How to Commit to The Promises You Set Yourself

September 19, 2016

Commitment is important. Commitment to self is the foundation on which actions, habits and, ultimately, long term behaviour change is built.

It doesn’t matter what you’re committing to, a certain way of eating, an exercise plan, a relationship – the same underlying principles exist.

A commitment is a promise, a promise we set OURSELVES for the actions and behaviours we will take. Maybe we’re committing to exercise for a minimum of three hour a week. Breaking a promise is highly mentally damaging. It conditions our mind to think that it’s ok to let ourselves down, ok to break the promises we set ourselves. Breaking our commitments can become a habit. Can you think of anyone in your life who is always late? What they’ve done is to condition you to EXPECT them to be late in the future. Breaking promises we make to ourselves builds the same expectation of future failure. Repeated and prolonged breaking of commitment teaches us not only that it’s acceptable to let ourselves down, but (even more dangerously) that our commitments are worthless. If we constantly ‘cry wolf’ and set expectations we fail to deliver on, it conditions us that our future commitments are meaningless.

So what needs to be done to reverse the slippery slope of breaking self promises?

Firstly, you need to know yourself when making commitments. You need to have a realistic perception of your abilities and your ability for behaviour change. We often overestimate what we can achieve. We set expectations in the hope that our future self will somehow become super human and magically achieve things that our current self is just not capable of. Don’t shift unrealistic tasks to your future self. We’re asking it not simply to BEHAVE differently, but to change its very character – our fundamental habits and belief systems. Such wholesale change is massive, so don’t overestimate your future self. If you’re not willing to do something now, chances are you won’t be willing to do it in the near future. Set small behavioural goals that CHALLENGE the boundaries of your current character, rather than completely overhauling it.

In our example, exercising for three hours a week may not be realistic for a highly sedentary individual who currently completes no exercise. Such a commitment may be setting the individual up for failure.

Our values also determine whether we’ll commit to our promises.

If our values do not align to our intended behaviours, they simply won’t happen. If we value the outcome of a commitment enough, we’ll stick with it. If we don’t, we won’t. So don’t commit to anything that isn’t important to you.

An individual who understands the value of exercise for improved health will have far less barriers to commitment than an individual who does not value their health, or who does not believe that exercise will improve that health.

Once you know yourself (and ensure your values align to your commitment), and can use this awareness to form realistic commitments, you have to make one big decision. This one big decision should commit you long term to the change in behaviour and actions needed to form the habits your commitment requires. One big decision makes the rest of the process easy. It makes it easy because you don’t have to start each week, or wake up each morning, and make a smaller decision. A series of smaller decisions leaves too much room for you to make the choice that leads you towards breaking your long term commitment. Remember, once you’ve made this big decision, you must stick by it, or you’re conditioning yourself that failure is the norm.

In our example, by committing to exercise for three hours a week, and making the decision that this WILL happen, we no longer need to wake up each morning and decide whether we should exercise that day. The decision was made in the past, all we have to do is undertake the behaviours and actions supporting that commitment.

To summarise:

Breaking commitments to yourself is dangerous, it sabotages all future attempts to create positive behaviour change.
You should have a strong awareness of self (and your capabilities) when setting commitments.
Our commitments must align to our values.
Make one big decision for future behaviour, that way you don’t have to make multiple small decisions along the way.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.

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