Want To Increase The Likelihood You’ll Follow Through? Make A Public Commitment

There’s a neat little thing about human beings. We hate to break our word and we’re willing to do a lot to keep a commitment.

Have you ever agreed to help a friend move and then the morning of when you were considering telling them never mind you started to feel pressured to stick to your agreement?

Or, ever told a friend “yes” and agreed to sign up for a class with them but as the date drew closer thought “maybe I should just call them up and tell them I don’t want to go anymore”?

Well, was it easy to make that call, or did you feel a sense of pressure and obligation to stick to your word?

Commitment And Consistency

This is what psychologists call the “Commitment and Consistency” principle which psychologist and author Robert Cialdini established. As Cialdini states, “Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.”

This is because we hate to experience cognitive dissonance. Which is essentially the psychological discomfort that results when our actions conflict with our beliefs, attitudes, or values. This is why the strongest driver in human behavior is our need to remain consistent with our thinking and beliefs.

We want to feel that our thinking and our actions are in alignment. And that gets further amplified when it’s an open declaration to other people. So, in other words, if we say we are going to do something, and then we tell people about it, we are a lot more likely to follow through.

Now, this can work for us and against us. In his book “Influence” Cialdini references an experiment that essentially tested the theory that once someone has agreed to a small request he or she is more likely to comply with a larger request. The hypothesis proved to be true and ever since, it has been a tool for salesmen, marketers, and crafty friends who get you to say “yes” to the question “are you free this Saturday?.

Test the theory for yourself….. Next time you give your word and say yes to something and then have second thoughts later, just notice the discomfort that comes up when you think about breaking your word and then watch how you’re gonna be more likely to follow through.

 

So,

How do we utilize this principle in our own lives to follow through on our commitments?

Tell Yourself

Write down in a journal every morning when you intend to complete the commitment and then follow up in the evening by doing an accountability check-in. An added little trick to this process is to also imagine how you will complete the commitment. When you do this you also want to make a list of any obstacles (both internally and externally) that might get in the way of you following through. Ask yourself, “What could go wrong?” “What could get in the way?” How can I effectively handle this scenario or feeling? By doing this you’re able to plan in advance for both the internal and external obstacles that may get in the way and then act accordingly. This increases your likelihood of following through. This tool is a nod to the great Stoic exercise of negative visualization or in the business world pre-mortem. Check out this great little article by author Ryan Holiday for a deeper dive.

An equally powerful alternative to the tool above is Gabriele Oettingen’s WOOP (wish, outcome, obstacle, plan) process. What is your wish, a wish that is challenging, but feasible? What would be the best outcome of fulfilling your wish? What is your main inner obstacle that holds you back from fulfilling your wish? What can you do to overcome your obstacle?

Tell A Friend Or Family Member

Let someone you are close with know about your new habit, goal, or any other sort of commitment you want to stick to. This is someone you’re close to and someone you feel comfortable asking to check in on you every day.

For me, my brother is that person. Just recently I asked him to help me stick to my commitment of writing at least 250 words every day for the next 30 days. Since I’m just launching my website and want to consistently be posting new articles I’m using these 30 days to ingrain a habit of writing every day.

Either at the end of the day or when I finish writing I let him know and we have a big high five celebration. This isn’t the only time I’m celebrating either. I’ve been making it a habit to throw a solid fist bump every time I finish a paragraph or whenever I come up with a new idea or example.

This celebration is important because according to Dr. BJ Fogg, who has spent the last two decades researching behavior design and habit formation, emotions are what really form a habit. So the key, as he puts it, is “In habit formation the most important skill is the ability to feel good about your behavior as you do it, or immediately after”. “The stronger the emotion, the more deeply your brain rewires.” So to build a habit not only quickly but effectively, what BJ recommends is consistently celebrating even the tiniest wins. And he doesn’t mean a tiny celebration. He suggests you really get into it! Do a fist pump while saying YES or “Good for me” or really any form of celebration that feels right to you.

I personally love to say “Yes” and “That’s Like Me”. The “That’s Like Me” is a trick I picked up after reading Olympic Champion and mindset coach Lanny Bassham’s “With Winning in Mind”. It’s Self-image affirming. You’re affirming to yourself that it’s like you do to that because that’s just who you are. You’re positively reinforcing the behavior you want and affirming to yourself that it’s like you to do it!

Regardless of how you celebrate, the key is to pick something that BJ says “makes YOU feel positive, uplifted, successful, and happy”. This creates a positive association with your desired behavior. In other words, a strong link between the positive emotion and that behavior, which makes you want to do it again. This impacts your subconscious and your brain rewires.

Check out this short video of BJ explaining this principle in more detail.

Tell Someone Who Holds You To Higher Standards

Tell someone you don’t want to disappoint, like a coach, mentor, boss, or someone who’s already achieved the level of commitment to something you’re trying to achieve. Think of a sponsor in AA who’s a year in and really living his commitment to Sobriety.

These people help you up the ante. They often have a higher standard and they are going to be holding you to it. They don’t believe in the negative excuses you tell yourself or the fears that hold you back.

By telling someone you don’t want to disappoint about your commitment, the pressure to follow through is heightened. This is part of the power of having a coach. There’s more on the line for you. You don’t want to go against your word and not only disappoint yourself but, them as well. These are people that see you at the level of your future self, not where you currently are.

There’s a brilliant quote and concept from the book “The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership” that goes “Commitment is a statement of what ‘is’. You can know what you’re committed to by your results, not by what you say your commitments are.” These people should be regular reminders of this statement and push you to make your commitment your result!

Tell A Lot Of People

Go big.

Make a public announcement.

Announce your commitment on Social media, or to everyone at work, or in a blog post like I’m doing right now. The key for this to work is to give them some form of proof. You gotta give periodic updates.

Figure out a way to prove your commitment. Maybe that’s taking a picture of the weight on a scale, showing the checkmarks on your streak calendar, or making a google sheet showing forward progress.

Former Navy Seal Jocko Willink famously tweets a picture of his watch at around 4:30 AM every morning to show his followers that he is up and ready to seize the day. He’s done this for years now and it’s a way for him to keep himself accountable and inspire his followers to stay committed in their own lives.

Create A Pact

To really drive it home, create a pact.

Most of us are actually quite good at stating a commitment and then starting in on it. It’s the upkeep and maintenance that causes problems. This is where a pact can be the added incentive needed to keep us consistent.

So what’s a pact? A pact is essentially anything that prevents you from doing what you don’t want to do. It’s a rationally thought-out pre-commitment. It’s an incentive type deal you make with yourself or someone else in advance of the commitment. This way when you’re in the heat of the moment and don’t “feel” like sticking to your commitment you’ve got some added incentive to do it anyways.

For instance, if you say you’re gonna write 250 words every day for the next 30 days you can make a pact with someone that says for every day that I don’t write 250 words I owe you 100 bucks. A trick with this approach is to keep your pact top of mind. That way you’ll be reminded of the pain you’ll experience (in this case paying someone 100 dollars) if you fail to follow through on your commitment.

Remember, pain and pleasure are the 2 motivating factors in our lives and by utilizing them, rather than letting them utilize us, we can manipulate our behavior.

Conclusion

Public commitments can be a powerful tool for following through on our commitments, goals, and habits. By utilizing even one of these techniques you greatly increase your likelihood of following through. Utilize all 5 and you practically guarantee it. 

What are you committed to?

How will you stick to your commitment?

Who can you enlist for help?