The Importance of Honoring Commitments

According to Dictionary.com, commitment is defined as:

  1. The act of committing (I loathe it when a word is defined using a configuration of the word).
  2. The state of being committed (and here we go again).
  3. The act of committing, pledging, or engaging oneself (finally, something beyond the word commitment).
  4. A pledge or promise; obligation.
  5. Engagement; involvement.
  6. Perpetration or commission, as of crime (well that’s got negative connotations wrapped all around it).
  7. Consignment; as to prison.
  8. Confinement to a mental institution or hospital. (I think you get the point with this list)

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At the start of the calendar year, I purchased a journal. Not that I needed one considering I pick up journals at Barnes and Noble and Marshalls like they are packs of gum for my purse—in danger and running low and needing to be steadily replenished. Nevertheless, this wasn’t any run of the mill journal, it was one I’d found on Facebook. Yes, the social media platform that I do my best to stay away from on most days. At any rate, I was fascinated with this journal because it focused on commitments thirty days at a time. That’s right, I clicked on the ad for the 30 Commit Journal. As someone who’s struggled with commitments (financial, relational, and personal—to name just a few), I believed that I could use this journal to help me be more successful. With little hesitation, I purchased the journal and eagerly waited for it to arrive.

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When I opened up the journal to the first page, I was graced with a myriad things to which I could commit. I scanned the list and started circling the items that resonated with me. Item number one: 30 days of yoga—no brainer. Item number four: 30 days of clearing clutter—but of course. Item number eleven: 30 days of no sugar—God give me strength. And has the universe infiltrated my thoughts because these are things I could likely get behind; things I NEED to get behind like decluttering? Long story short, that page included over twenty-five items that one could commit to for a minimum of thirty days at a time.

Why thirty days? Perhaps because popular science believes it takes twenty-one days to form a habit. If we stretch that out to thirty days, then maybe we’ve latched onto a deeper level of success. I really couldn’t tell you the science behind thirty days, but I can tell you that I jumped right in.

About 30 Commit

Step 1: Is all about thinking through one’s vision. There were two questions at the top of the page to get me started: What do I want this year to look like? To feel like? This two-page spread consisted of circles, each with a different focus or theme. The prompt at the top of the page read: “Within each circle ask yourself what is most important to you and what you can do to improve upon these areas for a more balanced life. The headings in the twelve circles included: physical health, mental health, marriage/partner, family/friends, pure joy/fun, adventure/travel, spiritual health, personal growth, career, home, community, and finances.

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For example, in the personal growth circle I wrote that I wanted to read at least one book a month. Six and a half months later I’ve been able to keep that commitment. It’s likely due to the fact that I LOVE to read. Really, I could have challenged myself with something more daunting, but I’m trying not to judge my own actions (curtesy of reading Gabrielle Bernstein’s Judgment Detox: Release the Beliefs That Hold You Back from Living a Better Life) and maintain an internal dialogue that is positive and nurturing (curtesy of having recently finished Cynthia Kane’s Talk to Yourself Like a Buddhist: Five Mindful Practices to Silence Negative Self-Talk). Clearly, reading is something to which I can easily commit. So let’s look at something that doesn’t come naturally to me, the mental health circle. In this circle I wrote that I wanted to meditate daily and to also focus on the positive.

A few days ago I received a text from the owner of the yoga studio where I instruct. Immediately, my brain went to it’s default setting: something’s wrong and/or bad. Not to say that I told you so, but the information she shared with me wasn’t positive. She shared with me a screenshot from a review that was recently posted from a new client. img_3679-2After reading the review, my heart sank. I was saddened by the information. But what was more disheartening, was how my mind ruminated only on the negative pieces of the text thread for hours, no, days later. And that got me thinking about the Negativity Bias. I’d first heard/read about the concept from author and psychologist Rick Hanson. In his book, Buddha’s Brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love, & wisdom, he explained the concept of the negativity bias.

