#14 Commitment Devices
#14 Commitment Devices

Before we start looking at how we get from intention to action, it is really important to pause for a moment and reflect on our intention. Let’s say you are out for dinner with friends and one of them is training for a marathon and on impulse you say “Let’s do it together!”.

Even if you do not run, stick with me because it also works as a metaphor! In that moment, you may truly mean it. However, such spontaneous decisions have far-reaching implications. It is essential to distinguish between fleeting thoughts and genuine intentions.

To put this in context, I once worked with a client who, at the outset of our time together, said she had hundreds of goals, almost none of which she was actually working on. Whenever she decided to tackle a goal, she would get distracted by a whole series of other possible goals.

So, let’s be clear – until you make a plan to start taking action on something it is still only a series of thoughts. Query your goals:

  • Why would I want to do this?
  • Why would I not want to do this?
  • Will accomplishing it be fun?
  • Is it about the journey or the destination?
  • Does this fit into some larger picture?

In the marathon example, you may first need to answer these questions:

  • When will I train?
  • What is the time commitment?
  • Are there financial costs?
  • What impact will the training have on other parts of my life?
  • Have I discussed my idea with those who are impacted?
  • How will they support me?

To my mind, it is only once you are clear how the idea and its consequences fit into your life and are putting a plan in place that it makes sense to start thinking about making commitments to yourself.

The journey from intention to action is often far more complex and challenging than we anticipate. Obstacles arise, motivation wanes and before we know it, our well-intended commitments fall by the wayside. So, how do we bridge this gap between intention and action? How do we ensure that the commitments we make to ourselves are more than just words?

This is where commitment devices come into play. A “commitment device” is a tool that people use to somehow lock themselves into a course of action they might otherwise avoid. These devices help bridge the gap between intention and action, effectively pushing us toward achieving our goals even when we are tempted to stray.

Depending on your psychology, different types of commitment devices may work better. Here are some examples to inspire:

  • Public declarations: Announcing a goal publicly can motivate some people to follow through out of a fear of public failure or embarrassment. Publicly promising to do some form of fundraising for charity is an example.

  • Betting on success: There are platforms like StickK where you can put money on the line, providing a strong incentive to follow through. Alternatively, you could buddy up with a friend on a goal (say running a marathon) and promise to pay the other some large penalty if you fail to follow through.
  • Automating decisions: Automating healthy habits, like scheduling workout sessions or healthy meal deliveries, can reduce the willpower required to make the right decision in the moment.

Harnessing the power of commitment devices can increase our chances of turning intention into action, allowing us to get to our destination despite the challenges along the way.

Questions in the Image:

  • How do I make commitments to myself?
  • How often do I follow through?
  • What causes me to fail?
  • What commitment devices might help?

Want to Read More Around This Topic?

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath (link to Amazon.co.uk). This book offers insightful, practical advice on how to effect change in our lives and illustrates these points with engaging real-world examples.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day – a Friday morning can bring thoughts of weekend and freedom and offer up these questions: How do I feel imprisoned today? Who or what might be imprisoning me? How might I feel freer? What do I not want to do? Who do I not want to be?

About Tom O’Leary

I coach, mentor and teach leaders who are shaping a brighter future.

Leadership can be lonely, the challenges daunting, and the workload overwhelming. I help leaders feel heard, gain clarity, take action, build confidence and thrive! Leaders matter. Their work matters. We need them at their best!

The first step? Becoming more curious. I see curiosity as the key, allowing us to unlock deep insights that directly enhance our ability to think, act and lead.

This means spending time contemplating what might be possible so that when we take action, we can bring all our energy and power to bear.

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