How Exactly Do You Create Commitment?

Recently I talked about commitment. I said it was the most important advice I have to give. The topic sparked some unexpected interest and discussion, and it's got me to thinking... I said commitment was the most important thing, but I never really said how to become committed.

The truth is, I'm not completely sure how a person becomes committed to something. But I do have a theory!

I believe commitment comes with what you attach to your identity — how you perceive yourself, and how you want others to perceive you.

For example, wanting to be good at something “to get the girls” is a common motivational trick. So is hoping to learn something because it will make your resume better. But these things often fall apart when the rubber meets the road.

When you introduce yourself, you don’t say, “Hi, my name is Anna and I have a great resume." You don't say, "I'm John and I like to get the girls.” Those things aren’t part of your identity. But they could be, if you wanted them to be. In fact, if you started introducing yourself in that way, you'd probably find a lot more success than you might believe!

For spouses and parents, this kind of commitment by identity comes naturally. Husbands repeatedly find themselves saying, “Hi, I’m John, this is my wife Anna, and these are my kids annajohn and johnanna.” The more times you say that, the stronger that commitment becomes. (And the more comfortable you get with those awful names.)

When I introduce myself, I really do tell people that I am “the yearlyglot.” Why not? Naturally they ask what that is, and I get to tell them about my web site and explain that I learn a new language every year. Learning a language is, in fact, a part of my identity. It is a vital part of how I see myself and how I want others to know me. And that creates a commitment.

So what are you telling yourself? What are you telling others? What is the identity that you're wearing? Are you "trying to learn"? Do you "lack the talent for languages?" Are you "too busy?" Who are you? And who do you want to be?


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  • That was quick! Identity is a big part of it and we have some real power to create our identities. I think of those who identify themselves as 'runners'. Few I know were always runners. They became runners, over time and through entering into the world of running. That is different than those born in Chicago who are Bear's fans. They don't ever remember not being committed. It was a part of their life before they were even born. So I need to figure out what it was that causes some to begin to identify themselves as runners. Most wouldn't identify themselves as a runner after their first run. But I agree, the sooner that we begin to identify ourselves as something, the sooner our commitment will grow and become the powerful agent of success creation that it is. I have purposefully begun to identify myself as a writer. I don't feel like what I imagine it feels like to be a writer, but by identifying myself as such, I am writing a lot more than I ever have before. Self fulfilling prophecy? Anyway, it's a great topic and if we need commitment to succeed at reaching our language learning goals, then we need to figure out ways to manufacture/create it for ourselves. I am a language learner!

  • I am a language learner! Oh gosh, I can already see the cheesy video, with inspirational music playing and faces of people saying "I am a language learner"... "I'm a language learner".... "*I* am a language learner"... and then someone famous walks on and says "I'm [somebody famous], and I am a language learner..."Heeeeeelp meeeee!!! hahaha

  • Randy, great post! I've always 'labeled' myself a 'spanish learner' or a 'student of spanish'. Your post makes me wonder if I would see more progress if I started telling people I 'speak spanish', or that I'm 'a spanish fanatic' or something. Maybe because I only see myself as somebody in the process of learning spanish, I'm holding myself back. Interesting!

  • Absolutely! This is also why I hate the word "try." I will never say I'm "trying to learn" this or that language. I *AM* learning this AND that language. Just TRY to stop me! :)

  • Could that person PLEASE be Stuart Smalley?Because that would be awesome.OK, I've had my fun. Carry on.

  • Hahahaha!

  • I’ve been enduring a self-induced earthquake lately. Shaking things up and tearing down what’s there in hopes of building something better. Why? I fell off a roof two years ago and suffered major injuries. I’ve spent the past two years trying to remain the person I was up until I fell: Yogi, runner, social butterfly, reading enthusiast, nerd in the areas of politics and public health….on and on. It’s not working. I can’t hold onto these structures of identity anymore because I am not the person I was before I fell. I’m not happy trying, unsuccessfully, to be that person anymore.I shattered my dominant arm and suffered nerve damage in my other arm. It’ll be a long time before I can stress my body by running or doing yoga again. I have a brain injury. It brings me to tears to write this but my brain can’t do everything the way it used to. See my latest blog entry (link on my twitter bio) for more info about this.Remaining committed to that old identity has not helped me move forward with my life. If anything, it’s kept me dissociated from the present moment and chained to my past.For a while now and at least for the next six months, my life is dominated by recovery. I hate that. Maybe that’s what needs to be torn down and changed though. Maybe I need to find a way to introduce myself and what my life is about right now with love instead of hate. How do you commit to something painful? It seems easy to commit to and find identity in something you choose, like a spouse or career, but I’m not sure what to do in my own situation.Thoughts?

