By Joeel A. Rivera, M.Ed.
Why do some people fear commitment?
Most people have a misunderstanding about what commitment truly is and the power it has in their lives to help them create success, be happy, and develop functional relationships. When most people think about “commitment” they associate it with romantic relationships, but what I’m talking about here applies to every aspect of your life. A commitment is like making a promise to yourself.
The benefit of committing to something is that it helps you follow through during challenging times and distractions. However, commitment to the wrong things, when you’re really NOT committed, can hold you back.
What is commitment?
What commitment is NOT: obligation, something we do because we “should” or “have to”.
Words like “I have to” feel heavy and are counterproductive. Realistically you do not have to do anything in life. You may not like the consequences of not doing it, and so you “choose” to do it. Commitment is not a life sentence, but many people feel like it is and so either get “stuck” in commitments they’re not committed to or avoid commitment all together.
Commitment is the feeling of choice, dedication, investment; it’s something we do because we are motivated by genuine desire.
People who tend to follow through with their commitments more often not have a sense of choice. They see the greater purpose in what they are committing to and recognize the value of making a vow to dedicate themselves to the cause. Whether they’re committing to complete their college degree, work hard to maintain love and cooperation in their relationships, or contribute to the lives of others, their commitment is to themselves. The commitment honors them and they genuinely feel invested in their decision. This is TRUE commitment, and the only type, in fact, that anyone can keep.
When commitments are made and kept out of obligation, rather than genuine desire, they are destined to be either broken or dishonestly sustained.
True commitment requires choice, which is important to remember in romantic relationships. Your partner has free will, and you cannot force someone to commit or remain committed. This is a good thing, actually, because knowing your partner chooses to be with you, rather than feeling that they have to, is much more honoring. Understanding what commitment really is helps us remember not to take others for granted, knowing they are in our lives by choice.
If you’ve ever had a relationship of any kind that was sustained due to a commitment that wasn’t really meant (by either party) you already know how painful and disastrous false commitment can be. But, if you’ve ever truly experienced commitment with another person—by genuine choice—then you know its true power. When you feel committed to someone, or them to you, honor them by expressing your appreciation for their genuine love.
What happens if we have competing commitments?
In different stages of our lives we will be faced with competing commitments (i.e., spouse and children, career and spouse, etc). By taking time to reflect, and by communicating with those involved with our competing commitments, we will find that there are always compromises that can be made which honor both commitments. However, when some of the competing commitments are truly only “obligations”, priorities can become out of alignment with what we truly want.
One thing that I see often is that some people tend to over-commit. This can be when someone asks for your help, your job offers you a new side-project, your child wants to be a part of a new activity, and the list can go on and on. If you’re always a “Yes!” person, your over committing will eventually cause you to let others down and at the same time burn yourself out. You’ll find yourself breaking your commitments, which not only impacts your relationships, but also your feelings toward yourself and your commitments. This is when commitments tend to feel burdensome. You may feel trapped or overwhelmed and may forget the deeper reasons you made commitments in the first place. Unfortunately, when you are over committed, it is often the ones you truly care about that get strained or broken.
It is important to set boundaries and limitations. Learn how to say “No!”
If you know that this is challenging for you then come up with different ways to say no—scripts—and rehearse them so that when the time comes where you are about to commit to something you shouldn’t, you already know how to express that you do not want to over-commit yourself.
Willpower does NOT equal commitment!
Willpower doesn’t work. For example, there was a study in which kids were offered a marshmallow. They could choose to have 1 marshmallow or wait 10 minutes and they would get 2 marshmallows. When left alone with the marshmallow, some of the kids couldn’t resist and ate the marshmallow. Other kids managed to avoid temptation and ended up earning the extra marshmallow. So, did the 2nd group of kids have more willpower? No, it was relying on willpower that made the first group fail. The kids who did not eat the marshmallow didn’t use willpower, they were committed. They created a strategy and dedicated their efforts to distracting their minds from the thought of the marshmallow—alleviating the need to use willpower.
So, if you find yourself tempted to break your commitments and that you’re trying to use willpower to keep them, there are two things that may help. First, consider if you’re so tempted to break your commitment because you don’t really mean it. Then, if this is a genuine commitment (for example, to lose weight), consider what strategies you can use to avoid the tempting thoughts (such as not bringing tempting food into the house), rather than leaving it up to your “willpower”.
The key to keeping commitments is genuine desire and an effective strategy.
NON-Committed Committer vs Commit-a-phobe
Most of the time when we do not follow through on commitments, it isn’t because we’re giving up, it’s because we didn’t think through the commitment in the first place (i.e., marrying the wrong person or going along with something because others thought it was a good idea). We weren’t really committed to it in the first place.
On the flip side, some people are SO afraid to commit that they resist it indefinitely. Why? It’s not the commitment—the dedication, investment, desire—that they fear, it’s that they feel a commitment is a TRAP, an obligation. So, are you a non-committed committer or a commit-a-phobe? Be honest with yourself and take time to evaluate how committed you are and whether your priorities are in the right place.
Things to consider when making commitments:
• Release the feeling of obligation. Take the time to reflect on what you feel truly committed to and then give it your all.
• The value of commitment is that it keeps you moving forward even when the inevitable roadblocks and challenges cross your path.
• If you don’t really want it, don’t commit. It won’t work.
• Remember that if you want all the benefits of a relationship or of success in another area of your life, you have to be committed. You can’t get out of something what you’re not willing to put into it.
• Commitment is not a trap or a life sentence. It’s okay to break commitments when they are not in your best interest. But commitment is serious and important. The most important key to successful commitments is to make only genuine ones.
• It’s okay to say “No”. Commit to honoring yourself.
• You can’t force commitment on someone else. Plus, wouldn’t you want them to be committed to you because of genuine desire, not obligation?
So, ask yourself, what are you truly committed to?
Joeel A Rivera, M.Ed. is a counselor and life coach specializing in relationships and entrepreneurship. Joeel is a Motivational Speaker, presenting topics such as Enlightened Relationships, Personal Transformation, and Entrepreneurship. Joeel received a Master’s Degree in Education and Counseling and is currently finishing his dissertation for his Ph.D. in Psychology, with a focus on human happiness and what drives us to achieve our fullest potential. Connect with Joeel at www.transformationservices.org.