I have a massage client – let’s call her Shirley – who has spent the last two decades 60 lbs overweight. Shirley has promised herself many times that she would lose the extra weight. She’s attempted many diets. She’s tried various forms of exercise. She’s asked for help from friends and family. She’s read books. She’s followed programs. This woman has legitimately tried to make a change.
And for good reason. The extra weight has caused multiple health problems, including diabetes, which has made losing weight even harder. Exercise has been physically difficult. She’s had trouble sleeping. She’s had chronic pain. Her energy level has been very low. Plus since she’s a shorter woman 60 lbs significantly impacts her figure. She can’t wear the clothes she wants. She doesn’t enjoy seeing herself in the mirror.
For over 20 years Shirley has hated looking and feeling like she does. Unfortunately, every time she’s made a commitment to lose the weight, eat better and get in good shape she just hasn’t been able to follow through.
So what gives? It doesn’t take 20 years to lose 60 pounds so what’s going on? Is she just lazy? Is she missing some key ingredient? Is there something wrong with her? Why hasn’t Shirley been able to accomplish her goal?
The Real Problem
Shirley isn’t alone. For over a decade the #1 new year’s resolution in America has been to lose weight and get in better shape (2008, 2013, 2018), yet during the same period the obesity rate in the US went up from 33.8% to 39.8%.
As scary as those facts are, the biggest problem here isn’t actually the obesity. The real issue is something much deeper. It goes down to a core weakness of humans, a weakness that has been growing worse in the age of convenience, social media, superficiality and bad habits. The major dilemma with Shirley and with our modern world is a fundamental and problematic philosophy of how we live our lives:
We’re struggling to make promises and to follow through.
We start projects that never get finished. We say we’ll call people but we don’t. We promise to be somewhere but we change our minds at the last second. Slowly, bit by bit, we’re forgetting the vital importance of commitment.
50% of small business owners give up sometime in the first 5 years. The average modern worker will change careers at least seven times during their life. Open relationships are becoming socially acceptable while the rates of our longest lasting commitment – marriage – are the lowest in the last 150 years. When we do tie the knot, roughly one out of every two marriages end in a divorce. And it’s downright shocking how long the average new year’s resolution actually lasts before it’s broken.
This is a trend that needs to change. But before we can change it, we need to understand what’s actually going on.
Why We Break Our Commitments
At the beginning, promises are easy to make. In fact, they’re exciting. Whirlwind Hollywood romances are a perfect example. Two beautiful people meet on the set of a movie. The chemistry is exploding like fireworks. The sex is incredible. They travel to exotic destinations, sip champagne in infinity pools and dance late into the night. They order everything on the room service menu and spend the day naked. They travel first class and go on lavish shopping sprees. After a few months of spectacular weekends both stars are in love and decide to get married. Life is perfect.
The same thing is true when you make resolutions to get ripped in the gym, get out of debt or finish remodeling the house. You get a new annual gym membership, cut up your credit cards and get all new tools at Home Depot. You’re having a great time working out, saving money and demolishing the walls in the bathroom. Life is perfect.
But life doesn’t stay perfect. For our Hollywood pair, schedules soon conflict. Long hours on different sides of the country make it hard to spend time together. As the stress levels go up, ugly personality traits began to surface. He’s overbearing and verbally abusive. She’s manipulative and greedy. The precious short time they have together becomes more challenging. In less than a year they’re filing for divorce.
Equal difficulties arise when we make our resolutions. The first two weeks at the gym are pretty good but honestly you don’t have time to get in five days a week so you drop down to three. Then two. Then you have to leave for a week for travel and the hotel doesn’t have any weights, only cardio. Then you catch a cold….
You cut up all your credit cards which felt scary but great, you made a budget and forced yourself to save $500/month. But you forgot you had a big party that needed to be catered, your kids needed clothes for summer and you promised your wife a new laptop. By the end of the month you’re at your bank getting a new credit card….
