Why We Don’t keep our commitments
I was talking to a client the other day, let’s call him Jacob. This particular client is 15 years old, he is a high school student and he’s been having trouble sleeping due to high levels of anxiety. In fact, in the last year, he’s been sleeping no more than 2-3 hours a night during the school week.
His mind was constantly thinking about the future, about doing school assignments and tests on time, and about how horrible it will be to get bad grades.
The interesting thing in all of this is that during the typical day, all he does is procrastinate doing any sort of school work. The same assignments that not completing keeps him up all night full of worry, are the ones he avoids doing during the day.
As we delved deeper we found something interesting. He’s not just anxious about doing all of these assignments, he’s also rebellious about having to do them in the first place! In fact, he’s damn mad about needing to do them.
Apparently, the reason why he doesn't do his assignments is that in his own words: “They’re boring and I only want to do things that are fun”.
That’s it, we found it! Jacob has 2 conflicting beliefs. One belief thinks that school is very important and then amplifies it to extreme levels of anxiety at night.
The other one sees school as(and I quote) “A boring waste of time”. These conflicting beliefs keep him in a constant loop of going nowhere.
This type of revelation may not be uncommon for those doing the self-mastery work, but it may prove trickier when dealing with commitments.
In the self-mastery work, we learn that we have different parts of our personality and mind called “characters”. These parts have different agendas and often conflict with each other.
The core reason why we have a hard time keeping commitments is that not every part of us wants to keep the commitment. Different parts of us have different desires and agendas.
For example, the part of me that’s angry sees the world differently than the part of me that’s more of a joker and than the part of me that is more rational and calm.
When we create commitments, this becomes especially interesting. Just as we have a desire for going in a new direction, all the parts of us that have a different worldview most surely don’t want to go in that direction at all. We may want to turn right, but parts of our unconscious mind want to stay put or even turn left.
With commitments, these parts will show up as resistance, fear, emotional reactions, and saboteurs trying to tempt us to go back on our promise to ourselves.
I notice this with food all the time.
A year ago I went to my grandpa’s birthday party, having decided that week not to eat white sugar.
It was the last day of the week and everything was going well, I was avoiding all those nasty white sugary foods, and all the pastries, croissants, and donuts the world can offer.
That was until I saw that cake, that damn delicious-looking cheesecake my aunt brought to the party. As I looked at that cake, I started hearing voices in my head:
“Daniel, you did very well this week, you deserve a break it’s the last day!”
“Daniel, just take a small bite, you still did good, come on, you earned it! It’s for your grandpa, don’t be so harsh on yourself, life is about going with the flow! Not about being deadly serious!”.
It seems like not every part of my mind was on board with my decision not to eat sugar that week.
Those voices were trying to tempt me, and I fell for it and ate. Then of course came the judge, starting to judge me for failing to keep my commitments saying “You weak loser, you can’t keep a simple commitment even for a week, pathetic!”(more on the judge next article).
I remember thinking, what the hell is this vicious trap my mind just set up?? First, it tempts me to break my commitment, and then it judges me for it! Man, this commitment business is rougher than I thought!
From my work and conversations with people, this type of internal dialogue is all too familiar for just about anybody. Thankfully, there are practical ways to move past it.
What to do with parts of us who don’t want to keep the commitment
Let’s try something.
Choose something that you have a hard time committing to, it can be creating a meditation habit, letting go of complaining, giving up cigarettes, or eating healthy food.
Now, as an experiment declare out loud(with intention) that from now on you will forever keep this commitment. For example: “From now on I will always eat healthy food and I will never eat junk food ever again!”.
If you say it with strong intent, this will immediately open the door for any unconscious part of you that does not want to keep this commitment to show up.
And that’s GREAT news because these are exactly the parts that you want to learn more about if you are to be on track with your commitments and goals.
The key to staying on track with commitments and goals is to learn all about how the parts that keep you off track with your commitments work.
That way, you will stop stepping into their traps, believing their stories, and following their temptations.
These parts are not here for you to be a victim of their desires, neither are they here for you to be a tyrant suppressing them and shutting them down. They are the OLD version of you and you are now creating yourself anew.
To do that, you need to clearly understand how the old you used to work, and choose otherwise. Practice makes the master and keeping commitments is an art. It’s the art of choice, you notice the old pattern and you choose something else. You choose what you decided to commit to instead. If you decided to meditate every day and a voice in your head is suggesting you skip it this time for no real good reason, you choose “no” and meditate instead.
Sometimes that means feeling really uncomfortable, as every fiber of your being and all the characters in your mind Scream for you to go the old route from before. It can feel uncomfortable, but the more that it feels uncomfortable, the bigger the opportunity for change is.
Case in point, my biggest breakthrough in breaking self-sabotaging habits around eating and over usage of my phone was exactly in those moments when the impulse to grab an unhealthy snack or to check messages on my phone was very strong.
I was vigilant and chose otherwise. I sat and did nothing but observe the impulse, completely feeling it and allowing it to be here. Each time you sit with those impulses and do nothing, they get weaker and weaker and they lose their fuel and power.
As you hunt these impulses and parts, you will stop believing them and taking their advice. You will see them for what they are: Unconscious parts of your mind, that don’t serve you anymore. You will believe them less and see how following their demands is not good for you and just leads to further suffering.
As you do that, the power of those old parts and habits starts to fall apart. They start dying and they don’t have the same pull they used to anymore. Suddenly, you are free to make choices the way you want, choices that actually benefit you, your life, and other people. You become a master artist, expertly engineering yourself and your life to be how you want it to be.
Going back to Jacob, I helped him see how his mind was working. We identified the rebel part and the anxious part as parts of his mind that are not serving him any longer. We saw clearly that there are better ways to do things. He started following up on his assignments more as well as sleeping much better at night regardless of how he performs in school, his life changed for the better.
The art of creating commitments is not magic, but it is magical in the results you get and the positive impact it can have on your life.
Learning to let go
A commitment is a process of letting go, even when you are creating something new.
You are letting go of your old self and your old identities so that a new path can be forged. You are reinventing yourself and thus, reinventing your life from here on forward.
For further inquiry on conflicting beliefs regarding commitments, I suggest watching this video of a talk by Robert Kegan.
Enjoy your hunting and practice, with lovingKindness, Daniel.