  • You asked for my thoughts, so here they are...We often see pro athletes suffer from inconceivably disastrous injuries (Willis McGahee, for instance) only to come back from injury the following year and play at the top level again. When this happens, people talk about what an incredible accomplishment it is, and go on and on about the recovery, but what gets me is how they always fail to mention the level of commitment that got that athlete to this top level in the first place!Consider it for a moment. This guy trained EVERY DAY, to be the best on his block, then the best in his class, then the best in his school, then the best in the state so he could be a top pick in college where he beat out everyone else again to become a top draft pick, and then went on to play at the highest possible level in his chosen sport... and you think he's going to let a mere injury undo all of that?So what makes us different? Sure, my commitment isn't to football or basketball, so my training intensity won't be the same as that of a pro athlete, but I guarantee you I know about tenacity because I have commitment to other things. Language for example. And nothing is going to keep me from succeeding at that.You complain about being a social butterfly, a reading enthusiast and a nerd in politics and public health as if you are no longer able to do these things with an injury. And I'm sorry, but I have to call bullshit on that. Stop acting like a victim and start taking control of you you are. You can still read. You can still keep up with politics. You can still be social. Quit making excuses.I do appreciate the physical requirements that are — for the moment — impeding your ability to be a yogi or a runner. This is the part of your identity that's challenged. However, if you're really committed to those activities, you'
    ll get past it. You don't have to be a pro athlete to get over an injury. Just ask Jamie Gillentine: https://www.yearlyglot.com/2...Of course, maybe none of that was really as much a part of your identity as you thought. In which case, I would totally understand giving up. If you were only doing those things to please other people, this is a good time to drop them. If you've always wanted something different, or you think you'd be happier doing something else, go do it. But whatever you do... fucking OWN IT. Do that, and you'll be just fine.

  • I hear you about the arm stuff. I will get back to yoga if I want to, and I do. I can still be a yogi now, just doing different asanas. The brain injury is a bit different. It changes your identity because it changes your memory, your mood, your appetite…so many fundamental things .About reading: Yes, I can still read, sometimes, with great effort. I tried to get through your blog post about four times before I reached the end. Then I read it about four more times to make sure I understood it. Then after I spent about two hours working on my reply, I read it two more times to make sure my reply made sense with your post. Seriously this whole reading and replying has been a major project of my day, aside from physical therapy.It’s hard to be a reading enthusiast or a nerd in any subject when you can’t consistently get through even small doses of materiel.I agree with you somewhat about being a social butterfly. Before I had plans almost every night of the week, was always out trying new things and meeting new people. Now I make plans once, maybe twice/week and keep things low key, like meeting a friend for tea instead of meeting a group of people out at a bar. This is all brain injury stuff…I get mentally exhausted quickly and tend to get a headache if I’m out in a group with lots of noise. I also have a lag in processing speed. One on one this isn’t a problem but in a group it tends to mean I never contribute to the conversation because I’m always one step behind. It’s amazingly frustrating…like those commercials where someone gets the joke after everyone else because they have a different cell-phone service…that’s me.I can still be social, within different parameters. I have twitter and blogs which give me time to form a response, which is great. I’m forming more meaningful connections with friends because I see them more one on one instead of in a group.What about letting out experiences change us? Learning from our experiences? I feel like it’d be kind of a waste if after all this amazing pain and recovery I just closed up shop and pretended nothing happened. Where is the line between accepting what is happening and not accepting what life’s thrown at you?I’ve tried not accepting all of this. I’ve pushed through and decided for myself that I’m not injured, that I will no longer be that injured girl. I go back to visiting friends when I want, having crazy conversations, entertaining fun ideas, meeting all the cool people there are to meet in NYC, generally living the exciting life I love to live here in NYC. When I do that, when I ignore my body’s desire to rest and my brain’s catches, I end up lost in familiar neighborhoods in NYC, unable to find my way back to my apartment. I end up shutting down completely and falling asleep on a park bench. Both have happened multiple times. So I can’t just dust off and jump back into the game…Maybe I am just being a piss-ant. I recognize that I’m amazingly, overwhelmingly, tired of being in pain. So yeah, I am a frustrated little piss-ant!

