We’ve all heard the saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
One meaning of the phrase is that individuals may have the intention to undertake good actions but nevertheless fail to take action. This inaction may be due to procrastination, laziness or other subversive vice. As such, the saying is an admonishment that a good intention is meaningless unless followed through, which is notoriously difficult for common good intentions such as losing weight through dieting or quitting smoking.
It’s common for people who have struggled with any meaningful desire for too long to have gotten into the habit of being more in love with the IDEA of achievement than the actual work and process of making it a reality. This, unfortunately, can become habit. Romanticizing the idea of change without actually changing can become habitual. Setting a goal but not fully committing to it and then not achieving it can become habitual.
“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes, but no plans”
“Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth – that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.” – Henry David Thoreau
There is a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results. – Ken Blanchard
Romanticizing achievement and having good intentions without commitment can both become habit . The first time one romanticizes or embarks upon some achievement journey with good intentions rather than commitment and doesn’t achieve the goal it really stings. But you know what? The more times one embarks upon the journey with only romantic ideals and good intentions and fails to achieve the desired outcome the less it stings. It starts to become the norm. It never really feels good but it can become the expectation.
For these reasons and more it is absolutely critical that we change from romanticizing to action – from intentions to commitment – from setting goals but failing to achieve them as habit – to setting goals and achieving them.
The habit of failure, if this has been your pattern for weight loss, is not like eye color. You can’t change your eye color. The habit of failure CAN be changed to the habit of success. For most people who have gotten into the rut of this failure habit, where romanticizing change without action and good intentions rather than commitment prevail, they don’t even realize it has become habit. If this is you it’s time to turn your habit around 180 degrees and shift from romanticizing change with intention to creating the habit of success with full-on commitment.
I was asked recently what drives me to succeed and hit my physical weight or performance goals when I set them. Sometimes my WHY isn’t a well-formed thing of beauty or emotionally heart-wrenching masterpiece. Sometimes, for me, it’s about two things:
- I want to do it
- I said I would do it
You see, I’ve gotten into the habit, with respect to weight and physical performance, of doing what I say I will. Goal achievement has become habit. To routinely say I’m going to do something and not do it seems foreign to me – it, for me, feels disingenuous, it doesn’t feel like my authentic self. To put it plainly – it just feels bad.
So, sometimes, for me, I will achieve a fat loss goal or a muscle gain goal or a physical performance goal because I want to of course but partly because I said I would and I have the habit of success working for me.
Please don’t interpret this as me saying I always, 100% of the time, do everything I say I will. Nah, I’m certainly not perfect that’s for sure.
If up till now you’ve been in the camp of romantic intention without action and commitment for weight loss just know you aren’t alone and you aren’t stuck there. Your past doesn’t have to dictate your new future. With education, motivation and personal support you can change what has been, you can replace bad habits, and the habit of success, the habit of setting goals and achieving them, the habit of following through on what you say you will do, can become your new norm, your new habit.
In this article I want to discuss and answer three main questions:
- How do we change from romanticizing to action – from intentions to commitment?
- What’s the real difference between commitment and intention?
- What language speaks of intention and what language speaks of commitment?
As I discuss intention vs. commitment other words that could be substituted for intention are interest, desire or preference. Other words that may substitute for commitment include decision and promise. This will make more sense as I discuss how we can all move our language from intention to commitment.
What is a commitment? What is intention? A commitment is the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity or goal. An intention is a thing intended; an aim or plan. Look at that – the word dedicated is in the definition of a commitment and then to some specific cause, activity or goal. For intention? No such specifics or declarations of action are implied let alone stated.
Life and business Coach Tony Robbins uses the word decision to describe commitment. According to the dictionary – a decision is a conclusion or resolution reached after consideration.
Tony says in “Awaken the Giant Within” that everything that happens in your life—both what you’re thrilled with and what you’re challenged by—began with a decision.
Your life changes the moment you make a new, congruent and committed decision. Making a true decision means committing to achieving a result, and then cutting yourself off from any other possibility.
Remember that when you start feeling overwhelmed, or when you feel like you don’t have a choice, or when things are happening “to” you, you can change it all if you just stop and decide to do so.
The hardest step in achieving anything is making a true commitment—a true decision.
You know you’ve truly made a decision when action flows from it.
Throw Your Knapsack Over the Wall
Tal Ben-Shahar, author of “Happier” says our commitment in words have the power to create a better future.
