“When other people know that you have committed to something fully they will view you differently and act accordingly.”
“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 never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
TOWARD aims to build resilient people. One of the ways we do this is to support them to develop their understanding of and relationship with ‘commitment’.
In this article, we want to outline some thoughts about what we mean by ‘commitment’ and why it’s important.
At TOWARD, we help people identify their ‘high-level’ commitment and support them to stick to it. We have found that many leaders that we work with lack clarity about what they are committed to. They often express a desire for a greater sense of purpose and something to commit to, particularly in the corporate world. This can cause internal frustration, low energy levels and can develop inconsistencies in team performance. Therefore, we work with people to help them become clear about what they are committed to. By understanding their ‘high-level’ commitment, we support them to look at their Values, their Identity and the sense of Purpose in their career and their life. We encourage people to try and find a way of aligning themselves with these important elements. This work can be challenging and often raises some stark choices.
These choices are exactly the sort of opening that Goethe mentions – the being on the cusp of committing to something, maybe making a leap of some kind. It usually involves leaving something behind and declaring what you stand for in a very real, public sense. In the middle of making this decision, there can be hesitancy. We tend to create and describe a rational, mental model of what we are committing to… what will happen if we do ‘such and such’, predicting how certain people will react, whether others will respond to us in the way that we feel they need to, whether we have the skills or the energy to follow through. We are looking at the system that we operate in as a fixed entity and not the fluid environment, which it is in reality. When we engage in this type thinking we are trying to gain certainty from a linear, quantified view of the world based on an incomplete picture.
What’s the “magic”that Goethe talks about? In using these terms he is bringing our attention to commitment as a catalyst for a very non-linear change, the transformational nature of a long-term profound commitment.
Commitment is a catalyst.
When you move, it changes something in how you interact to the world. Certain issues drop away to be replaced by challenges that are relevant to what you are profoundly committed to. It also changes how others will see and experience you, particularly if you declare this in some public way. In short, the situation is beyond the rationalising that we slip into believing that this is the way the world works.
It is not to say that everything will turn out perfectly by any means if one commits fully. By making a profound commitment to a family, a cause or a certain way of life, you are choosing to ‘live the questions’as Goethe’s compatriot Rilke is quoted on. Dr Susan Kobassa, who created a model to understand ‘hardiness’ and how well people recovered from illness termed commitment as “the tendency to involve oneself in an activity”. Interestingly, this does not mention outcomes. You may never ‘arrive’ as such or even have success in the way you expected it. However, you are more likely to stay the course and demonstrate verve, creativity, greater decision-making ability and higher energy.
When other people know that you have committed to something fully they will view you differently and act accordingly. It changes the background against which they listen to you and your actions. Your public identity is also changed when this happens.
You will begin to learn in a certain way that is likely to be more focused, as the field in which you are committed to is shown up in greater relief.
That this takes courage is obvious. We can’t avoid uncertainty in life – in some ways TOWARD would suggest that if you have found what you want to commit to, you have already found some of the certainty that is so cherished in a changing world. This is a key part of building resilience in individuals and teams. With this commitment, people become a catalyst for change.
‘Commitment’ is also a key pillar of our work in developing Mental Toughness with individuals. Clough, Earle and Sewell (2002) developed a model and crucially, a way of measuring this. They identified 4 pillars – Control, Confidence, Challenge and Commitment. In this context Commitment is used to explain the person’s ability to stick with a task despite obstacles that may arise.
This may appear to have a narrower focus than the high-level commitment described earlier. There are two things to say about this – firstly, this level of commitment is equally important. Without a realistic approach to the obstacles and barriers that lie in the way, it is likely that people may suffer more and are less likely to remain involved in an activity. Secondly, the energy to maintain this ‘stickability’ often comes from a sense of Purpose that gives the activity meaning beyond the immediate task at hand.
It is interesting to note that more and more athletes and sports people in the modern era are realising the benefits of committing to a broader sense of success in which their sporting activities are part of a larger expression of being the best that they can be in their life.
TOWARD work with commitment in many different ways that reflect the varied types of commitment we encounter and engage in. However, at the same time as being unapologetically positive, we are open-eyed realists. Committing often causes discomfort and disturbance as old patterns are left behind. Nevertheless, we believe that it’s worth committing and living the questions that will come up. This is part of an overall approach that will build resilience.
Andy, an ex-international hockey player, brings a distinctive approach to his senior executive coaching and development interventions; combining his knowledge and insight, gained as a Management consultant and facilitator, with the learning he gained as an elite athlete. His primary focus in developing such interventions is to enable sustainable change, at both an individual and team level, through enhancing levels of communication, wellbeing and resilience. Andy has recently returned from working for a year in a primary health care setting in the slums of Nairobi and is studying for an MSc in International Humanitarian Psychosocial Consultation.
TOWARD enhance the performance of senior leaders and leadership teams by providing Executive Coaching, Leadership Development, Leadership Training Courses, and Senior Management Team Development. We use pioneering techniques from the fields of organisational development and psychology. Please contact us to find out how we can help your team.