How To Really Make (And Keep) Commitments
By Dagmar Spremberg on 08 February 2022
Guest Post written by Jillian Bright, author of the book “The Trouble With Wings”.
I‘ll admit right away that I’m not writing this blog as someone who is an expert on commitment. 100% the opposite actually. I’m writing this as someone who struggled with commitment for the majority of my adult life, until very recently in fact.
Commitment has been my “word of the year” for five years running now.
Yeah, five years.
I’ve been choosing a word for about a decade now, but I play it a little differently.
Instead of choosing an energy I want to call in for a full calendar year, I choose a character quality that I’d like to develop in myself and work on for as long as I need to until I feel like I’ve integrated it.
Some words take longer like commitment (5 years and counting) and strength (2 years), while others like courage and initiative (6 and 9 months respectively) take less.
I look at it kind of like a video game, which is ironic considering I am the furthest thing for a gamer ever. But it goes something like this…
I choose a word and throw it out to the universe. The universe comes back with an initial challenge. I spectacularly fail this challenge and spend X number of months (or years) finding little situations that, if I choose, would strengthen said quality.
Again, the universe would throw out a challenge, a smaller test. I’d pass. Then another slightly tougher challenge. Passed again.
It would keep on like this until the Big Boss of challenges came up. I would pull on every lesson I’d learned since I’d chosen my word and when I passed, I usually took myself to the beach or the hot springs, gave myself a nice pat on the back and let the next word come to me when it was time and then start the whole process over again.
So why choose commitment?
I chose the word commitment at the end of 2017 after having previously chosen strength, courage, patience, and initiative. It felt natural to learn to follow through on something after I’d learned to build my foundation and take action.
I was 33 years old and had been a wild and free and very independent nomad for probably over ten years (you can read about my experience adjusting to group culture on one of Dagmar’s retreats here.
I didn’t have a fear of commitment so much as an attitude of total repulsion towards it. I really didn’t want to, but I knew I needed to work on it.
Well, I chose the word and boom. Days later, I was robbed of years worth of writing and travel photography (plus my passport, wallet, computer, camera, phone, etc) while traveling in South America, then less than a month after that came an unexpected pregnancy with a man I loved but literally hadn’t seen in four years.
Over the last five years, I’ve tried to put down roots in three different continents and failed each time. I tried to commit to a relationship and have split twice with my son’s dad. I’ve even dabbled in about five different business ideas before getting back to writing.
The question that has kept coming up over and over through the years since was this: What are you committed to?
Long before I chose commitment (I think I was working on courage at the time), I was working in Northern California on cannabis farms. At the end of my first harvest, I got my first, tiny tattoo, a simple circle on the inside of my left ring finger.
My friend sterilized a sewing needle with a lighter, dipped the tip in a beer bottle cap full of black tattoo ink, and slowly, painstakingly created the tiny ring.
My tattoo meant two things. First, it was a symbol of the full moon to mark the harvest, and a reminder that everything comes full circle. I had arrived at the farm with a broken heart and was leaving feeling healed and whole again.
But the second was a reminder to be committed to myself, above all else. To take care of my heart so that I could hear it whisper the most important Truths, and to follow those whispers so that I would still dance with the magic of life, even when my heart was in pieces.
It’s been over seven years since I got that tattoo and it has been the best reminder of what really matters as I have slowly, painstakingly moved through challenges of changing my relationship with commitment.
After years of commitments that I’ve run from or have let fall through, I finally think I understand what makes one stick, even when it gets hard.
We’re now in our third winter of the pandemic. Many of us, especially parents and especially parents of young children are freaking exhausted. We are spread thinner than we ever imagined was possible and still manage to survive.
And commitment? HA. When you don’t know if you’re going to get literally five minutes of childcare a day or five hours, how can you possibly commit to something? How can you follow through on anything?
When you don’t know what tomorrow looks like, let alone next week or next month…? You know where I’m going with this. We’re all living it.
I started writing this article hoping to give tips on how to make and keep commitments even when it’s hard or seems impossible, but after three drafts it felt so out of touch with the reality that many of us are actually living I scratched the whole thing and wrote what you’re reading now.
Because the last thing I personally want to read right now is someone cheerfully telling me how to just put a little more effort or energy into one single thing.
What I do want to hear, and maybe you do too, is that we don’t have to.
You don’t have to commit to anything that doesn’t give you back some of the massive amounts of energy you are expending on literally surviving or keeping your offspring alive.