I like a vision he asks us to imagine. He says, Imagine your life as a journey. You are walking, knapsack on your back, making good progress, until suddenly you reach a brick wall that stands in the way of reaching your destination. What do you do? Do you turn around, avoid the challenge posted by the barrier? Or do you take the opposite approach and throw your knapsack over the wall, thus committing yourself to finding ways of getting through, around, or over the wall?
In 1879 Thomas Edison announced that HE WOULD PUBLICLY display the electric lightbulb by December 31, even though all his experiments had, to that point, failed. He threw his knapsack over the brick wall – in spite of the numerous challenges that he still faced – and on the last day of that year, there was light.
In 1962, when John F. Kennedy declared to the world that the United States WAS GOING TO land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, some of the metals necessary for the journey had not yet been invented, and the technology required for completing the journey was not available. But he threw his – and NASA’s – knapsack over the brick wall.
Does making a verbal commitment ensure we reach our destination? No. But it does enhance the likelihood of success.
William H. Murray, a Scottish mountaineer, wrote in “The Scottish Himalayan Expedition” about the benefits of throwing one’s knapsack over the wall:
‘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 not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way. German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it! Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.”’
An explicit commitment focuses our attention on the target and helps us to find ways of getting there. When we commit, when we throw our knapsack over the brick wall, we demonstrate faith in ourselves, in our ability to achieve an envisioned future. We create our reality rather than react to it.
Author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (me-high, cheek-zen-me-high), is world renowned as the father of the study of FLOW and he’s authored a popular book titled the same. Flow, is a state in which one is immersed in an experience that is rewarding in and of itself, a state in which we feel we are one with the experience, in which action and awareness are merged. Me-high has this to say about commitment “When we are not distracted by all the other possible things we could be doing, when we are wholeheartedly committed to our objective, we are free to devote ourselves fully to the task at hand.
Harvard professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey discuss the difference between the language of complaint and the language of commitment in their book titled “How the way we talk can change the way we work.” I really like this part from their book because it addresses something so common in our cultures and that is the prevalence of complaining. Let’s face it – most people do a lot more complaining than they do committing. The authors say …
“The language of complaint essentially tells us, and others, what it is we can’t stand. The language of commitment tells us (and possibly others) what it is we stand for. Without having our complaints taken away and without giving them up, the language of commitment enables us to make a shift from experiencing ourselves as primarily disappointed, complaining, wishing, critical people to experiencing ourselves as committed people who hold particular convictions about what is most valuable, most precious, and most deserving of being promoted or defended.”
Think about that – I have. And I realize that I probably really like it because it ties in so beautifully with my PWE squared mantra. Pursue a worthy endeavor. Persist without exception. Read this part again “…committed people who hold particular convictions about what is most valuable, most precious, and most deserving of being promoted or defended.”
A One Degree of Difference
Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. What happens at 211 degrees? I can’t say for sure what all happens but I know that water doesn’t boil. Just a one degree of difference can make all the difference in the world.
Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul and many other books including The Success Principles, says 99% is a bitch and 100% is bliss. He says in life spoils of victory go to those who make a 100% commitment to the outcome, to those who have a “no matter what it takes” attitude. They give it their all; they put everything they have into getting their desired result—whether it be an Olympic gold medal, the top sales award, a perfect dinner party, an A in microbiology, or their dream house.
Successful people adhere to the “no exceptions rule” when it comes to their daily disciplines. Once you make a 100% commitment to something, there are no exceptions. It’s a done deal. Nonnegotiable. Case closed. Over and out. If I make a 100% commitment to monogamy, that is it. I never have to think about it again. There are no exceptions no matter what the circumstances. It ends the discussion, closes that door, permits no other possibility. I don’t have to wrestle with that decision every day. It’s already been made. The die has been cast. All the bridges are burned. It makes life easier and simpler and keeps me on focus. It frees up tons of energy that would otherwise be spent internally debating the topic over and over and over, because all the energy I expend on internal conflict is unavailable to use for creating outer achievement.
I often say, with respect to Frankenfoods and Frankendrinks, that having NONE of something is easier than having some. Moderation as a virtue is a farce if you’re a compulsive overeater or addict. Canfield says the same about commitment. 100% commitment is easier to keep than 99% commitment. And once you break a commitment it gets easier to break the next one.
In support of what Canfield says, author of The Compound Effect, Darren Hardy says “Every incomplete promise, commitment and agreement saps your strength because it blocks your momentum and inhibits your ability to move forward.”
Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement commonly being used in the business sector to identify and remove the causes of defects and to minimize variability. Who cares and why bring this up in a discussion about commitment? Because it addresses the difference between a 99% commitment and a 100% commitment. In fact, imagine the difference between 99.9% and 100%.