  • That sounds really frustrating. I can only try to imagine, since I've never experienced it myself.We all go through different things, and you are correct: you can't just ignore it or wish it away.But you can deal with it. You can become better than it. It's still your life and you get to decide what you'll do with it.I'm no doctor, and I'm not in your shoes, so I won't even pretend to know about what can or can not be done with the brain injury you speak of. But I can offer you this, and hope that it's encouraging:It's often said that Einstein couldn't even tie his own shoes. I don't know if that's actually true, but I know that Stephen Hawking can't even touch his own shoes... and he's way smarter than Einstein.You seem like an intelligent and positive person, who just happens to be carrying a lot of frustration about how to deal with an unfortunate event. Speaking as a person who has also had unfortunate events in his own life, I can tell you that things do get better, only after you decide to allow them. I'm sure you'll find your way, and you'll look back on frustrated moments like "I'm a little piss-ant" and wonder to yourself "good god, what was I thinking."I hope those days come sooner, rather than later.

  • I think the frustration comes from not fully understanding what I’m working with right now. I’m still doing the recovery dance of two steps forward, one step back, etc.I definitely get what you’re saying about Einstein and have figured out that now what I have to do is just focus more intently on what I want and get rid of everything else taking up space in my life. I never considered myself a minimalist before but now more and more the philosophy appeals to me.I’ve completed a lot of cognitive function testing. On one test of reading comprehension I scored in the 99th percentile for accuracy, categorizing me as highly intelligent, but the time it took me to complete the test put me in the 5th percentile which categorized me as severely impaired. I have not lost intelligence. I just have to learn to better access it. Most people, myself formerly included, read to learn and understand. I’ve got to find another way.By saying I was being a piss-ant, I was saying I know I’m being ridiculous :)Does it make sense though how I’ve lost track of my identity a bit here? I’ll get it back with time and effort. Especially after I start choosing where to put my limited mental energy instead of having to put it into rehabilitation most days.I really appreciate your blog post and this exchange we’ve had. None of this would have happened if you hadn’t been honest. It was quite brave of you to call me out on my bullshit but cheers for doing it!

  • Letting people know your goal should increase your commitment for several reasons. It focuses people's attention on you and your goal and many will support you in some way. It also gives gives you pressure not to quit so that people don't see you as a quitter. But mostly it encourages you because you will get constant feedback, both positive and negative -- similat to scoring points in a game.

  • In spirit, one wants to agree with that. But in practice, there seems to be more to it than just "letting people know your goal." Otherwise, New Years resolutions wouldn't fail so predictably!That's why I believe the important component is your IDENTITY. Not just talking about a thing, but making it known that the thing is a part of you.Think of it like this: If you're one of my friends, and none of us smoke, and then you come around with a cigarette and say "my goal is to smoke," we'll all tell you it's irritating, and complain, and ask you to stop. But if you say, "I am a smoker now; this is who I am," we will plan activities without you, and perhaps some might even consider stopping their friendship, because now it's not some irritating detail, it's commitment.Make sense?

  • Sweetheart, I'm nothing if not honest.
    Sometimes, to a fault. :)

  • I was thinking about this blog post for a whole week.Today it came to me. It's rather obvious, and I knew it all along, but today it came to me!The best way to create commitment is to BELIEVE. Maybe it sounds too simple, but I think FAITH is the crucial factor in succeeding in anything in life. You can identify yourself with whatever you want, you can set whatever goals you want, but unless you truly and sometimes blindly believe that you CAN achieve it - you won't create that long term commitment.Well, actually I suppose we can talk about two kinds of commitments - results driven and start-up commitment. Once you start reaping benefits of your actions, you don't really need to motivate yourself that much to stay committed, I think.

  • That's really interesting... and it makes a lot of sense!

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