You are not obligated to do anything for anyone that takes away another shred of your joy or confidence or hope.
What we are obligated to do, however, is to stay committed to ourselves, take care of our hearts, and listen to the whispers in what feels like utter darkness and silence.
I don’t feel like I’ve “passed” the commitment phase yet, but I do feel like I’m finally on my big boss challenge. Here’s why:
I’m actually following through on the hardest commitment I’ve ever made in my life right now and I have no idea how it’s going to turn out.
My partner and I separated last year when I was on an extended visit in California, and as hard and lonely as my life was in Italy for years as a new mom in a new country, my heart told me not to run this time. This time I needed to come back and stay, no matter what.
There is more here than you think, a future is being woven right now that you can’t begin to comprehend or imagine… my heart whispered.
And so here I am and I promise you, it’s hard. Building a new support network and community from scratch as a single parent is hard. Seeing my ex and coparenting with him every day while processing our breakup at the same time is hard.
And if you’re not familiar with how soul-crushing Europe has been during the pandemic, then consider yourself lucky, because it sucks.
But I’m sticking to it because I’ve found that at the end, it’s still a game I’m playing with the universe and the universe doesn’t have fun playing games with people who don’t have faith.
The truth is, my inner wild child is actually loving my new commitment because it’s a risk. There is no guaranteed outcome. She just knows I’m listening to my heart and dancing with the unknown again, and we both know that’s where the magic is.
As modern humans it’s completely normal to want, even demand, a guaranteed outcome. We want stability, dependability, and control over our environment. And we’ve now been tossed a collective curveball that shows us how little control we actually have.
And maybe that’s another reason many of us have become such commitment-phobes over the last few years. We’re terrified of making mistakes because the consequences have been dramatic and extreme.
But that’s part of the rewards of playing the game–learning to trust yourself to weather even the hardest consequences when you keep commitments that reflect not any external should, but what really matters to you.
It’s been a lifetime of work for me (38 years and counting…) to shed external expectations and get closer and closer to what it is that really matters to me. I’ve lost relationships and intellectual property. I’ve lost time and lots and lots of money.
But all that loss isn’t without something tremendously valuable that we gain in return–we get closer to ourselves, our souls, our deepest desires and purpose on this planet.
The closer we get to who we are and what we want at our essence, the easier it becomes to see what is in alignment and what is not, and to say no to everything and everyone that isn’t.
And when we do that, the easier it becomes to trust ourselves in the face of impossible decisions (which we are currently faced with on a daily basis)…
The more likely we are to cultivate a genuine gratitude practice, and cope with the challenges that inevitably arise in our lives…
If you’ve found yourself struggling with commitment, now or ever, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your relationship not just to the idea of what commitment means, but your relationship with yourself.
Here are a few questions that might help you identify where you’re at:
How well do you know yourself?
So much has changed in our lives and our world. Big transformation requires big integration and often that means getting to know yourself all over again.
Take your time, play, follow the fun. Let your heart break if it has to. Courage, honesty, and humility go a long way here.
How clearly can you hear the voice of your intuition?
Can you pick out the voice of your heart from the other voices in your head–fear, ambition, ego, your inner child or wounded parental archetypes–clamoring to be heard? Do you hear any voices at all?
Different voices coming from the inside feel different when they speak up. Sometimes your body will have a different physical reaction to what’s being said. Your intuition feels expansive, light, and grounded and it tends to speak softly in the quietest moments when you’re feeling at peace.
How much do you trust yourself?
Do you actually listen to your heart’s whispers and act on them? Do you second guess yourself and change course when things get tough? Or do you find yourself stuck in fear or rehashing regrets?
I had to get therapy to help me move out of this stuck place, so don’t be afraid to reach out for support if this is something you’ve been struggling with.
This is a journey that we’re on for our whole lives. Trusting yourself doesn’t mean things will be easy, but life is so much harder when you’re living in a state of self-doubt.
Remember, the universe has the most fun with you when you have faith.
Jillian Bright is the author of The Trouble with Wings (Burning Soul Press, 2021), a travel memoir about living with your heart all in–even if it means risking it all. She’s also an award-winning travel writer and transformational experience facilitator living in the Italian countryside. More writing + information about upcoming books and retreats can be found at www.jillianbright.com. To stay in touch, sign up for her inspirational weekly newsletter here or follow her on Instagram.