Just a one-tenth of one percent difference in the following work situations would mean:
- One hour of unsafe drinking water every month,
- two unsafe landings at O’hare International Airport each day,
- 16,000 lost pieces of mail per hour,
- 20,000 incorrectly filled drug prescriptions every year,
- 500 incorrect surgical operations performed each week,
- 50 newborn babies dropped at birth by doctors every day,
- 22,000 checks deducted from the wrong account each hour and
- your heart failing to beat 32,000 times each year!
All of these defects occur with just one-tenth of one percent of a difference.
Stephen Covey, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says our ability to make and keep commitments, especially to ourselves, strengthens our integrity and is the essence of our growth. He says commitment is essentially a promise and making promises, setting goals, and being true to them builds strength of character, the being that makes possible every other positive thing in our lives.
Covey says making a promise tied to a goal are two ways we put ourselves in control of our lives immediately. As we make and keep commitments, even small commitments, we begin to establish an inner integrity that gives us the awareness of self-control and the courage and strength to accept more of the responsibility of our own lives. By making and keeping promises to ourselves and others, little by little, our honor becomes greater than our moods.
When you consider the bank of integrity, honor and character, keeping a commitment or promise is a major deposit; breaking one is a major withdrawal.
Find a Way
Mark Divine, former Navy Seal and author of “The way of the Seal; Think like an elite warrior to lead and succeed” says we need to burn our boats. True commitment, he says, the type your teammates can rely on as if their lives depended on it, requires you to burn your boat upon the shores of action. You must then press forward because you have removed the way out, igniting the fire of challenge (much like tossing your knapsack over the brick wall).
There is no “maybe” when committed. Certainty, Divine says, is a powerful energetic force essential for breaking inertia and developing momentum. The seed of certainty is found in commitment, a one-way street. You can’t partly commit or potentially commit (much of the language of NON-commitment is exactly that – partly and potentially).
Divine also recognizes the distinct differences in the language of commitment versus romanticized good intentions. When you deliver a powerful “Yes, I’ve got this!” you inject a positive intent and energy into a project that is palpable. Conversely, “I’ll give it a try” is a dull thud of defeatism. This is partly attitude and partly action.
Divine says he’s noticed how the value society has placed on commitment has slid. He says we’ve crept from insisting that you do what you say, period, to honoring “I tried and gave it my best” to flat out accepting “I meant to get to it, but something else came up.” Take a cue from Yoda he says: Do or do not; there is no try. You must commit with everything you have; otherwise say “no” or “not now.”
And, jumping on the band wagon with me and many others in this field Divine says “Committing doesn’t mean you already know how you’re going to get it done. “Find a way or make a way” is a motto of the SEALs. It means you will commit and then figure it out.”
The Language of Intention
Okay, so hopefully by now you’re even more convinced that commitment trumps intention and real commitment is the kind that includes no escape and no retreat.
We all have a gut instinct but we don’t have to rely on that to tell if we are b.s.ing ourselves or if someone is b.s.ing us, most often unintentionally. Instead, we can use some language-related tricks to try and figure out if people (including ourselves) really mean what they say – if they only intend to do something or if they are more likely committed to doing something. And by changing what we say to ourselves and others we can move from intention to commitment—thus getting more done, accomplishing more and living more in sync with our highest values.
– You ask the IT guy at work why the network is so slow and he says “Yeah. We really need to get some new routers.” Ever said or heard someone say, “Man, I really need to lose some weight!” The way you know nothing is going to happen with the IT guy getting new routers nor is any real lasting weight loss going to happen for the other guy is they both said “really need to.” When you hear “need” you can know, more times than not, that is the language of intention – not commitment.
– You ask a friend, relative or subordinate to do something and she replies, “Sure. I hope to get to it by the end of the day.” You better know you’ll be asking again tomorrow because it ain’t gonna get done today. How do you know? She replied that she “hoped to” get it done by the end of the day. Hoping is, at best, intention based, not commitment fortified.
– A student told me recently – Exercise…I MUST make the time.” – that’s not commitment – MUST is like should and should statements are intentions at best.
– Another student said “But, I will continue to make this a focus.” Referencing her exercise. While it sounds good at first blush making it a focus is not a commitment. Sometimes the distinction between intention and commitment is subtle.
– Another student said – “I will not give up.” – I’d have to say that’s a form of commitment but not focused on what you want – it’s focused on what you WON’T do.
– Another student said – “But, I will see if I can schedule some things differently in order to make this more of a priority” – Seeing if you can schedule is intention at best – not a commitment. That’s like tryin – and tryin is lyin. Whatever it is it’s not commitment.
