This week we’ve been thinking a lot about sticking to commitments that we’ve made either to ourselves or to others. Here’s some context….We spoke about getting back into our yoga practice for months and months on end. We knew how good stretching was for our bodies and we loved it when we did it, but for some reason our words never led to actions. We didn’t even have any good excuses! Finally, enough was enough and we got real on our commitment to practise regularly. And boy does it feel good!
So what’s going on here? For starters, humans are inherently lazy. Studies show that our bodies move in the most economical way possible. We subconsciously choose to walk at a speed and step length that limits the number of calories we expend (an evolutionary reason for this might be that our ancestors needed to conserve as much every as possible for the next hunt). So this might account for the fact that when we make a commitment that requires us to get off our bums, we often choose not to pull through time after time.
Another reason why we tend to break our promises is that at the exact moment that we consciously declare our particular objective, there is often some non-conscious ambivalence about the objective present that ultimately gets in the way of it’s fulfillment. In other words, part of us never really wanted to make the promise in the first place! If we think about it philosophically, since our brains are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, if keeping the commitment requires some sort of perceived or actual physical or psychological pain, then we are less likely to stick to it in general.
According to ‘self-completion theory’ in Psychology, if we make a commitment that is in line with our self-concept (how we like to think about ourselves), we become highly motivated to act on the commitment to ensure we validate this particular aspect of our identity. However, the issue is that simply communicating our identity-related intentions to someone else is enough to foster a sense of completeness within ourselves and we then have less impetus to translate them into action. In other words, saying we are going to do something often feels just as good as actually doing it, so the motivation to fulfill on the commitment is no longer there.
So the question remains, if humans are somewhat wired to break our commitments, what can we do about it? Here is our approach to keeping our promises:
- Always ensure you mindfully commit to something;
- Be precise on what it is you are committing to;
- Determine why exactly you wish to make the commitment, i.e. what you will gain from it’s fulfillment;
- Explore what else is present for you when you make the commitment and nut out any underlying concerns or hesitations you find;
- Examine what challenges might arise in the face of fulfilling on the commitment and how you will overcome them;
- Share your commitment with the people around you and request that they hold you accountable;
- Put a system in place to keep your commitment in existence on an ongoing basis; Set reminders, schedule time aside in your diary, stick up post-it-notes, pop it in your to-do list etc;
- If you can’t fulfill on your commitment, then communicate ahead of time to the necessary stakeholders involved: own it, apologise, and make up for it in some other way.
We’ll leave you with a quote by Stephen Covey: “Honesty is making your words conform to reality. Integrity is making reality conform to your words.”