“…your brain is built more for avoiding than for approaching. That’s because it’s the negative experiences, not the positive ones, that have generally had the most impact on survival…The brain is drawn to bad news…[what’s more] This bias makes you suffer in a variety of ways. For starters, it generates an unpleasant background of anxiety…the negativity bias fosters or intensifies other unpleasant emotions, such as anger, sorrow, depression, guilt, and shame. It highlights past losses and failures, it downplays present abilities, and it exaggerates future obstacles. Consequently, the mind continually tends to render unfair verdicts about a person’s character, conduct, and possibilities. The weight of those judgments can really wear you down” (Hanson, 2009)

I know that was a lengthy way to get to the gist of the circle, my goal of meditating daily and focusing on the positive, but I wanted to be transparent about my struggles. Identifying the positive doesn’t come natural to me. When I’m scoring student essays, I sometimes find it difficult to identify just one thing that they’ve done well. More often than not, my mind immediately goes to jot something down on the assessment chart under the heading “Areas of Improvement/Growth”. So, long story short, I am determined to meet that goal of meditating for five minutes EVERY day during the month of August. Also, I’m determined to re-train my brain in an effort to change that default setting of the negativity bias. I know it will take time and constant practice and awareness, but I’m committed to the challenge.

Step 2: This page consisted of twelve circles, one for each month of the year. This is where I listed out the focus of each monthly commitment. I numbered each of the circle and tentatively planned out the commitment for each month of the year. Yes, some of those monthly focuses have changed or been replaced with something else, but what matters most to me is that I am challenging myself with something new one month at a time.

Step 3: A diagram of how to use daily action steps to successfully commit to reaching your goals donned this step. The idea was to create detailed action steps. Here one is advised to plan out the days and nights beforehand and to set realistic, achievable goals. I have to admit that this has been the one section that I’ve not been fully invested in completing. I started strong during the month of January, but have neglected to fill it out since then.

 

 

 

Step 4: Here was where one would track their success each day of the month. I have enjoyed this area the most. There is nothing like adding a sticker or a check mark to a page to encourage yourself along. Side note (aka, honesty alert): During a conference with a parent and student this past year I shared this truth about me and stickers. I’d told the father and his son (who at the time was struggling to complete his assigned work) that when it comes time for me to have to grade 120+ essays, I plan out how many I’ll assess daily, and then when I achieve my goal, I place a sticker next to that item on my To-Do list. It may seem juvenile for a forty-two year old woman to use stickers as a form of positive reinforcement, but I’m telling you it works (and I really don’t care if you’re judging me—remember, I’m trying to release that from my own life).

Step 5: Share your goals. And this is where my own self-judgment has led me to sit quietly on this journal and my progress (and lack thereof) for the past seven months. The limiting belief that I’m a mediocre writer rears it’s judgmental head and the anxiety consumes me. What will people think? Will they comment negatively? And just like before with the feedback from the yoga class, I tell myself that it’s best to keep it to yourself—no one can say/write anything negative when they have no knowledge of what you are doing/writing. And so I’m going to rise above the fear of negative feedback and put myself out there anyway; I’m going to get comfortable with being uncomfortable (check out last week’s post if you missed it).

My 30 Commit Journey Thus Far…

A Month of Success

Back in January when the year was fresh, I committed to thirty days of exercise (for a minimum of ten minutes each day). For me, this was easy to do as I enjoy exercising. However, I am keenly aware that this may not be the case for someone who doesn’t like to work out. Nevertheless, for someone who may be working out for the first time in a long time or even for the first time EVER, ten minutes is a commitment that you may be able to get behind—especially when you get to decide how you work your body for those ten minutes. Stephen Guise, author of Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results and How to Be An Imperfectionist stated that, “…mini habits are too small to fail; and so they lack the common destructive feelings of guilt and inadequacy that come with goal failure.” If we use Guise’s logic, it is impossible to fail to meet the commitment of a ten-minute work out. The key for me was diversifying my exercises and writing them into my weekly calendar. It was like a date I was having with myself. Each day I looked forward to the opportunity to add another sticker or check mark to my monthly commitment chart. It also helped that we had a step challenge at work where the winner got to spend $75 on fitness items through Amazon.com. Right!? Yes. With my 30 Commit journal in hand, I planned out each week and used stickers and a to-do list to honor those daily commitments, which in turn became weekly commitments.

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However, the Struggle is Real!

