long weight loss journey, but it can't be relied upon to carry us through that duration. There were be a LOT of times where we feel unmotivated, which is when we usually quit. Determination is more difficult to start and to manage at first, but the determination is what will get us to our end goal. We have to make the decision--determine exactly what we are going to do--and then stick with it!

And that, Friends, is what I think of the difference between motivation and determination :)


  1. Hi Katie. Thanks for this post. It is so true! I started reading your blog about 4 years ago. I even emailed you once and asked if maybe I should just get bariatric surgery. You told me I shouldn't and that I could lose the weight on my own. It really motivated me, but that was short lived. I was a binge eater and failed over and over. That is until 6 months ago. I was just sick of being fat and decided I had total control over what I put in my mouth. I haven't binged since then and I have lost 70 lbs! I feel fantastic and I have no doubt that I will lose the next 40 lbs to achieve my goal. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    1. That is fantastic--I am so happy for you! Sometimes, it just takes hitting that rock-bottom point that we are determined to make the change. Congrats on your success, and best wishes as you move forward!

  2. I think my new chant (in my head) when the going gets tough on the elliptical will be "I am determined"!
    You've got a wonderful writing style Katie. :)

    1. Thank you, Kim! Lately, I have been loving writing more frequently and more personal posts. :)

  3. Love all of this so so much. It's how I've been feeling since Jan/Feb when I first had my sleep study done and diagnosed with sleep apnea. I am determined to get off that machine! To do that, I need to be healthier. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I'm so glad you are feeling determined to get healthier! Getting off the sleep apnea machine is a great goal to have. Best wishes!

  4. I never thought about motivation and determination this way but your article made me think and realize that this was exactly what made me start my weight loss and stick to it. I even have enough energy to get my boyfriend to eat healthy meals too, but it's hard to get him to exercise. I guess there's a lack of determination ;)

  5. "We're not making the decision to just get it done; we're making the decision to do whatever it takes to get it done."

    That is a GREAT statement! This whole post was excellent--very "motivational," ha ha! But as you say, motivation isn't enough...determination has to take over when motivation fails you.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  6. Needed to read this today. Thank you! I'm trying to find motivation when really I need to find determination. To do it even when I don't want to knowing in the end it is for the best.

  7. Thanks for writing this -- I never thought of the difference between motivation and determination. I'm going to mull this over and add it to my plan. I've been successful at losing 25 pounds in the last 6 months. I still have a long way to go, but I'm feeling the determination.

    I remember reading about how awful your grape consumption was, LOL. I don't understand people who need to add negativity to your positive goals. A strict 100% organic vegan would never work for me, because I'm not interested in that. I want ideas that help me to achieve my goals within what I'm willing to do -- the compromises and negotiations you talk about.

  8. Great post. The differences are so true. Too many times I rely on motivation instead of determination. Thanks for helping me to differentiate between the two!

  9. I couldn't agree more! I can be pretty unmotivated at times lol, luckily though my determination usually tends to kick in eventually!

    Thanks for describing the difference between the two so eloquently. It really makes a lot of sense, and these ideas are super helpful to think about when trying to achieve huge and long-term goals.

  10. I so love this!

    There's a great discussion on Grit that talks about determination versus motivation - as intrinsically versus extrinsically motivated folks

  11. This comment is a little late, haha. I read this back in 2017 when you wrote it and again this morning after you referenced it. This post was really eye opening for me. I would spend hours scrolling through success stories- trying to ignite that fire to dig deep and finally lose the weight. Instead, I would just enter another cycle of starting strong, fizzling out, and gaining it all back plus some more. In March 2019, I tried again (hopefully for the last time.) This time though, I had this post in the back of my mind. I decided that I owed this to my self and I was determined to make a commitment- for one year. Over the course of the last 10 months, I have lost over 80 pounds and have just recently started exercising. I attribute this entirely to that mental switch from seeking motivation to generating determination. So thank you for your enlightenment! All of these years I was searching for the answer and didn't realize that I had it inside of me!

  12. I'm coming accross this very late after you wrote it, but I'm so happy to have stumbled accross your blog today - just what I needed to hear. I've realised I knew everything you just wrote alreay, I just couldn't see clearly enough to put it into words, which is exactly what you just did beautifully. Thank you.

  13. Hi Katie

    I’ve just found your blog and been reading for the last two hours!

    This post particularly resonated with me.

    I’ve always had two sugars in my tea or coffee and while on a cruise three years ago my husband and I were talking about trying to lose weight as we often do. He then randomly said stop taking sugar in your tea/coffee so I did!

    I went cold turkey there and then and haven’t had it since.

    You’d think this was a good thing but I found it incredibly frustrating as I haven’t lost any weight, I’ve put it on. But that’s not the frustrating bit; it was trying to figure out why I could stop sugar just like that but not do anything else I needed to do to lose weight.

    This post has made me realise I was DETERMINED over the sugar.

    All I try to do with weight loss or stay motivated which lasts all of an hour!

    I still have to figure out how to get determined but it’s been a huge ah-ha moment for me.

    Thank you!

    Kind regards,

    Lisa in England


I used to publish ALL comments (even the mean ones) but I recently chose not to publish those. I always welcome constructive comments/criticism, but there is no need for unnecessary rudeness/hate. But please--I love reading what you have to say! (This comment form is super finicky, so I apologize if you're unable to comment)

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