There’s a big difference between being interested in something and making a commitment to it. Whether it's making healthy changes to your diet, how often you exercise, making new friends, changing jobs, saving money or the decision to be a better partner or parent, it’s making a commitment to yourself and to others that really counts.
You can tell a lot about a person by looking at what their schedule says. What are your priorities? Adjust your schedule to reflect what you say you value. I am often working with my coaching clients on setting and reaching their most important life goals. It is sometimes useful to ask, “How is doing what I am currently doing helping me to reach my goal?” It might not be.
For example, if your partner is unhappy because you are working too much and you continue that behavior, and yet you say you value the relationship, you have a dilemma. A true commitment to being a more responsive partner will take setting boundaries around work, halting the people-pleasing of unreasonable clients or your boss, limiting your perfectionism about finishing everything in your emails and on your desk before you leave, and redefining your ideas about what it means to be truly successful at home as well as at work. Interest in being a better partner is a feeling, but leaving the office on time as a sacred ritual to preserve time with your partner is a repeated, new behavior.
Interest is passive, and it might be fleeting. Commitment is continuing to keep the faith, and do the hard stuff even when you don’t necessarily feel like it. Commitment takes the long-term view, and recognizes that most things that are really valuable take some sustained effort.
Parenting comes to mind as a perfect case for the need for commitment. It’s common to be interested in having children. Most prospective parents picture a sweet and loving baby or small child who loves you back. As I coach parents through some of the unanticipated and difficult chapters in parenting, that’s when I call for commitment. I’m thinking about when your teenager is rude, defiant, and testing all the boundaries.
Commitment is also needed to have the tenacity as a parent to hang in there for answers when your child has learning disabilities, physical challenges, ADHD or ADD, depression, anxiety, or chemical abuse problems. This past week, I was moved by an NPR interview with David Sheff, author of a new book, Clean, about what he has learned about addiction treatment in the US through trying to help his son, Nic, now 30, and sober for 5 years, through his addiction to heroin and crack cocaine. Sheff never gave up on Nic. That’s commitment. What a lucky guy Nic is to have a father with that level of care and tenacity.
In marriage, commitment translates into listening to your partner, making a decision to do loving and thoughtful behaviors (even when you don’t feel like it), closing the exits by deciding to go direct with courage towards your partner about any concerns rather than passively complain to someone else, and continuing your own journey to bring your best self to the relationship. Being committed in relationships means making a positive decision to create regular time together for fun and for play. This takes being aware of the energy you bring into your closest relationship, and taking some effort and care into keeping things interesting and setting new goals.
It’s okay if you don’t want to be committed to something, but own it. Take responsibility for not just being interested in the people, causes and changes closest to your heart. Making a real commitment can inform your daily choices and behaviors, and that can make such a difference. Interest is passive and transitory. Commitment is more solid, fixed, and has some muscle and follow through behind it. With the things you want in your own life, stop to reflect on whether you are interested or whether you are committed. Make sure to check that your behaviors match up with your most important commitments.