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Generate commitment by following through on yours

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A friend asked me the other morning, “how can we get people to keep their commitments?” The most powerful thing we can do to help others follow-through on the commitments they make, I responded, is to do so ourselves.  Frankly, most of us are pretty lousy at commitments because we haven’t taken the time to look at what it really means to be committed to something or to make a commitment.

I’d like to quickly distinguish a “commitment” from “what we are committed to.” Where a commitment can be a short term promise where conditions are satisfied and the commitment no longer exists “what we are committed to” has a longer time frame and is the source of something deeper or more sustaining.  In other words, I can make a commitment to provide a client with a deliverable that meets agreed upon conditions/criteria by a certain date.  That is different from being committed to my life partner. 

What Does It Mean to Be Committed?
If you want to dig deeper into the question about what it means to be committed, take a look at the following qualities or characteristics:

  • Endurance. Again and again and again-ness and a sense of “no matter what"
  • Not being one of too many. For if we are TRULY committed we don’t have room for more than a handful of commitments. If we find we have more than a handful of commitments we might pause to ask ourselves if we are in fact pretending to be committed but are not really.
  • Energizing and self-expressed. Our commitments light us up and we freely and fully express who we are in our commitments.
  • Look at your life and see what you’ve got. This is what you are committed to. You may not like what you see. Often times we find we are committed to things that do not serve us. The first step in making any shifts is awareness and then we can make choices to bring about what we want.  
  • Time and money. Our commitments are where we spend our time and money. 
  • Our commitments are a natural part of life. Our actions are consistent with the commitment and we don’t actually TALK about what we are committed to because it lives in how we navigate the world.

Stop Pretending To Be Committed

So, as it relates back to the question my friend raised, I propose the best way we can help others follow-through on their commitments is to do so ourselves. That begins with being clear about what it means to be committed and then recognize that commitments are not to be taken or entered into lightly. Perhaps the worst thing to do is to pretend we are committed to something when we are not. That is where things get messy. What is more powerful is to be able to say “I think X is important and it’s not something I’m committed to.” Then we know where we stand.  Even more powerful than that is to say “I am committed to X.” I guarantee that if you look at what you are truly, unequivocally committed to in your life you will see that those things truly “light you up” and are likely the source of energy for what fuels your life. 

What are you committed to? What are you pretending to be committed to that you aren’t really committed to?

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

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