The Power of Commitment

Commitment means the difference between failure and success

Chances are you’ve heard the oft-repeated statistic: only 8% of those who set New Year’s goals achieve them, a statistic backed by research from the University of Scranton. If you ever stopped to wonder what that 8% did differently from the other 92%, one word has like come to mind: commitment.

Commitment is powerful. It makes the difference between failure and success at work, at school and at home. It affects how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about our relationships with others. When we fail on our commitments, our integrity and self-esteem are diminished, and others learn we cannot be trusted. We find ourselves making excuses and blaming others, distracting us further from the things we should be doing.

Failing to commit

Most people mean well when they make a commitment, but we sometimes forget the meaning of the word.

In “The British Himalayan Expedition,” W. M. Murray wrote, “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.”

Treating commitments as goals increases achievement

Committing is like goal-setting. It’s saying we will accomplish this task. Viewing commitments as goals lends insights into how to keep them and achieve what we said we would.

Choose to commit.

Be fully present when you commit to things, considering them carefully and thoughtfully in advance. Understand, as Murray wrote, once you’re committed, you should not draw back. When you choose whether to commit, consider your ability and your time. Be specific about your commitment and seek to stretch yourself. Goal-setting researchers Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found that setting specific and challenging goals leads to higher performance 90 percent of the time.

Write it down.

We hear this all the time, but there’s good reason for it. Writing down our commitments encodes them in our brains. The process of encoding takes our thoughts into the hippocampus, where they go from short-term concepts to long-term memory. Studies have shown that people who vividly describe their goals (or commitments) in writing are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to accomplish them.

Ask someone to hold you accountable.

In a study from the American Society of Training and Development, researchers found that if you commit to someone outside yourself, you have a 65% chance of completing a goal. But if you have a specific accountability check-in with the person you committed, your odds of success increase to 95%.