Buy “Runway”




When most people hear the word “commitment,” they think about long-term relationships and marriage. But what about commitment to yourself and your goals? According to Martha Borst, when you keep your commitments, you begin to control your life.

Back in England, I have a friend who is a self-help course junkie. You name it, she’s studied it. And during one such course, she had to meditate for something like 24 hours straight (or maybe it was 18; I forget). It was pretty hellish to sit there all night, uncomfortable, tired, even bored. And her ONLY motivation to do it was because she promised herself that she would. This was an exercise in self-commitment. If you say you’re going to do something, you DO it. No excuses. Because, as she said, “If you can’t keep a commitment to yourself, how can you keep a commitment to anyone or anything else?”

When I took a workshop with Martha, she was adamant that we all be on time. And if we were late, she put us on the spot and asked us why we broke our commitment to the group to be on time. We were all so terrified of being late that we made sure to leave home extra early. And we were, 99% of the time, on time. Martha’s point was, “If you were paid $1,000,000 to be here on time, you’d be here on time. Why not treat every commitment as though it were going to cost you $1,000,000?” I’m someone who’s frequently a few minutes late. As crazy as it sounds, I have a fear of being early. Because when I arrive some place ten minutes early and have to sit and WAIT, I think about the ten things I could have gotten done in that ten minutes, and it makes me crazy that I’ve wasted that time (unless I have a book with me that I can read, like if I’m waiting in a doctor’s office). I repeatedly make the conscious decision to risk being late rather than risk being early. I suppose this is selfish because it means that I value my time more than the other person’s time (if I’m meeting someone else). So we all have our reasons for breaking commitments.

When it comes to goals and keeping those commitments, Martha says to take a look at your results and you’ll see what you’re committed to. If you’re overweight, you’re committed to that (and that’s exactly how you want to be, or you’d change it.) If you’re not getting your book written, then you’re committed to that, too. Look at what you’re committed to (not at what you think you should be committed to or what you want to be committed to), and you’ll discover your underlying beliefs about yourself. If you believe you’ll never succeed as a writer because your parents used to tell you that writers don’t make any money and you should be a doctor or a lawyer instead, then that may be the cause of your constantly breaking your commitments to yourself.

Another point Martha made was that your ability to keep your commitments is directly related to your ability to say no. This is SO true. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m in a writing goals group. (“Hi, my name is Meghan, and I’m a writer.”) I recently found that one thing thwarting my writing goals was that I couldn’t say no to social commitments. I found myself in this death spiral of “Yes, yes, yes” because I didn’t TECHNICALLY have plans on any of those days/evenings. So I made it my goal to turn down most new social plans (This doesn’t include play dates on the days I have the kids because I can’t work then anyway and need to get the munchkins out of the house.) I turned down six invitations in the past week, and man did that feel good! I have begun protecting my time, and even if I don’t get any writing done, I can read or blog or catch up on “chores” around the house, so that those things are out of the way when I sit down to write.

I’m writing this post because I think 90% of us, especially in flaky California, don’t take our commitments seriously enough. People are all too comfortable canceling plans last minute, not showing up to parties they RSVP’d for, showing up late to appointments, and not completing goals they set. It’s fine to give ourselves breaks from work, but then don’t set goals. If you’re going to set them, KEEP them. And if you don’t, take a good look inside and ask yourself why. This is serious stuff. If you can’t keep your commitments to yourself, you’ll never accomplish your dreams, and you’ll never feel like a success in your own eyes. Of course we all slip up now and then, but use those slip-ups as lessons for the next goal. Did you set your goal too high? If not, what prevented you from achieving it? Too many social commitments? Then learn to say no! Too much Internet? Then block yourself from using it! The time just “slipped away”? Then you’re not scheduling your goals into your daily routine. You need to block time out each day to achieve them. You need to put those hours on your calendar. And you need to treat that time seriously, like a job or a doctor’s appointment. If you need to get out of the house to write, then do that. Do whatever it is you need to do. For me, it’s being really disciplined on my “work” days and then taking the weekday evenings off. Because I’m too tired at night to work, so there’s no sense in beating myself up if I don’t write then. It’s better that I take a break and get to bed early, so I am reading to write during the day.

So now you tell me, do you keep your commitments? If yes, what is the key to your success? If not, why not? What underlying beliefs are thwarting your success?

14 comments to Commitment

  • Exactamento! The "no" thing was my problem too. I finally learned how to say no, and voila! (As opposed to "viola!" which is what I originally typed…) Now I am steadily chipping away at my novel by consistently meeting my daily goals.

    "I have begun protecting my time, and even if I don’t get any writing done, I can read or blog or catch up on “chores” around the house, so that those things are out of the way when I sit down to write."

