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     Commitments That Matter

On August 15 my husband and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. Someone recently asked me what the secret is to staying married to one person in an age where more than 50% of marriages end in divorce. I responded by saying that COMMITMENT and good COMMUNICATION have been key.

Commitments form the core of our personal and professional relationships with others. That's why it is so important to behave with INTEGRITY and sincerity when we make commitments to others. Part of the work that I do as a coach is to help my clients evaluate and refine their commitments so that they can make and keep them effectively.  Most of the people I know are OVER-COMMITTED...they've bitten off more than they can chew! This is a great time to think about the commitments that matter the most to you and to let go of those that are not as important. As you reflect on your personal and professional commitments, ask yourself these questions:

Your reasons and MOTIVES for making commitments change as your family, career, interests, and skills change. Loyalties shift and resources vary. This is natural, yet unless you take time to review your commitments you may continue to show up in places that are no longer a good MATCH for you.

It is wise to check and see if you are serving your own VALUES or someone else's. Language can be key here. If you hear yourself saying, "I should" or "I gotta" or "I have to" a lot, this is a big red flag. Check in with yourself and ask, "Do I CHOOSE to?"

Review commitments to see if you know the EXTENT and DURATION of your promises. This will help you to keep commitments manageable. When you make nonspecific commitments, it is easy to expend energy and attention on a continuing basis without experiencing a sense of completion or satisfaction. Put some parameters around the commitments you make.

When you are clear about what you are promising, it will get easier to tell if you have the resources to keep the promise while tending to your other RESPONSIBILITIES.

When you hear yourself say, "I will try to do this," ask yourself: Do I choose to do this? There is no TRY. There is only DO or not do. Make conscious choices around your actions, every moment of every day. Although you may not be able to commit to the outcome, you can commit to your intentions and actions.

Are your commitments a reflection of your VALUES and talents? Are your commitments helping you build the relationships you want or are they creating OBSTACLES to building those relationships?  Give yourself time to reflect on the questions above and then renew or revise your commitments accordingly.

We all have circumstances that come up that make it difficult for us to HONOR our commitments to ourselves and to others. When we do not honor these commitments on a regular basis, we are not living in integrity. What is integrity? The thesaurus provides these synonyms: honesty, truth, honor, RELIABILITY, uprightness.  Stephen Covey uses a wonderful metaphor to talk about integrity. I share an excerpt about building an Emotional Bank Account, taken from Covey's “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”:

“We all know what a financial bank account is. We make deposits into it and build up a reserve from which we can make withdrawals when we need to. An Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor that describes the amount of TRUST that's been built up in a relationship. It's the feeling of safeness you have with another human being. If I make deposits into an Emotional Bank Account with you through courtesy, kindness, honesty, and keeping my commitments to you, I build up a RESERVE. Your trust toward me becomes higher, and I can call upon that trust many times if I need to. I can even make mistakes and that trust level -- that emotional reserve -- will compensate for it.  But if I have a habit of showing discourtesy, disrespect, cutting you off, overreacting, ignoring you, becoming arbitrary, betraying your trust, threatening you, or playing little tin god in your life, eventually my Emotional Bank Account is OVERDRAWN. The trust level gets very low. Then what flexibility do I have? None.”

Covey describes six ways to make DEPOSITS in an Emotional Bank Account. One of those six ways is by keeping commitments. Another of the six ways is by demonstrating personal integrity, or conforming our words to reality...another form of keeping commitments. Breaking commitments represents a major WITHDRAWAL from an Emotional Bank Account.

There's a trivia game show on television called “The Weakest Link” -- after each round, the team of players votes one person -- the weakest link -- off the team. In actuality, those who serve as the weakest link in our professional or personal lives are often the most INFLUENTIAL, as they have the potential to wreak the greatest havoc on our lives. And sometimes we, ourselves, are the weakest link. Who do you know who:  
  • doesn't FOLLOW THROUGH on projects
  • makes commitments and doesn't keep them
  • slows everyone else down by PROCRASTINATING
  • lacks the skill to do what they are supposed to do
  • takes on too many things and runs LATE for everything
  • doesn't work as a team player or pull their own weight
  • does incomplete or SLOPPY work that must be done over
Based on your response to these questions you, like the controversial hostess of this trivia show, may choose to proclaim, "You are the Weakest Link...Goodbye."

If, as you answered the questions above, you identified yourself as the weakest link in some of your relationships with others, you have some choices. You can continue to drain your Emotional Bank Account, or you can choose to make deposits. This is easier said than done, as we are creatures of habit, and habits can be hard to break. 
  • ACKNOWLEDGE where you are out of integrity: Several months ago I promised my colleague that I would complete a project and I have not honored my commitment.

  • INTENTION: I choose to complete this project by the end of August. Not "I will try to..."

  • Committed PLAN of action: I've blocked out three hours on Thursday morning each week to work on this project between now and the end of August.

  • ACTION: I exercise integrity and follow through with my plan, without allowing myself to get derailed by distractions. If an emergency comes up that derails me from my work, I reschedule the working session for another time that week.

  • ACCOUNTABILITY: I share my intentions with someone else and ask him/her to check with me weekly to see if I did what I said I would do.

One of the best ways I have found to build in accountability for myself around keeping commitments, is to work with a COACH. My coach holds me accountable to my commitments (to myself and others) without JUDGING me. I am far more likely to follow through with my commitments and action plans when I know that my coach will ask me next week how it went! If things did not go as planned, I have an opportunity to reflect on it and identify what got in the way so I can try something different the following week.


Kathy Paauw is an organizing and productivity consultant, certified professional and personal coach, and speaker. Visit her website at www.orgcoach.net or contact her at .

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