Commitments can make resolutions and goals achievable explains Graham Price

The traditional ‘new-year resolution’ is seen by many as a passing fantasy. People make them, keep them for a few weeks and then forget them, just as they did last year.

Can I give you a challenge to change that view? What if this year, we can see the tradition is an opportunity to make a real change, achieve a long standing goal or fix a problem that’s been bugging us for years? What if this year we’re able to stick with our resolutions and see them through? What if, having achieved our resolutions, we know we can achieve any goal we make at any other time?

The problem with new-year resolutions is that they’re generally based on good intentions. Intentions, however, are designed to fail, as by nature they tend to be temporary. An intention seems real enough when we make it, as our motivation may be high at the time. But as the days and weeks pass, other priorities get in the way, our motivation subsides and our intentions diminish and eventually disappear.

Commitments, on the other hand, are a lot more powerful. I define a commitment as an unbreakable promise that we make to ourselves, and potentially to others. I define a commitment as unbreakable for a number of reasons. First, assuming we accept that definition when we make the commitment, we’ve made an unbreakable promise.  If we break such a promise, even if it’s made primarily to ourselves, but also if we’ve shared it with others, what does that say about our integrity and our ability to keep any other promise? Second, we know that if we break it, the goal will never be achieved. Third, if we break it, this sets a precedent that we can break any future commitment. So we’ll have thrown away a powerful tool we could have used many times to achieve challenging goals throughout our lives.

We should therefore only use commitments for goals that are clearly achievable and totally under our control. I would never encourage a coaching client to commit to doubling their income next year. That may not be achievable and is unlikely to be totally within our control. But it might be valid to commit to attending a course that claims to achieve such an impact. Attending the course is certainly achievable and within our control.

Letting others know we’ve made a commitment and repeating our unbreakable promise to them, reinforces it, providing we’re sure they’ll support us.

With many commitments, it’s generally best to time-limit them with regular renewals. For example my weight loss programme has some very strict rules. It would be unrealistic to expect my clients to commit to complying with all those rules until they achieve their weight goal. Such a commitment would feel daunting and would be unlikely to succeed.  So once all the rules, including various psychological tools essential to success, are understood, I’ll initially ask my client if they could keep to all those rules for 24 hours. That is hardly too daunting and certainly seems to them achievable, and so a 24 hour commitment is made. Then I recommend they renew that commitment for another 24 hours. After a few days of success, increasing to 48 hour commitments feels achievable. Before long, they’re making one week commitments and easily achieving them. Furthermore, they now understand that not renewing a commitment would kill their chances of achieving their goal, even if this means renewing for shorter periods from time to time to make sustained success feel more achievable.

The point about renewable commitments is that the decision to renew is made at a non-challenging time, perhaps when we awake each morning, not when we’re facing a challenge, such as a plate of food or an enticing menu. My clients clearly understand that once made, a commitment cannot be broken. They know that doing so just once, would open them up to further breaks and destroy their chance of achieving their goal. The commitment removes the option to say, “I’ll just have this one ice-cream and go back to complying with the rules tomorrow”.

Commitments, used with care, make resolutions and goals achievable. If you’re reading this after January 1st, it’s still OK to start now.

Graham W Price is a chartered psychologist, personal and executive coach and development trainer. He’s an accredited member of the British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) and a leading provider of Acceptance Action Therapy ... (Read More)

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