How to Make a Commitment

Your commitment is equal to the value of your soul.

I like to start these pieces with a quote, but I looked at a hundred quotes on commitment
and didn’t like any of them.

Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2024. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Some of the simplest questions have the hardest answers. They’re the kind of questions that don’t make a lot of sense. Those of us who think, focus on thoughtful questions and overlook the simple, less thinkable ones.

Science asks answerable questions that aren’t the best questions. The good thing about my counseling clients is that they don’t care whether their questions are answerable. They ask them anyway. And the more attention you pay to these unanswerable questions, the more you see them reappearing in other forms.

How to make a commitment is one of these questions. At first, it doesn’t seem to make sense. We often think of commitment as a kind of action, not a thing in itself. We act with commitment, or we take a position with commitment, which is just like any other position, but with greater assurance and guarantee.

In this sense, a commitment is just a more stubborn action, a more intransigent attitude. Our commitment is a measure of how firmly we hold to our original position, and how little we’re willing to change. This is the commitment you think your way to, which you rationalize and which you support with your intentions.

The Nonsensical Commitment

Some attitudes are qualitatively different from others. Moral commitments are like this. They don’t develop by adding more sand to one side of a balance scale. Instead, they emerge from a new point of view. The religious commitment of being “reborn” is seen as a reorientation, not a readjustment.

This applies to situations with many aspects. In these situations, there is not one thing that turns the tide. Love is such a situation, either love for another or self love. This doesn’t stop us from trying to force commitment through contracts and rituals, but such efforts fail.

We’re realistic in business, where a contract is an agreement of action and reaction. Contracts commit parties to a protocol, not to a goal or attitude. The goal depends on the situation, and the situation represents an idea. The contract sets the rules. It doesn’t give a reason or a justification.

When people commit to loving each other in writing through marriage, this is nonsense in both senses of the word. It is neither rational nor enforceable. The commitment, or the affirmation of the commitment, is each person’s sole responsibility.

A commitment is emotional, not strategic. You can strategize a plan and commit to actions, but you cannot commit to intent. You can commit to loving actions only if they’re actions you can control. You can’t commit to what you can’t control.

Wanting What We Cannot Say

You can only commit to what you can specify, and you can only expect others to jointly commit to what you can specify together.

Our lack of commitment to important ideas isn’t a lack of specificity, although our wants are poorly stated. Nor is it a problem of disagreement. It’s a lack of a meaningful understanding of what we’re committing to. You cannot meaningfully commit to an idea until you spiritually resonate with the experience.

We think we know how we want to feel in the end. That’s the idea part of the equation. But we don’t have that feeling now, and we don’t know where to find it. You can only commit to how you feel at the moment and in the moment. You cannot commit to what you cannot feel, and an idea is not a feeling.

The problem with most people’s commitments reflects an inability to connect what they want with what they are. It is a disconnection of knowledge from wisdom. We are trying to create something in the future that we are not fully engaged in or informed of in the present.

This is always the case when the future goal is significantly different from what you have in the present. The strength of your commitment is limited to the depth of your knowledge, whether that is intellectual, physical, a memory, spiritual, or knowledge in some other form. It is a mistake to think that you can commit to anything beyond what you know. You must frame your commitment in terms of what you know.

What one should not commit to is hope. Hope deceives us. Commit to an action, a path, or a strategy for learning. Don’t confuse this with your goal—learning is a process, not a result—but you will not reach your goal without greater understanding.

You cannot know if your strategy, plan, or hope will succeed. Marriages, businesses, and families fail, and their success rate is rather low. The committed road is built on good intentions and uncertainty. All that you can successfully commit to is what you can deliver now, and you cannot assume your partners will have the same insight.

Businesses, like marriages, can succeed based on supply and demand, where everyone gets what they want at the moment. But this is not a long-term strategy. Needs become satisfied, demands change, and supply dwindles. There is competition, alternatives, and enticements. Weak commitments are based on satisfaction.

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If you’d like to strengthen your commitment, if you’d like others to be more committed, I can help you.

You Can Only Commit to Learning

If you do not yet know how to reach your goal—be that a happy family, marriage, business, or sense of self—then what commitment is worth anything? Satisfying present needs are not enough.

No strategy is guaranteed, and that is where you must focus. You must be committed to learning the meaning of your goal and what it requires. This is a commitment to changing yourself, and that is a process over which you have some control. Your commitment will be as reliable as you are, and you may be less reliable than you think.

Not all commitments are appropriate. Some ideas lack foundation. You’d like to avoid failure, but you can only work with what you have and create what you don’t. Even if other people won’t work for their commitments, you’re better off if you work for yours.

Consider driving on a twisting road. You cannot commit to going straight. Well, you could, but that would quickly fail. The only reasonable commitment that has any hope of success is to follow the road. It’s not enough to hope the road will lead you to where you want to go. If you have freedom, then your paths will have branches. You’re going to have to make choices, and most paths will not get you there.

Commit to the process. You are too complicated for your satisfaction to simply walk in the door, as many expect. If you are burdened with doubts, suspicions, preconceptions, and requirements, then these are your problems. You are only as good at using resources as you are at being a resource. Tool users get nowhere unless they’re also tool makers.

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Do you expect to find your way to your goal through Darwinian evolution? Do your changes improve by throwing the dice another time? How much time do you have? How many accidents can you afford?

Learning is evolutionary, but it is not random. You develop your skills by making educated efforts that hone your intentions and sharpen your insight. You cannot commit to the solution because you don’t have it; you can only commit to the process. This commitment is built on what you have, not on what you want.

Don’t commit to a process of violence or distress. Don’t create nonexistent adversaries to redress old wrongs. Luck will not be with you.

The force you want is your force. Where do you find “the force?” It is not a thing, it’s a process. The process of awareness, feedback, insight, action, and responsibility. You can only commit to being a positive force.

The value of your commitment is equal to what you make of it. Your personal worth is equal to the value of what you create.

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