If you rush from one project to another, one money-making scheme to another, one relationship to another then you might say you have trouble committing. If so, this article is for you. I will start off by congratulating you for being highly committed – to not committing.
You see, you actually ARE committed to something and you consistently fulfil that commitment to not stay committed. Therefore, you have all the mental resources you need to be committed to something else! I learned this many years ago from a Ph.D. professor who said “We invariably demonstrate the thing we say we cannot do.” For example, someone who says they have no confidence will be very confident about their lack of confidence!
What I believe is happening is that we have a very pure state of ‘not committing’. There are no arguments against it, nothing inside causing you to doubt you are not committed – you are demonstrating a highly focused success state but just using it to be successful at something you now don’t want to do! Moreover, you were probably unaware of this type of mental process until now.
At one time that ‘lack-of-committing’ state-of-mind held value for you. Perhaps you wanted just to experiment with potential careers, date different people, or try different earning strategies. But if those practices become habituated then your brain can make them a habit ‘superhighway’ and they become difficult to give up. Anything your brain has repeatedly practiced has value for it. Good or bad, it’s a fact. Repetition increases importance.
Before we go any further let’s break down the concept of commitment I am using here. I mean, specifically, the intention and necessary actions to see something through that you’ve said you’ll do. That is accompanied by the resourcefulness to make sure the project is finished, it’s a promise that you will do what it takes to achieve the result.
Here in the UK we used to joke about commitment being the most terrifying word in relationships – (closely followed by the phrase ‘we need to talk’) – but really, why do we struggle with the concept so much?
One reason is that we have loaded it up with meanings that are not helpful. For years I considered the word commitment to mean ‘constraint’, ‘choking’ ‘death’, ‘no freedom’. And you wonder why I wouldn’t stick with projects for long! The Bible says ‘as a man thinketh in his heart [mind] so he is’. Well, my ideas about following through were mentally strangling me. Our thoughts really do affect our bodies and nervous system and sometimes I would actually get breathless thinking about completing a project.
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘commitment?’ An exercise I have used for years to uncover the meanings driving my actions is simply to write the concept: (In this case ‘commitment’) followed by the word ‘means’ about ten times.
Then write whatever comes into your head. You might be surprised by what comes out but at least you have a chance to evaluate whether you want to keep those meanings. You can take a break then spend some time reflecting: ‘Does this way of thinking about commitment move me forward or backwards?’
Another reason for struggling to commit is having too many projects on without distinct differences in urgency. One writer refers to this as a set of ‘horizontal values’ where all projects look the same in importance in our minds. I didn’t found this one easy to solve until I had a family and then my priorities were much clearer – provide – and find the best ways to do this. Andy Shaw, creator of The Bug Free Mind system, says similarly that overwhelm does not exist, just a lack of priorities. We over-extend ourselves because we haven’t decided what we most want.
It may seem obvious to say this but you already commit in all other areas of your life. You don’t have to think of it as this huge thing (but you probably do). When you cook a meal, go out to the cinema, have a bath you commit (to an extent) to get something done. You may call it a decision but it amounts to the same thing. You intended, acted, followed through and finished.
Longer term commitments are simply a series of actions – maybe thousands – but still actions. And you need commitment to achieve anything – reflect on it for a while. Like committing to not committing you already do it. So now you need to figure out how to maintain it over time.
How do I deal with wanting to do many things and getting myself to focus on the ones that count? Here are some ideas and practices that I use:
I accept I AM interested in many things.
Emile Wapnik of puttylike.com calls this being a multi-potentiate. Basically, there are a lot of people like you who are like this and it really helps to know that NOT WANTING to focus on ONE career (for instance) is okay. She also gives tips on how to manage yourself and combine interests like the marketing hippy or the children’s author preacher!
I accept its okay to leave some projects behind.
Steve Sims in the book BlueFinning says that there is no failure only discovery. Give yourself permission to discover if you want to pursue something new further and treat your investigations as experiments. Some things you will start and just not finish because you genuinely decided you don’t want to and as it was just an experiment, that’s okay.
I build my identity as someone who can finish jobs.
I used to always leave a few items in the washing up bowl. I actually felt resistance to washing those last two knives. Now, I force myself to finish washing up and tell myself ‘I am a finisher’. I also recently saw a video from an army Major who said you should make your bed every morning as the first commitment of the day and your first win. Then you start the day with something you committed to and finished.
I make a list of things I have completed, things that turned out to be really important to my life.
Being available for my teenagers during their ‘dark years’ and afterwards; writing 12 books, fighting court cases and winning, inventing kitchen items and hair products! Each one of these represents an achievement I can revisit and be proud of. I committed, I conquered!
I revamp my definition of commitments
…as per the exercise above and read about what others say constitutes commitment. There are a lot of articles on the net that provide helpful insights and reading quotes on the subject helps too. You can then write down a few sentences about what your most useful definition of commitment will be, and how you plan to live by it.
Here’s an insight that’s worth the price of entry: building up your identity is worthwhile but what about when you don’t feel like doing what you said you’d do?
Well, here’s the thing. Let’s say you’ve committed to a higher good like ‘honesty’ or, if that is too lofty let’s try ‘healthy eating’. You’ve thought through why you want to eat healthily. You feel committed. And then you have a rubbish day from hell and you suddenly want candy. Lots of candy.
I know you’re going to hate me for this but the ‘good thing’ remains good whether you feel it does or not. You know that saying ‘fix your eyes on the prize?’ Well, it’s not actually the prize you need to keep your eyes on, it’s what the prize will do for you. Living mostly by your feelings is a sure recipe for disaster.
For example, purposeful kindness is generally valuable even if you have been soaked by a passing car, the bus drove off, and the drunk at the bus stop tried putting his fingers in your bag. You can scream your frustration at him, or offer him your last cereal bar and can of drink. You get me? You can remain a doer (and therefore committed) to the good thing regardless of your mood. And that, ultimately, is what will need to happen on some days- you’ll have to use your intellect to do what you need to do.
A few weeks ago, I was working on a kitchenware invention. I felt tired, miserable and wanted to lie on my bed vegging and watching Netflix. I forced myself to put together a sell-sheet, a kind of advert for the product.
A few days later an interested party asked me for the details of the product. Note I felt rubbish but I knew above that that doing this would be good for me. And hence, I have strengthened my conviction that I can do what it takes when necessary- and stay committed.
What are your tips for building commitment?