What’s So Great About Commitment? (#729)

Years ago, I heard this quote about the relative value of alcohol from Al Smith, who was the governor of New York during the Prohibition era:


If by alcohol you mean that which is the defiler of innocence, the corrupter of chastity, the scourge of disease, the ruination of the mind and the cause of unemployment and broken families, then of course I oppose it with every resource of mind and body.But if by alcohol you mean that spirit of fellowship, that oil of conversation which adds lilt to the lips and music to the mouth, that liquid warmth which gladdens the soul and cheers the heart, that benefit whose tax revenue has contributed countless millions into public treasuries to educate our children, to care for the blind, and treat our needy elder citizens – then with all the resources of my mind and body I favor it.


I must admit to having a similar relationship in my mind with the notion of “commitment”. If by commitment you mean that sense of obligation that shames us into either doing what we don’t really want to do or feeling a wave at guilt at letting down our team, our colleagues, our loved ones, but most of all ourselves;  that tool used by the unscrupulous and well-intentioned alike to legally and morally bind our hands and causes us to stay in a joyless job or a loveless marriage, then of course, I oppose it “with all the resources of my mind and body”.

But if by commitment you mean the glue that holds relationships together, the catalyst for enhanced performance in any goal or purpose-driven activity, the simple act of honoring your word that lets people know they can rely on you and that when you say you will do something, you will do it, and that when you say something will get done it will get done 99.9% of the time, then of course I encourage it.

Here are three things that commitment does that make it a wonderful tool to be used as opposed to a heavy burden to be feared:

1. Commitment helps you banish doubt

Those of you who are regular readers of these tips will recognize the opening line from my favorite quote by W.H. Murray:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness…”

One of the great things about having committed to a course of action is that when the little nagging thoughts of doubt appear (and in my experience they nearly always do), you don’t need to entertain them, debate them, or take them seriously. Without commitment, those same insecure thoughts sound really important and worthy of discussion.

Think about it this way – if you’re about to jump out of an airplane and that voice inside your head says “What are you doing?  Are you insane?  Is that even a parachute on your back?”, you might seriously engage with it and triple check it for the fourteenth time.  If you’ve already jumped, it’s considerably easier to ignore it and focus on the task at hand. And once the decision is made, your mind is now free to focus on how to make things happen.

2. Commitment helps you enroll others

Imagine two people come to ask you to back their cause…

The first one says “Hey, I’ve got this idea for creating clean drinking water in the 3rd world – if I can get the seed money so I can take the time off from my regular job, I’m going to work on a prototype – can you help?”

The other says “Hey – I’m in the process of creating a source of clean drinking water that will benefit the 3rd world (but also parts of America, Asia, and Europe where there’s a real need).  I quit my job and am now working on this full time along with a team of volunteers I’ve assembled.  What would it take for you to become a part of our support team?”

It’s clear that our first would-be do-gooder means well, but whether or not they move forward is dependent on me (or others like me) saying “yes” to them.  It’s equally clear that our second “water cleaner-upper” is taking on this project with us or without us. We don’t have to decide whether or not the project is worthwhile – only whether or not we want to be a part of it.

This is the power of commitment in conversation – we’ve made our choice (to commit to a certain result or course of action) – the other person is free to make theirs without any neediness on our part for them to say “yes” or “no”.  And as I wrote in Supercoach, you can ask anyone for anything when you make it OK for them to say ‘no’.

3. Commitment helps you to look in a different direction

My 15 year old son is in the process of creating the money to buy his first car. About a month ago, I asked him how it was going and he shared with me how hard it was for someone his age to get a job, and how with his school schedule and football practice and the desire for some semblance of a social life, there really wasn’t any time to go out and make money anyways.

We chatted for a bit and I explained that we tend to see what we’re looking for. When we think we can’t do something, our brains automatically begin to look for facts to back up our hypothesis – and they will inevitably find them.  However, once we commit to a certain course of action or the creation of a certain result, our brains automatically begin to look for ways to succeed.

Within a few minutes, I saw his eyes light up as he saw a way to go about creating the money he wanted within the life he already had.  And I’m pleased to say this past week was his first $250+ week!  (Now I get to worry about him driving in a few months time, but I’m sure I’ve written a tip about dealing with that somewhere… 🙂

So does all this mean you have to commit to succeed?

Absolutely not.  I’ve stumbled on to at least as many wonderful results in my life as I’ve deliberately created.  But if there is something that matters to you – that you really want to be, do, or have in your life – your commitment to creating it is a pretty wonderful place to start.

Have fun, learn heaps, and may all your success be fun!

With love,

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