Psychologists define commitment as “pledging or binding of the individual to behavioral acts” (1). These behavioral actions may refer to staying dedicated and sincere in a relationship with your partner or friend, investing oneself in work, going through with a diet, being checked into a rehabilitation center and so on.
Term commitment can be applied to any lasting behavior or process that includes positive changes which require prolonged effort.
Commitment and Choice
Another important aspect of commitment is the act of choosing (2). When we are making a commitment, we choose one of the alternatives and reject others while actively engaging to stick to our choice. For example, we take up healthy lifestyle over smoking, being monogamous over having multiple partners or working as archeologist over being a singer.
This looks pretty straight-forward, you make a commitment, work on following it trough, meet your goals and live happily ever after. Well, things are never that simple in real life. There are many obstacles, and most of them are internal – fear of losing options, self-doubt, fear of failing and letting others down.
What does it take to commit?
There are many tips, tricks and even commitment devices which should help you to create a lasting commitment, but there are only three preconditions that will assure you succeed in it.
1. Fully Accepting Your Own Decision
Before you dedicate yourself to something ask yourself, what is your motivation? Is it something you authentically wish for yourself or are you being pressured by other people or situation to make a commitment?
If it is not something you truly desire to do, or you don’t feel it’s the best thing for your well-being, don’t do it, there are always other options to be considered. Creating a commitment you don’t really want to form will make it almost impossible to achieve and the sense of failure may affect your self-belief and capacity for making future commitments.
Embrace the Ambivalence
However, don’t think you have to be sure about every decision you are making. Committing to something or someone always means abandoning other alternatives (3). Of course, you’ll be ambivalent about it, if you weren’t, making a commitment wouldn’t be so hard in the first place. Let’s say you are trying to eat healthier and lose weight, but you like the taste of the junk food, and all of the healthy food seems flavorless.
Praise the ambivalence you feel. Enhance it. Make the list of pros and cons. Of course, you can live the way you did until now, but what are the benefits this commitment will get you? And what are the ways you may sabotage yourself in exercising it? You should work trough all of these questions before the commitment is made.
What to do with Commitment Doubt?
Many people are scared to make a commitment because they wonder if they would be happier with some other outcome (4). Maybe another partner would make you happier; perhaps another job would be more satisfying and so on. These doubts are normal, and they will come and go. You need to remember one thing, giving up on other alternatives doesn’t mean you are out of options. You just need to reframe. You still have many options and alternatives on how to make the best of the commitment you made, don’t be afraid to explore them.
At last, observe commitment as a process and not the state. Yes, you will have your ups and downs. The failure is a crucial part of change. Lasting commitment doesn’t necessarily mean impeccable one. As it usually includes a prolonged period of time, it is expected that your motivation varies. Also, you are usually not alone in this process and success doesn’t depend solemnly on you. Mistakes and challenges will teach you how to stay devoted. Treat them as a valuable experience.
After you’ve explored and questioned all of these aspects, you’ll be ready to accept the commitment as it is, to embrace it and engage it. This is the foundation of making not only commitments but any lasting changes in your life.
2. Knowing What You’re Aiming for and Announcing It
After you’ve already made a decision about committing to something or someone, it is important to define it as clear as possible. When you know what are you exactly striving for it is much easier to achieve it (5).
You would be surprised if you knew how much proper verbalization of your goals could help you in making it come true.
As first, you should define your commitment and do it the right way. Start by saying what you want to achieve. For example – I’ll stop smoking, I won't cheat on my partner, I won't quit my job easily… These are all legitimate goals, but they are not phrased right.
Define your goals in a positive manner – I'll lead a healthier life, I'll be faithful, I'll stay on my job for more than a year. This will help your commitment evolve; you'll realize it is complex, demanding and rewarding. You have to stay flexible as your commitment will change over time. Sometimes it will be more demanding, from time to time you'll set new goals for yourself while the general idea persists, and that way you'll know you are on the right path.
Also, do not say: I’ll try to be faithful, or I’ll try to quit drinking. You will do it or you won’t. Trying is giving you a safe space where you can fail and say: “Well, I only said I’d try, and I did.” That is not how lasting commitments are formed.
Specify the Behavior
Think about the behaviors your commitment will lead to and try to list them. How will other people see that you are succeeding in your commitment? How would you know you are succeeding? What are the results of that behavior which can be observed?
Again, think about all of the obstacles you could face. Ones that come from your environment and ones that you create by yourself. Make a plan how you’ll deal with these potential setbacks.
After you thoroughly explored and defined your commitment in your mind, share it with the world, announce it. When people make their commitments publicly, they feel obligated to follow through (6). Both social and internal psychological pressure you feel will help you achieve your goals. This way you’ll know exactly what steps to make and you’ll be satisfied for sticking with them.
3. Social Support
As you can see, these three factors are in interaction. If you want to make a proper announcement of your commitment, you’ll need people who are close to you to hear it. That way the pressure we’ll be stronger.
However, that is not the primary role of social support. Dealing with the burden of commitment can be eased by making it a team work. You can ask your friends, partner, family members, or colleagues to help you go through with it. They can be tough on you if you need it; they can motivate you and lift your spirits if you are frustrated by a failure. Some of them may have had similar experiences so they can share their knowledge with you.
Still, do not confuse being intrinsically motivated for commitment with being pushed by others. You should personally want to stay devoted and not do the things only because someone else said so.
Lasting commitments are not something easily made, and there is no “bulletproof” recipe on how to keep them working. Even so, accepting your commitment as it is, exploring it and defining while staying flexible and having social support are the factors that may help in creating healthy while persisting devotions.
(Read this next: 11 Habits of People Who Never Quit)
Why not commit to the best life you can possibly have?