What if we made commitments to ourselves instead of resolutions for a new year?

Everyone around me is forging goals, making resolutions, plotting plans, and kicking off new projects. I - on the other hand - am resisting all of these, as hard as I can.

As I’ve said before, I reject all of those concepts. And I’m also rejecting making any life-changing plans in January. I’m holed up in my annual “hibernation mode” which means I feel like accomplishing exactly nada…

But there’s one thing I’m not resisting. And that’s commitments.

And not to anyone. But to yourself.

I can already hear you say: “Come on, it’s ‘potato potato’. Resolutions and commitments are basically the same thing”. And I just cannot agree.

Resolutions are a way of saying to the world: “I want to lose 10 pounds in 4 months to look great when summer arrives.”

Commitments are a way of saying to ourselves: “I want to be healthy, fit, and strong because I care deeply about the body I inhabit.”

Resolutions are short-term, specific, usually extrinsically motivated, and therefore easy to break. Commitments are long-term, values-based, definitely intrinsically motivated, and therefore enduring.

Commitments are important because they make us operate not with the goal of proving anything to anyone. But with the goal of building ourselves up in our own eyes. Commitments aren’t about facing the judgements of others. They’re about facing ourselves. They make us commit to ourselves.

“The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.” - Martina Navratilova

When we say we will do something and then we don’t, we send a really shitty message to our inner self. We undermine our sense of agency, self-worth, and confidence when we don’t follow through.

In contrast - when we commit and follow through - we get to cheer on ourselves. We get to do the internal high-fiving, back-patting, and kudos-ing. We become our own sources of affirmation and acceptance. (I know I need that…)

For a hot minute, I thought that building habits is the holy grail of transformation. Then it dawned on me that building habits can only work if we first find the right commitments, which accomplishes a few important things:

  1. It puts you in touch with things you actually want to do. Why would you be committing to something you give no shits about? In that way - it’s a prioritization tool.
  2. It gives you a reason to cheer yourself on when you follow through. (This is my personal favorite since “my sergeant” is so loud.)
  3. It works like a forcing function for momentum. Even on your crappiest day, you can probably find something really small you can commit to. Like taking one very long, very deep breath. Or drinking an extra glass of water. Or taking a hot bath after a long day.

Commitments won’t work when they’re about external validation or status signaling. Commitments (and follow through) make us feel super good specifically because no one is watching.

The Practice

If you’re finding yourself stuck and unable to follow through on your own commitments - then be like James Clear. Start super small. And make sure to embody the cheerleader as you high-five yourself for following through. Some ideas:

  • Drink a full glass of water first thing in the morning
  • Take 3 deep belly breaths upon waking up, before you do anything else
  • Sit down to drink your morning cup at your local cafe, instead of grabbing it to go

Going Deeper

If you are ready to do some deeper commitment work - try this more involved method for rewiring your neural pathways. A little like brain writing. A little like journaling. A little intention-setting. A little gratitude-giving.

Pick a note-taking or journaling app that's easy for you to return to every day (try Bare Chats created by my good pal Michelle Ikediobi or Stoic created by a fellow Pole Maciej Lobodzinski - both offer delightful journaling experiences).

Copy-paste the following framework. Complete it daily for as long as helpful. It will feel uncomfortable at first. "Lean into the cringe" - as Oliver Burkeman says.

1/ Today I am committing to [describe the commitment you’re making] - e.g. "Today I am committing to my health and fitness"

2/ I am grateful for [describe in what way the commitment makes you feel grateful] - e.g. "I am grateful for the body I have and the ability to use it in so many powerful ways"

3/ This commitment allows me [describe what it helps you accomplish] - e.g. "This commitment allows me to build up my self-confidence and self-esteem"

4/ Today, I am following through when [describe what you will do with high specificity] - e.g. "Today I am following through when I go for a run in the morning and take a power nap in the afternoon at 3 pm, between meetings"

5/ A few things might get in the way of my commitment and I have a plan for what to do then: [list out what might happen and what you will do] - e.g. “A few things might get in the way of my commitment and I have a plan for what to do then:

  • If we run late for the school bus - I will take M to school in my running gear and run back home the 3 miles
  • If more meetings creep up on my calendar this afternoon - I can move my 1:1s to tomorrow and make room for a power nap”

Feels like a tall order? Well - anything worth doing takes time and effort. Do this brain-writing first thing in the morning when you wake up. It takes a few weeks for the brain rewiring to start working its magic. After that - you won’t need the continued practice of writing it all down. It’ll feel like second nature. Or you can decide to move on to a new commitment.

My 2023 commitment is… to surrender more and fight less. With reality. With the flow of life. With my husband’s tenacity. With my willful kids. With the things I don’t control. To take what comes my way, without the grind. To be a “pushover” for the universe’s plan. To accept what is - no more, no less. And that’s what I’ll be focusing on in my brain-writing this month.

What might be a commitment inside you that you'd want to share and manifest out in the world?

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I really loved reading this as its something I did for myself for the first time this year. Namely around fitness. I have spent many years in past beating my body into submission instead of appreciating it for what it is and encouraging it to grow and strengthen in ways its willing to. This year I shifted, call it personal growth or being surrounded by people who build me up instead of breaking me down with harsh criticisms, but I chose to commit to moving my body in ways that do not feel like a punishment. I also didn't know fully what I meant by that, but I definitely knew it didn't include a promotional membership to a gym. I started out by asking people how they move, and asking if I could join them at a class of their choosing, the first exploration I went on was to a circus school where I learned and got to try aerial aerobics! This was amazing! I got to work so much with body weight and using my own strength to lift myself up. Next, I went to yoga with another pal, this is arguably a more affordable option than circus school. I also found there are kinds of yoga that DO feel like punishment, but this is part of learning about new exercise that I am not overly familiar with, I am learning. I have some hot plans to check out a climbing gym this weekend. I have long been a climber, but fell out of it a few years ago due to a lack of good gyms where I was living at the time, so I am excited to get back into the swing of that and move my body in a way that I know I love. Anyway, I just wanted to say that shifting perspective is powerful. Doing something that has been previously burdensome doesn't have to be if you can find new creative ways to do it.
I LOVE that you’re approaching it as an exploration! And I can clearly see how much kindness and compassion you’re bringing into the process. Inspiring!