The remodel was coming along great. The bathroom and bedroom walls were completely knocked down and you were just starting on the new lighting when your brother invited you to a last-minute fishing trip to Alaska. The price is outrageously low and it’s once in a lifetime. You can’t miss it. By the time you get back you have work projects that are out of control. Once again the remodel gets pushed back until next year…
The more significant the commitment is, the harder it is to follow through. Promising to drink less, eliminating junk food or stopping swearing are challenging enough. Bigger goals like learning a new language or finishing your degree take a lot more sacrifices. And the biggest commitments, things like staying married, running your own small business or raising children, are so difficult that many people simply give up.
Even if you’ve made a commitment to God and country, if you’re not ready to handle the pressure the odds are very good you will break your promise.
Commitment In the Real World
“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."
- Westley, The Princess Bride
No matter how good we have it here in the United States life is still challenging. We have to work hard. We need a job, food, clothing and shelter. For most people a car, a computer, a phone and internet access are also mandatory. We have monthly insurance, taxes, utilities and various other ongoing fees. This doesn’t include child care, education costs, ongoing repair and maintenance for our goods, beauty and fashion accessories, hobbies, projects, entertainment, travel and a host of other ongoing expenses. And then there’s always emergencies….
Life is difficult. How we respond to that difficulty defines us. Being able to commit and follow through, even though you already dealing with all the normal challenges of life, makes a strong statement about the quality of man you are. Breaking your promise also makes a statement.
How do others view your capacity to commit? Does your wife think of you as her rock? Does your boss know he can rely on you to get things done? Do your friends trust your word as unbreakable?
Your reputation directly shapes what opportunities come your way. A strong reputation as a man who can get things done is guaranteed to pay big dividends both personally and professionally.
Even more important than your reputation is your own opinion of yourself. Do you trust yourself? When you make a promise do you know, for a fact, that it will happen? Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player in history, is an excellent example of the power of commitment. “When I made a decision,” he said, “I never thought about it again.” Imagine what the world would be like if every man chose to live at that level!
Why Do We Commit?
Even though many people break their promises, there are a lot of reasons people still choose to make commitments:
- They enjoy having fun, like the annual yacht trip with the family
- They desire nice things like a new car or a better house
- It’s critical to their health like stopping smoking or seeing a psychiatrist
- They’re afraid of peer pressure or being rejected
- They believe it’s the right thing to do
- And some people commit simply because they don’t want to be the kind of person who gives up
Promises are inherently optimistic. When someone makes a promise they’re making a statement to the world and to themselves that they want things to change. Unfortunately, desire is not enough. The only way to achieve a commitment is hard work and sacrifice performed over a period of weeks, months or years.
Life is already tough. Adding the pain of a commitment is often more stress and suffering than we can handle. We want to commit but we’re not ready to follow through. But we want our goal badly so we commit anyway. We struggle and fight hard but our goal is too challenging and we’re forced to give up. We lose our integrity, our self-respect and our belief in ourselves. Then we get depressed and have even more difficulty with our next goal.
It’s a vicious cycle. So how do we break it? How does someone like Shirley – and all of us – get back on track with our goals?
Prepare To Commit
In order to break the cycle of failure the first step is to do some research.
1. Spend some time analyzing your goal
How hard is this thing going to be? How many sacrifices will you have to make? How many hours a day/week are you going to need to invest to bring this goal to fruition? Is it practical for your life? Do you have enough money to pull it off? Do you have the energy? Are there any conflicts with your current ongoing commitments?
Getting a clear picture of the true difficulty of your goal will make it much easier to decide if this is truly the best commitment for you right now.
2. Figure out if this goal fits your personality
You may have thought about running a restaurant but there are thousands of ongoing individual moving parts that must be juggled for success in that business. Do you like to work 7 days a week? Are you comfortable with high stress environments? Can you manage hundreds of vendors on a weekly basis? Are you highly organized?
Knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses will help ensure that you commit to something that works for you.