– A while back I had just wrapped up an hour-long coaching session on the phone. I said to my student. “Don’t forget to e-mail it to me by Friday,” My student said “I’m so busy this week, but I will try to get it to you.” What do you think happened on Friday? Three guesses and the first two don’t count.
So here are some examples of words and phrases to look for that are telltale signs of intention rather than commitment. And when I say intention I’m giving maximum benefit of the doubt–the best case scenario. Many times, when these words and phrases you’re about to hear are used, it’s not even remotely the intention of the communicator to do any part of what they say. Here we go …
- Shoot for
- Aim to
- Give it a shot
- If I get a chance
- I’d like to
- Would like to
- I hope to
- I sure wish
- Let’s meet sometime
- I’m gonna try
- My intent is to
- I’ll see if
- I should be able to
- I need to lose weight
- Let’s meet for lunch sometime
- Will continue to make this a focus
- My goal is to
- What I oughtta do is
- MY plan is…
- I plan to…
When you hear any of these words and phrases attached to something either you or someone else really does need to do to keep a goal moving or start a goal or simply to get something done I wouldn’t hold my breath when it doesn’t get done or the actions fall far short of what was spoken. That’s because all of these words and phrases are only, at best, those of intention rather than commitment.
The Language of Commitment
So what are some phrases that indicate we are tilted toward commitment over intention?
The language moves toward commitment when 1) the words “I will” are a part of the statement, 2) when there is an action you or the person speaking will do and 3) there is a deadline attached to it. These three things still aren’t guarantees that one is committed but it does tilt the scale toward commitment over intention.
What will you do specifically and by when?
- I will cook and stock my fridge for quick grab and go OSM solutions before noon today.
- I will do 30 minutes of exercise before noon today. And, then I will block out time in my Outlook work calendar for the remainder of the week until I reach the 420 minutes.
In addition to “I will” a few phrases that I can say also speak the language of commitment include:
- I am going to
- You’ll have it
- I’ll have it for you
More times than not a statement of commitment will include “I will” or something like “I am going to” plus an action that YOU will take plus a clear time and date.
Now that you know some words and phrases to look for you’ll see that you start spotting them almost everywhere around you, and even in things you say to others.
Commitment Is Scary
But life doesn’t fit neatly in a box and every statement of commitment, even when properly worded, won’t always result in success. The objective of learning more about commitment and the language of intention vs. commitment is to stack the odds in our favor—to help us see when we’re b.s.ing ourselves or when someone else is knowingly or unwittingly b.s.ing us with their lack of commitment.
Most well-stated commitments that include “I will” or “I am going to” plus an action YOU will take plus a clear deadline technically leave no way out. You said you’ll do it and now only a binary result is possible—you either get it done, or you don’t. If you don’t get it done, people can hold you up to your promises. You will feel bad about not doing it. You will feel awkward telling someone about not having done it (if that someone heard you promise you will).
And that’s kind of scary isn’t it? You bet it is. It’s one of the primary reasons most people hedge their bets and stick with intentions over commitments.
You’re taking full responsibility for something, in front of an audience of at least one person. It’s not just you standing in front of the mirror, or the computer screen. It’s you, facing another human being, and saying you’ll do it. That’s the start of commitment. Putting yourself in the situation that forces you to do something.
Commitment Not Just a Weight Loss Mandate
You can develop this powerful skill – the language of commitment, and it is really vital to your success. People who make and keep commitments rise to the top of their industries. I think it’s because it is so rare. We like and trust people who make a promise and deliver on it. We promote them, follow them, and believe in them.
Use commitment language in conversation, texts and e-mails. Be clear about what you’ll deliver, what specific action you’ll do and by when.
If you routinely work in teams or are involved in project management a way to encourage commitment language from others is to prompt people to be specific. If they say, “I should have it by the middle of the week,” you can ask, “So Wednesday you’ll have it to me by 2? and make sure they say, “Yes, by 2,” or “Well I have a meeting, so I’ll have it to you by 4.” Instead of using the fatal phrase “ASAP,” or “As soon as possible,” set a time on the calendar. ”Could you bring this to a meeting on Friday at 9 A.M.?” This verbal agreement makes life easier for everybody. It reduces tension and helps you create a high functioning organization.
Commitment starts with what you say to yourself or someone else. If we don’t practice the language of commitment, we haven’t made a commitment. It’s too easy to fudge and not perform if you have little more than good intentions.
Moving from romantic intentions to all-in commitment is scary but necessary to achieve the type of body- and life-transforming goals you’re after.
A well-written article. Thank you for sharing this.