I don’t want you to think that I’m invincible when it comes to commitments. Remember, I didn’t start my July commitments until the 9th day of the month. So let’s take a quick step back to March when my monthly commitment was to “Drink more water; relinquish soda!” Yep. You probably already know how the chart for this month looked. It certainly wasn’t as pretty as January. Seven of the thirty-one days of the month I fell from grace and indulged in drinking soda. img_3673

Here’s how my house of cards started to collapse. I was doing good until I got on a plane en route to Dubai from New York. Yep, I’m blaming my fall on turbulence and my penchant for motion sickness. Sure, you might be wondering whether or not I planned for this and brought some medicine. I hear you in my head, “Where was your Dramamine, Linai?” It had been ingested and my Pepto Bismol tablet had been chewed, but they were supplying me with zero relief. I’d been okay during the seven hour flight from JFK to Heathrow. But something in those seven and a half hours from Heathrow to Dubai had pushed my body beyond its limit. Seemingly out of nowhere, I got REAL hot. Sweat began to collect on my forehead and the back of my neck felt like a small fire had sprung up. And that’s when I buzzed the flight attendant. Every fiber in my body felt like it was about to spew out that delicious in-flight Virgin Atlantic meal, and so I bit the bullet and asked for a ginger ale. Never before had ginger-ale (especially a brand that wasn’t my beloved Canada Dry) tasted so good. Finally, the sweat building up on my forehead and temples started to recede and I finally leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I’d managed to keep my food down for the remainder of the flight. But the next seven days of that trip I continued to drink soda. It wasn’t until March twentieth that I regained my composure and re-honored my commitment.

All that being said, I was only partially successful with my April commitment of de-cluttering when I planned out the categories and reading for Marie Kondo’s books, the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing and spark joy: an illustrated master class on the art of organizing and tidying up. Side Note: (aka, honesty alert): I breezed through Kondo’s first book and inhaled her show on Netflix. However, when it came time to tidy up, there were only fifteen days on the calendar when I honored my commitment to decluttering. It wasn’t until late June when I picked that mantle back up. And yes, the book mark is still on page 199 of 279 pages. And NO, I have NOT completed the second book or the remaining decluttering categories. However, I do hope to re-honor that commitment before the year ends. And yes, I am a major work in progress.

I hope my words have helped you to see why I believe honoring commitments is so vitally important. When I consider the word commitment, the words pledge; promise; and obligation immediately resonate within me. As I try and wrap this up, I am reminded of the impetus behind this post. It began with a conversation I had with my boyfriend several days ago. The sky had turned an eerie color gray and the radar was calling for thunderstorms in the area. Hesitant as I was about the possibility of walking in a thunderstorm (again), I desperately wanted to honor my commitment since I’d fallen short the day before (I met the walking goal but not the writing goal). First I got on the mini-trampoline and started “walking”. Yes, it is possible to walk (more like march) two miles worth of steps on a mini-trampoline—especially since you were able to acquire it with that step challenge win back in January, but I just wasn’t feeling it after seven minutes and only a quarter mile to show for. This is how I recall the conversation that encouraged me to honor that walking commitment.

Sometime around five in the evening…

Me: I really want to get my two miles in.

Charles: (gazing out the window between the blinds) It looks like it’s about to get nasty out there.

Me: I know. I think I’m going to chance it.

Charles: What’s wrong with the mini-trampoline?

Me: (trying to speak over the squeaky springs) I’m just not feeling it. If I’m going to walk, I might as well be outside where I can get some fresh air.

Charles: Oh. Well, if it clears up later, I’ll go for a walk with you.

And that’s when I threw caution to the wind (literally and figuratively) by changing my clothes and grabbing my wireless earbuds. Shortly after getting outside, I started to think about this idea of commitment. I began to analyze the previously referenced conversation as words from Rachel Hollis’s book, Girl, Stop Apologizing, encouraged me to honor who I was, A Goal Digger—her words, not mine. But I’m giving her a metaphoric high-five at this very moment.

This idea of commitment is important. When we keep our commitments, we honor ourselves and anyone or anything to whom we’ve made a promise—most especially ourselves. On July 9th, I’d made a commitment to myself to walk two miles every day. I also committed to writing fifteen minutes every day (because one day I want to prove to myself that I can author an entire book). And lastly, I committed to completing three or more thirty-minute strength training exercises every week. This was the commitment that I’d made for the month of July. You may be thinking: July, just like every other month, begins on the first. You’re absolutely correct. July did begin on the first, but I had dropped my metaphoric commitment ball back in April and didn’t pick it back up until the 9th. But I have been determined to honor my commitments because I’ll never be able to achieve the goals I have for my life if I take a lax approach to the idea of what it means to commit.

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So tell me; what are you committed to and how are you honoring the commitment?

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