Commitment can be thought of as my intention to produce a result. The result could be something as simple as showing up for a meeting on time or as complex as starting a new business. Commitment is the bridge between my vision (what I want) and reality (what is). It is how I translate my vision into reality.
Commitment is more than words. Words may be an expression of commitment but action is the essence. As such, commitment is much more than being “interested” or “thinking about” making something happen. There have been times in my life when I tinkered with an idea—writing a book, starting a consulting business. I even went through the motions. But it didn’t become a commitment until I knew, deep in my heart, that I was willing to do everything necessary to make it happen.
When I was at that point, I no longer allowed myself to get side-tracked into tangents. I no longer gave power to the negative talk in the back of my head telling me, “I’m not as qualified as others.” “I can’t do this.” “I’m tired.” “I don’t have enough money.” “Other people won’t support me.” I was totally clear about the result and moved forward to make it happen.
For years I thought about transitioning from a clinical practice as a psychologist to business consulting. Although I’d spent a year in a Masters program in Organizational Behavior, had an extended internship with Procter & Gamble, and done some training and consulting with a few companies, I’d built most of my career around a counseling practice. But I liked working with businesses. I liked change management, leadership training and team-building. So for a number of years I was interested (but not committed) in making the transition.
Then one day I took a drive from our home near Denver to a park in Colorado Springs. I spent a few hours pondering my options and writing in my journal. By the end of my short retreat, I decided. I was committed. I drove home with certainty. I had no idea how I’d make the transition but I knew I would do it.
Later that same week, I got a call from a president of a company, a business client of mine for whom I’d done some management training. He offered me a full-time job in human resources. I accepted on the spot and a short-time later had transferred my clients to others and my family and I were on our way to a new city and adventure. The position was a perfect transition into what I wanted to do.
It reminds me of the words from W. M. Murray in his book, The British Himalayan Expedition.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way.”
What a powerful statement.
My example to transition into business consulting was a big, life-changing commitment. But this principle also applies to commitments we enter into every day. Giving my employer an honest day of labor. Fulfilling an assignment. Spending time with a child. I don’t think we can keep the big commitments unless we learn to keep the daily commitments. At the heart of commitment is integrity. I have to know my word is good.
As I learn to do what I say I’ll do, I develop the discipline necessary to succeed. I grow in integrity and self esteem. Others learn they can count on me. And I come to understand the power to get things done and make things happen.
Likewise, there are consequences when I fail to make commitments or only fulfill those commitments half-heartedly. I fail to get results. My integrity and self-esteem are diminished. Others learn they can’t count on me. And I justify not keeping my commitments through excuses and blame. In fact, my life becomes more about the reasons I’m not getting things done than making things happen.
Of course, I won’t keep every commitment I enter into. That’s okay, if I don’t fall into the trap of making excuses or berating myself. Treating broken commitments in that way only burdens me with guilt and weakens my ability to get things done in the future.
Instead, I need to go back to the moment I made the commitment and tell myself the truth. Was it really a commitment or a wish? Is it something I entered into on my own volition or to please someone else? My integrity insists that I be conscious when I enter into a commitment and be clear in my own mind about my intent. Power flows from clear intent.
And, when I notice I failed to keep a commitment, I need to be honest with myself and others by owning up to it rather than making excuses. I grow when I accept accountability. It keeps me in integrity. It allows me to be honest about what was more important than the commitment. What may have been the undelivered communication in not keeping it? What payoffs do I get from not keeping it? By looking at broken commitments from this point of view, it is possible to grow in my understanding of myself and my ability to be responsible for my life.
Commitment is power in my personal life. If I’m committed to being a loving husband, I’ll do numerous and specific actions that create that result. I’ll listen even when tired. I’ll put aside my pride to understand my spouse’s point of view when we disagree. I’ll be deliberate in my acts of service and kindness.
Likewise, commitment is power in my business life. If I’m a committed member of a team or staff, I’ll show up for meetings prepared. I’ll take on and complete assignments. I’ll show respect to others. I’ll be honest and forthright in sharing my opinions, even when unpopular.
We too often go through the motions. We don’t think deeply about our commitments. Consequently we fail to be who we can be in our personal lives and fail to accomplish what is possible in our organizations. We need to learn to ask ourselves and also each other to make clear and honest commitments. We need to be respectful and encourage others to be honest so we negotiate honest commitments. Then we need to hold ourselves and one another accountable for what we say we will do. By so doing, we’ll feel better about ourselves, become more powerful influencers of the world around us and accomplish a greater shared vision.