    That's really important too. Initially I felt selfish when I "protected my time," but now I realize that most people do it, and I don't fault them for it, so it's fine for me too.

  • Based on a post you did about Martha Borst before, I bought her book and really liked it. I liked what she had to say about commitments and managing yourself. It was refreshing.

    There are variations of this message all over the place in different forms, right down to The Secret. When you commit and concentrate on something, you get it.

    The thing to understand about commitments is that they’re entirely up to you. If you keep them, you will reap what you do.

  • Kristan – it's hard, I think, for writers to tell people sorry, they're busy, they have to write. But it's important, especially for freelancers, to treat their writing time like a real job or the years will go by and nothing will get done.

    Sierra – you and Kristan are two very committed writers and bloggers, so I'm not worried about you two 🙂

  • GREAT post.

    The nap is my biggest enemy – I wake up several times a night – and napping is the only time I actually sleep well – however, btwn settling down, reading, falling off to sleep and getting up and being up and about – that takes up about 2+ hours in the middle of the day – I am not as worried about the napping but what I do during the rest of the time that I am not napping –

    what is helping me are these baby steps I took up this week –

    The long deadline and the short deadline (breaking up the larger picture into what i NEED achieve every week to make it happen). Marking my calendar with my drawing goals for each week – i hope will help

    NO housework/cooking till husband is back – because I don't get much "work" work done when he is around anyway. I make a list of housework in the morning – so that I remember to do them in the evening.

    Same goes for busywork – such as paying bills, finances etc

    Checking email/FB in the morning, around lunch time, and around 5p – I have started keeping my computer and phone away from my office – as I am not using the computer for drawing right now anyway.

    Basically, treating my drawing as a job – as you put it… basically following a work routine and not doing anything I wouldn't do at a regular job – well, its only been a couple days – today I didn't do any housework and also haven't logged into FB email etc other than the times mentioned.

    But I need to get better at it..

    On running, I used to run a lot – that was years ago – I got a great high – I never ran more than 5 miles – but it was fun –

    i have tried running recently and I simply don't feel the high – (same goes for swimming) – but i plan to start swimming again – now that the weather is warmer – just cuz I need some exercise – i don't enjoy exercise as much as I used to – but its one of those things – like drawing, writing – i just need to commit to – esp as I get older – my goals for exercise are far more modest than yours or those that I have for my illustrations.

    On that note – back to the board

  • ps: my biggest motivation to "FINISH" my first picture book – is that I have connected with a lot of illustrators in the past year – and when they ask me how my book is coming along or when it will get done – i feel foolish and fumble because months go by and i don't have anything new to show them- So, by the end of summer – I want to have something to show them – as they are all professional illustrators who make a living out of illustrating alone – and I don't want to seem like the only lazy ass moron out there

  • Aditi – sounds like your new plan not to do housework or cooking until evening, and to check your e-mail just three times a day (and for how long? I like to give myself a 10-minute time limit) is working. That's great that you've connected with a lot of other illustrators who can keep you accountable, too!

  • I think I will give myself 15 mins – I like the idea of working in quarters. Looking forward to your next post.

  • Mel

    Hey Meghan. So true. I need to work on committing to less so I can do more. Thanks–I needed a bit of a kick in the pants this week!

  • Mel, great to hear from you. And good luck writing this week! I need a kick in the pants, too!

  • Lynette

    I want to try this commitment thing to see how well it works for me.

    I spend days at something and never accomplishing very much.

  • Kathryn

    Focus, focus, focus. And be AWARE of your focus.

    A friend came to help me sort community service fabrics for our quilt guild. I kept noticing fabrics that could be used this and that way–off on all sorts of ideas! Luckily, she kept saying, "That's not what we are here to do. Focus on the job at hand!" It made ME aware of how easily I wander off focus.

  • Lynette – Good luck! It's working for me!

    Kathryn – It's so true. Sometimes I'm in a hurry to go somewhere, jump in the shower, and once I'm under the water completely forget that I was going somewhere at all! It's amazing how easily we lose focus. Just being conscious of everything we do, every choice we make, is so important. If I'm wasting my time on e-mail/the Internet, I need to be aware that that's a choice I'm making and not just let the time "slip away."

  • Cissy

    I loved this post as well, Meghan.

    I am pretty good at sticking to commitments and I find it flaky when people cancel plans. I think I protect my time very well and prioritize well. I also tend to be a few minutes late and I loved your description of the fear of arriving early and all that wasted time. I generally am always prepared with something to read or do just in case. I aim to be late by less than 5 minutes; I find it to be a reasonable compromise.

  • Cissy – Great idea to always have something to do in case you arrive somewhere early. I have an iPad, but don't carry it everywhere. I think I need to buy an iPhone to make sure I'm never late anymore 🙂