When we commit to something – whether that is an activity, a principle, or a person – does that make us more, or less? Do we gain, or do we lose?
It’s easy to see how making a commitment to improving our physical health is a good idea – it makes us a better person. If we commit to reducing the amount of sugar we eat or increasing the amount of running we do, our fitness improves. It’s not completely one-sided – having a doughnut is nice, and giving them up may not be easy – but the trade-off is a fairly simple one to justify in our minds. Less doughnuts = better health. The commitment to improving one’s health does involve making some changes, but the overall benefits are worth the effort.
The benefits can be harder to see in other areas. Making a commitment to a principle might be harder to justify. It might be harder to define, and therefore challenging to explain your commitment to other people – they may not understand your reasoning, and may disagree with you. Using veganism as an example, one person may feel that the ethical, environmental and health benefits are overwhelming – how could anyone possibly not understand? But clearly not everyone is on a plant-only diet. Indeed, for every ‘militant vegan’ out there, you will find an equal number of ‘militant carnivores’, both sides equally convinced they are right, and unable to see the other side of the story. Commitment to a principle often means defending it, which isn’t always fun or easy. The commitment comes with a fairly pronounced negative side.
When we look at committing to either an activity or a principle, there is a balance to be found. We commit to getting healthy, but allow ourselves the occasional doughnut … or we commit to becoming a vegan, but accept that not everyone will understand or agree with our decision.
This idea of balance is most important when we commit to another human being. Whether this is on a sports team, at work, or to a partner, all too often the idea of committing to a person can feel like you are having to give something up. In the best cases, this doesn’t happen – our teammates train just as hard as we do; our work colleagues put in the same effort as us; and our partner does just as much for us as we do for them.
The problems come when the balance goes – when we feel like we are contributing more than someone else. Then, our commitment can feel like we are compromising in some way, and we end up feeling resentful.
Most of us have been on both sides of this at some point or another – we’ve had relationships where we were the one putting in the effort, and if we’re honest with ourselves, I’m sure we can all think of relationships where we could have worked harder.
The biggest challenge comes from the idea that doing anything half-heartedly is unlikely to provide much fulfilment – in order to get the most out of any situation, we have to commit to it … And with that commitment, comes fear. This fear seems to always be a variation on a ‘success v failure‘ theme. We have to find a way to balance our fear of not being good enough for someone or something, with our fear of giving too much and being let down. Either way, as Brené Brown points out, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
Perhaps the most important commitment we can make is to ourselves. To what we believe in, to what we feel is right – and when that comes under threat, it can be incredibly hard to manage.
In any commitment, there will always be times when the pendulum swings one way or another – sometimes we bear more than our fair share, sometimes less – but overall, there needs to be a balance.
Is there a place in your life where the commitment is out of balance?
If so, it’s probably worth asking yourself – why?