Recently, I went to an open space meeting where fifty people discussed the topic of commitment. From sharing our experiences, it became clear that it meant different things to different people. Noticeably, the initial focus was on the challenges and negative aspects of commitment rather than the opportunities and positive aspects. What does it mean to you? What difficulties and possibilities arise from making commitments and showing commitment?
Commitment is the experience of being psychologically attached to something and intending to continue. Heidi Reeder, TedXAmmon
A personal story
A few years ago, my eldest daughter enters us both into a local half-marathon race. Without telling me first, I might add! ‘Come on Dad, we can do this’. Despite only a 5km race behind me, I’m up for the challenge and want to support my daughter.
After three months of training, she injures herself and withdraws from the race. Consequently, I have a choice whether to pull out or continue on my own. One of my values is about not giving up. So, I meet my commitment to myself and to my daughter by carrying on the training alone and successfully running my first half-marathon. She is my cheerleader.
The story doesn’t end there as my daughter recovers and, together, we run another half-marathon in the same year.
What does my story tell you about making and keeping commitments? When we make them to ourselves, it can feel easier not to see them through (no one will know). Somehow, letting other people down feels worse (we want to be liked). However, making them involves obligations, sacrifice, and integrity. Keeping them requires self-motivation, persistence, and genuine effort. What helps is a combination of personal accountability and accountability to others. Making commitments means saying ‘yes’ and using them as energy to leap rather than chains to hold you back. Before committing, ask yourself ‘what do I really want?’ and ‘what is the right thing to do?’
The importance and significance of commitments vary from the every-day to life-changing decisions. Some are easy no-brainers, whereas others are tough dilemmas. In every case, it’s a choice. For example, parents committing to caring for their children or not. Going to the gym or not. Leaving the job you hate or not. Often, our rational head wrestles with our heartstrings.
The glass-half-empty mindset can see commitment as a painful sacrifice involving loss or suffering. Some people don’t think the pain is worth it or the opportunity cost is too great. For example, a fear of commitment within personal relationships – ‘I’ll lose my independence’. Other people can’t stick to the commitments they make because of more attractive distractions or because their commitment is half-hearted. The pressure to meet a goal or target set by someone else can eat away at your resolve.
For some of my coaching clients, procrastination and lack of follow-through on commitments sometimes come from a fear of success. For example, ‘if I really do finish writing this book and it gets published, my work will be under greater scrutiny and I won’t live up to the critics’ expectations.’ You may want something more than your current job or career, but you don’t act because better the devil you know. Your commitment gets derailed by the unknown and uncertainty. ‘What will I lose? What if I don’t live up to the hype?’
In contrast, the glass-half-full mindset says ‘What will I gain? What will I discover about my potential? Where will success take me?’ Some find their energy and enjoyment in the flow of the journey and let the goal or outcome take care of itself. Others visualise success to generate clarity and positive thinking. Then they build momentum one step at a time.
Some employers are beginning to acknowledge that employee commitment no longer means lifelong loyalty. Instead, they focus on people who show dedication while in the job. Showing it means putting the effort and energy into everything that you do. That comes from self-motivation, personal values, and a belief in the purpose of the work and/or the organisation. It means doing what you say you will and going the extra mile when necessary. Also, it doesn’t mean giving up your social life and presenteeism. These are symptoms of an unhealthy psychological attachment and an unhealthy culture. Self-awareness and self-regulation ensure you do the right things in the right way to meet your commitments.
Do you struggle with commitment to yourself or to others?
Are they open-ended, forever or with an endpoint?
What commitments help or hinder you living your best life? Which ones will your drop, continue, and make to free yourself?