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Three Components of a Commitment: A Universal Tool

Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More

Always remember the distinction between contribution and commitment.
Take the matter of bacon and eggs. The chicken makes a contribution. The pig makes a commitment.
-John Mack Carter

What Qualifies as a Commitment and a Committed Person

A remarkably useful distinction and universal tool is being aware, in the most practical possible way, of what constitutes the three components of a commitment. What qualifies as a commitment and a committed person? As the above humorous quote implies, commitment has something to do with betting your life, something far more than making a contribution, although a contribution may well be a part of a commitment. Commitment is one of those funny ideas that almost everyone thinks they understand and often say, “I know it when I see it.” Is this simply some deceptive tomfoolery, a convenient and comfortable illusion or are they telling the truth? If we know what actually constitutes a commitment, wouldn’t we be able to succinctly assert what it is and give several clear definitive illustrations? Of course, rarely if ever does either come forth when you ask someone. At most you receive a quizzical smile or nod acknowledging that what you asked is self-evident. What qualifies as a commitment and a committed person is not obvious and is of incalculable value since it is at the heart of earning trust.

It is proposed that without all three components of a commitment, there is no commitment. There may be a good intention and/or action, but neither or both constitute a commitment or qualify anyone as a committed person. It is asserted that the three components of a commitment are:

1. A public statement of intention, that is, speaking with or writing to pertinent other people of specifically what you are “signed up” for and fully intend to do in action;

2. Explicitly indicate a specific time and date to begin taking the intended action and also a specific time and date to complete the intended actions, and to periodically communicate progress and, if necessary, to shift times and dates given logistics and vagaries of life (i.e., being timely); and

3. Do the intended, signed up for actions as promised to completion.

A committed person is simply one who regularly keeps their commitments, what he or she has signed up to do or not do. Sounds rather simple and straightforward, doesn’t it? It is, and it works remarkably well. I’ve met people who take all of this in stride and report being such a person and further knowing many others who fit this pattern. What a blessing for all concerned! Far more often, people spontaneously indicate that both commitments and committed people are highly uncommon in their life and in life generally. I’ve noticed that the more someone operates on a committed basis in regularly signing up for commitments and fulfilling them in a timely way, the more committed people s/he knows.

Take the example of a young adult committing to clean up part of the house by vacuuming the downstairs. Without a time and date for starting and finishing, there is no commitment, even with a follow-through in action. Of course, without doing what this young adult committed to, again there is no commitment, and he or she does not qualify as a committed person. Sign up to vacuum the downstairs, specify that it will be done before a 6 PM dinner Saturday night and actually do this vacuuming, and you have both a commitment and an indication that this person is a committed responsible adult. Hurrah!

Take another illustration of calling a plumber to come fix a sink that won’t drain. Saying he would come by 11 AM today to do the work, he calls at 10:45 AM saying he is running late and will arrive before noon. He arrives just before noon and completes the job satisfactorily. He has honored his commitment. You may hire him again given he has given you one sample of being a committed being.

The three components of a commitment are amazingly simple and functional in navigating your way through life. Words and people lie all the time; stated intentions, a time and date and actions combined don’t. Anyone who honors commitments is a wonderful treasure worth knowing and valuing.

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