A couple of years ago I had a wake-up call.
I suddenly became aware that although I thought I valued commitment, I had really been living my life as though I valued freedom more. I realized I had never truly committed to anything. This was shocking to me because I had been in long-term relationships, pursued an advanced degree, and started my own business, all of which seem to take a great deal of commitment. But when I really reflected on my level of commitment, I realized that I always had a back-up plan, a way out. In many ways I always had one foot out the back door. Not only had I never truly committed to another person, I had never truly committed to myself.
The deeper I dug, the more I realized that commitment was actually a strong value of mine, but I didn’t know how to commit. I was afraid of making the wrong decision. I figured that having a plan B was always a good idea, but in reality it kept me from taking the risks that would allow me to experience what is possible with a deeper commitment.
I realized that part of the problem was the idea of commitment itself. I’d always thought of it as a feeling, as in “I feel committed to that.” The stronger the feeling, the stronger the commitment. The problem is that feelings come and go and so did my feeling of commitment.
Commitment Means “No Matter What”
A friend once told me that love is not a feeling, it’s a choice. I only partially understood what she meant at the time. The reality is that sometimes you feel love and other times you may not. But choosing to love someone is making that choice even when you can’t feel that feeling.
That is the way of commitment. It’s great when you feel that internal sense of commitment, the excitement to take something on, the desire to stay with it. But that feeling comes and goes and when it’s elusive, the only thing you have left is the choice. Being committed is about choosing over and over to put something first. True commitment is saying “I’m committed, no matter what” (unless, of course, it’s an abusive situation or is out of alignment with your values). True commitment arises from a deep sense of connection to what’s important to you. That means no matter that things aren’t going well, no matter that my commitment seems irrational in the face of setbacks, no matter that I cannot feel the same enthusiasm as when I made the commitment in the first place. No matter what, I’ll stay the course.
Our culture doesn’t support that level of commitment very well. The underlying message is there is always another life, job, or relationship waiting to take the place of the one you have if you decide it no longer suits you. We change our minds about what we are committed to like we change shoes. And the unfortunate consequence of that way of living is we find we no longer have the ability to commit to something that feels really important to us. We can’t get into shape, even when we know it will extend our lives. We can’t get out of credit card debt. We can’t write that book. We can’t pursue that advanced degree. We can’t stop drinking or doing drugs. We can’t stay married. We can’t get that business off the ground, because it seems so hard.
True commitment is staying through the difficulties, challenges, and the “no matter what.” If it is important to you, it is worth fighting for. By making the decision to stay, to commit to whatever is important to you, you can gain access to a deeper experience of life. I realized this was true of my relationships as well as every other aspect of my life. If I made the decision to stay, something else became possible. And the first commitment I needed to make was to myself. I needed to say a deep yes to the life I wanted to live, to the things I valued most and then to the people that were important to me.
How can you start living a deeper expression of life? Commit to being true to your most authentic self. Have the courage to tell yourself the truth about what’s most important to you, what you really want in life, who you want to be in the world, and who you want to spend your time and energy with. Then say a deep yes to becoming that person and living that life. Say a deep yes to you.
If you’ve had difficulty with commitment or aren’t sure where to start, here’s a practice you might find valuable.
Practice: Committing One Day at a Time
Take a moment to imagine what it would feel like to say a deep yes to what you really want. Give yourself permission to see this as a real possibility. What would it feel like to be so committed to the life you dream of that you actually see it through? Instead of getting caught up in the usual stories that hold you back, imagine yourself moving through the challenges and embracing a bigger vision of you. See yourself living the life you want, doing the work you find meaningful, having relationships that nourish you, being the person you want to be. What are you doing? Where are you? Who is there with you?
What is one step you can commit to that will bring you closer to your dreams? Choose something now. Make it a small but meaningful step that pushes your edges a bit but feels manageable. Make sure it’s something you truly want to do—no matter what—rather than something you feel you “should” do. Maybe you want to stick to a morning self-care ritual, or get some activity that elevates your heart rate every day, or regularly connect with someone you love. Once you’ve chosen a step, write down “I commit to _____.”
Now get to the “why.” After you know what your step is, write down why it is important enough to be committed to. Be as detailed as possible about this—what values and deeper needs does this commitment serve? Why is this a “no matter what” kind of commitment for you? You want to be able to remember why you made this commitment when things get tough.
Next, share your commitment and your “why” with at least one other person. Ask this person to be your accountability partner and send that person an email each day you do your commitment, with the simple phrase “I did it.” When you are having trouble, ask your buddy to remind you why this is important.
Commit to your step for a 21-day sprint. Why 21 days? Real commitment is difficult because it’s hard to imagine doing something for six months, a year, five years, or the rest of our lives. But you can imagine 21 days. Resist the urge to change things up during those 21 days. Stick to the original commitment and don’t forget to celebrate when you reach your milestone!
Take these three steps every day:
- Prepare. Every evening before going to bed, read your commitment and your “why.” Then, take any necessary steps to be ready for your commitment in the morning. An example is setting out your gym clothes the night before if plan to go to the gym. Preparation is part of commitment.
- Commit. In the morning, read your commitment and your “why.” As you are getting ready for the day, say to yourself in the mirror, “I am committed to ____ today, no matter what.” Your willpower is at its strongest in the morning before it has been tested too many times during the day. Use that natural advantage by completing your commitment step in the morning if possible. Your willpower is also stronger when you have eaten protein and when you’ve had plenty of water to drink. So, eat some protein, have a nice big glass of water, and get going!
- Take action. After you’ve completed your action step for the day, take a moment to acknowledge your dedication and feel good about what you just did. Remember to email your accountability buddy.
When you learn how to commit to yourself and what you want, you connect more clearly to what is deeply important to you. You start living your life and making decisions from that place. Your relationships become more nourishing. Your work becomes more meaningful and fulfilling. You experience a greater sense of aliveness, happiness, and well-being. That’s living your deepest yes!