Commitment: A Lesson from Childhood
Updated: Feb 5, 2021
The Difference between Success and Failure
We all have this story. Still, I’m sharing to further my observation. I get that a topic on commitment likely sounds like a relationship post. It’s not. Briefly, the benefits include improved resilience, focus, determination and energy brought to any task. That’s a small sampling.
As Dr. Michael Merzenich details in his book, Soft-Wired, that your brain will aid goal achievement under the right circumstances, meaning when you are clear, alert and motivated your brain will hone in on its target and clear obstacles. Commitment is key.
Bigger Picture: I outline six steps of any change effort in my training program. The model resembles elements of the Transtheoretical Model (TTM, Prochaska, Di Clemente) with two steps I added to the process that I adapted (unknowingly at first.) I based these steps on my time leading teams in large organizations and learning how to create enduring goal achievement. The point of teaching the process: when mastered, the process of following the process will accelerate any change effort. Making a commitment lies at the heart of the six critical steps.
My father, like nearly every good parent I have ever encountered, liked to say, without saying it this way: You don’t have to be the best, you have to do your best. I heard this quote in a story featured on The CBS Evening News where Norah O’Donnell profiled two West Point Cadets who graduated at the top of their class and earned Rhodes Scholarships! One of them, Tyrese Bender, in talking about influences on her life, mentions the quote above courtesy of her mother and how it guided her decisions and work. What an awesome legacy. The quote almost brought me to tears. Maybe it’s the parent in me.
I think about all the times I learned commitment. In second grade, I brought home a sloppy report card and I can still remember the foreboding that overtook me after my mother had seen the grades when she picked us up from St. Joseph the Worker in Canoga Park, CA. After perusing its contents, she commented, with serious intonation, that my father would talk to me when he got home. My father was the disciplinarian.
I can still sense the anxiety in my tiny body as I sat on my bed, playing “army” with my fuzzy haired G.I. Joe, waiting for my dad to make his way to my room after returning from work. I remember hearing the car whistling to a halt after it climbed the short driveway. My heart quickened as I heard him close the door to his Ford sedan, and his leather wingtips hit the pavement with a heaviness I associated with Godzilla.
I can hear each footfall leading from his car to the walkway onto the porch. The front door to the house opened, and my mother greeted him with a kiss and hello. They spoke for a while in syllables which hit my mind in tones reminiscent of adults speaking in a Charlie Brown Special Episode, wah, wah, wah. Wah, wah, wah, wah. I knew I was the subject of their interaction.
I waited on my bed in dread anticipation. I was sure the penalty for the report card would be swift and severe. Although, as I write that sentence, I’m not quite sure what my mind imagined would happen. But I do remember the terror in my mind and the potential for discipline.
Interestingly, he entered the bedroom with a sense of resigned disappointment more than another emotion. As we took up the subject of grades, he looked at me in a surprisingly mild manner.
He said, I only have one question for you: did you do your best? He refused to answer it for me in that moment, letting the sentence hang in the air like a question mark suspended in a thought bubble a few feet away.
After a moment of grave consideration, he resumed. Because only you know the answer to that question, he said. You will only ever be the person that can answer that question. If you did your best, I have no problem with the grades. But, if you didn’t, I have a serious problem with it. Remember, you have to live with it. And, he left the room, giving me room to think.
The phrases, a serious problem, and, you will only ever be the person that can answer that question remained etched in my mind. Commitment means many things. In the context of New Year’s resolutions or any goal effort, it likely means the difference between realizing the goal and not (assuming you have a plan, support, measurable goal — I could go on!) Nevertheless, after you make the decision to pursue your goal, commitment to that process really forms the crucial ingredient to achieving it.
As I have written elsewhere, I remember a mentor reminding me that of all the successful people he had known, the true difference was not talent, intelligence, massive resources, appearance. This was a man who knew presidents, governors, titans of industry.
All those elements will help, depending on the circumstances. He reminded me that he had known people of average intelligence (or, seemingly average intelligence) outwork, outhustle and outshine individuals with far greater intelligence — because they formed a strong, impenetrable commitment that meant they would get past the inevitable resistance that anyone pursuing a goal will encounter along their journey. It also fostered creativity and agility.
Commitment will mean the difference between finding a way, dealing with the setbacks, getting back up and dusting yourself off — or not. Your goal achievement likely occurs in the moment and recurring moments of commitment. And, that is why a deep awareness of your commitment and the role it plays in success means so much to our progress.