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The Power of Micro-Commitments in a Flaky World

“Do you want to come over Saturday for drinks?” Yeah, let’s do it! “Ok, I’ll text you tomorrow with details.” No text. No drinks.

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“I will call you Tuesday at 10:00am.” 10:13am … no call. Should I start a new project or sit here wasting my life away on Facebook?

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“I really want you to work with me on this project. I think it’d be great for both of us. Let’s talk about it next week.” The next conversation is about something else entirely. You bring it up again later and they’ve completely changed their mind and direction.

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These are all examples that I’ve experienced in the last month alone! Everybody’s so casual these days. Nobody really wants to commit to anything. And, even when they do, you might wonder whether whatever they’ve committed to will actually happen, or if it’s just talk.

So, why is everybody so afraid of commitment? And why do we feel the need to make commitments at all if we’re not really into it?

Well, lots of reasons. Sometimes it boils down to “people pleasing” – when you tell somebody something or offer to do something just because it’s what you think they want to hear in the moment. There’s an underlying sense of obligation to make the other person feel happy and comfortable.

Sometimes it’s about ego. Making offers and telling people about all the great things you’re gonna do, makes you sound (or feel) important.

Sometimes it’s just about poor execution. Great plan, no idea how to get it done, and by not communicating with the other party about it, it’s almost like the original offer never happened. (Except that it did!)

And sometimes it’s because the person making the offer is so scattered and disorganized that they can’t remember what they’ve said to whom.

There’s nothing that irritates me more than flakiness and yet it’s pervasive in our society. I have, on occasion, been guilty of this myself. But for the most part, if I tell someone else I’m going to do something, I do my damnedest to make it happen. Commitments to myself, on the other hand, are a little more tricky. I think it’s easier to keep commitments to other people than it is to myself because when I say I’m going to do something out loud and someone hears it, I then feel accountable to them. But when I decide on my own that I’m going to do something and it gets hard, or it feels inconvenient, it’s pretty easy to let myself off the hook.

So, how to stop this?

Well, I learned recently about a concept called micro-commitments. The idea is that you might break down a goal (a macro-commitment) into small, easily achievable, bite-sized actions you can take to move you forward. It’s about taking baby steps to consistently build up momentum. It’s about making a commitment to something that doesn’t cost you much, and entails little risk. You have fewer excuses NOT to do it. When you break a large task down into small tasks and realize that you can commit to 10 minutes to get one of those small tasks done, all of a sudden, you’re on a roll. Ok, what’s next??

I know my time is valuable and as I continue to keep my commitments (micro and macro) to myself, I continue to produce exactly what I’ve set out to. As long as I continue to meet and exceed my own goals, I grow more and more confident about my ability to achieve what I want. Before I know it, I’m blowing my own mind. And I can’t help but want MORE of that!

Sometimes, it might not work. Other priorities will take precedence, unforeseen obstacles will stand in my way. I’ll be gentle with myself when it doesn’t work. But then as soon as I’m able, I'm getting right back on track to git ‘er done!

What would it look like if we stopped making commitments unless we really truly intend to follow through on them? Then, what would it look like to keep every commitment we make? What if we did this, not only for the commitments we make to others, but also for the ones we make to ourselves? How would our lives be different?

Try this:

Do what you say you will do.

Otherwise, don’t say it.

Then, maybe we can get rid of the saying that: “Talk is cheap.”

I was re-reading Stephen M.R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust the other day (by far the most valuable required reading I did in grad school) and reminded about a favorite quote I’d underlined: “By behaving in ways that build trust with one, you build trust with many.” The one, in this case could be yourself, or someone else. Either way, staying true to your word is the fastest way to build trust.

I’ve talked before about just how much I value authenticity and integrity. This is about staying true to your word even when it’s difficult, inconvenient, or expensive.

The effects it will have:

  • People will take you more seriously.
  • They will be more likely to trust you.
  • They’ll want to do more with you socially or professionally.
  • Your reputation will be unshakable.
  • You’ll operate with more confidence.
  • You’ll be more likely to trust yourself and hold yourself in high regard.
  • You’ll be more efficient and more productive.
  • You’ll be a better leader.
  • Your relationships will be stronger.
  • Your influence will be more powerful.

So, what micro-commitments might you make for yourself today? Share in the comments below!