3. How much do you really love it?
For major commitments there’s going to be many times when you’ll want to quit. You will be doing hard work when family and friends around you will be off enjoying themselves. You will give up a lot of fun things in exchange for a lot of stress. It’s going to be uncomfortable, challenging, painful and in many cases you won’t see significant results for a long time.
If you don’t really want to achieve your commitment, it’s going to be almost impossible. But if it’s a labor of love, you’ll be willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary.
How To Stay Strong
Once you’ve made a SMART goal, looked deep into yourself and made an appropriate commitment, the next step is to make your life easier. Because of the ongoing daily challenges of difficult goals it’s important to put some support systems in place to keep you going.
1. Make a list of the benefits of your commitment
Write down a list of every benefit and post them somewhere so you can look at them regularly. When you’re feeling low, having a bullet-point list can quickly remind you of what you’re fighting for, how important it is and how much it’s really giving you.
2. Surround yourself with the right people
Positive people will motivate, uplift and encourage you while negative people will make an already difficult commitment even harder. Psychologists have shown that the ideal ratio of positive to negative from someone is 5 to 1: For every one critical thing they say, they need to give you five uplifting, affirming thoughts. If you’re not getting enough cheerleading it may be time to find a new environment.
3. Avoid temptation
Even though “good men” are often described in the media as strong, solid and always making the right choice, the truth is that everybody gets weak at some point. Willpower is a finite resource. Sure you will be able to make many hundreds of good decisions all day but sooner or later you will get tired and when you’re sub-optimal you will be tempted to break your promises. Knowing this, it’s very important to stay away from situations that you know will tempt you.
If you’re working hard on NSNG, don’t go to McDonalds. Sure they have a grilled chicken salad but almost everything else on the menu will break your diet. If your relationship with your wife is on the rocks, don’t spend time with other beautiful women. Either fix things with your wife or get a divorce and then start dating. Every minute you spend with a woman who isn’t your wife moves you one step closer to becoming a cheater.
4. Do the work
Not only will hard work move you quickly towards your goals, science shows we’re happiest when we’re working. Invest yourself in your commitment. Dig in. Give everything you have. Learn new skills. Get creative. Innovate.
Jordan Peterson says “Life is indistinguishable from effortful maintenance.” When you truly commit to something you aren’t just working on that goal, you’re actively working on your worldview. A paradigm of hard work and commitment will give you an edge in every area of your life.
5. Get an accountability partner or group
Statistics show you’ll be vastly more successful if you have someone else to help keep you on task. Look for someone smart, trustworthy and knowledgeable. The more information they have the more useful they will be. Every high-level performer has multiple coaches or trainers to work with them. Even if they’re expensive, the investment in a trainer will be one of the best you can make.
Facebook groups, meetup.com, community college classes, internet forums and other goal-specific groups will help you connect with other people on your same path. Reading and listening to high-level information from books, websites and podcasts will help keep you motivated and sharp. WASM and The Superior Men Podcast are a great place to start.
6. Embrace the suck
We’ll be talking in depth about this in our next article. The main thing to remember here is accepting the truth that your goal is going to be difficult. If it was easy it wouldn’t provide you with anything meaningful or satisfying. It takes most people years to become debt-free. The majority of college students take at least four years to graduate. And how many people do you see with six-pack abs?
The Good News
After spending over a year working with Shirley, I’m very pleased to say she’s now lost almost 20 pounds. She’s working out regularly, eating a healthy diet and feeling incredible. In fact she recently went shopping (her clothes don’t fit anymore) and she was scared to buy the dress she wanted because she was sure it was too small. But she put it on anyway and after seeing herself in the mirror she started crying. The last time she could wear a dress that size was twenty years ago in high school.
We can change. At any point we can turn things around. No matter where you’re at set a goal that works for you. Then complete it. Set a bigger goal and finish that. Before you know it you’ll be committing to huge goals and your entire life will be different!
Remember gentlemen, live Superior!