There is truth in the old saying, “What gets measured gets done.” But I’m going to ask you to change how you “measure.”
Rather than setting SMART goals, I challenge you to make “commitments.”
A commitment is a looser but more emotionally engaged form of a goal. For example, you would not set a goal to love and cherish your spouse. Where is the romance in that? But, you could very comfortably say that you are deeply “committed” to your spouse.
A commitment implies an outcome, but it does not spell out how that outcome will be achieved or measured.
Instead, a person who commits to something will find a way to meet that commitment and they will know in their heart if they have met that commitment without having to point to a specific set of objective criteria.
Goals Vs. Commitments
Here are three differences between goals and commitments.
1. Goals are linear, commitments are expansive.
In order to achieve a goal, you have to do specific activities in a certain order that, hopefully, will lead to achieving the goal. Mathematically, it is activity “A” plus activity “B” plus activity “C” leads to desired outcome “E”. This is the left brain hard at work.
By contrast, commitments are unrestrained. They do not imply a specific set of orderly activities. Instead, commitments unleash the creative power of the right brain to think differently and take the winding road toward a more loosely defined yet still highly desired outcome.
2. Goals are cold, commitments are hot.
When was the last time a goal really got you excited? Think about that. Have you ever set a goal that set you on fire? How does setting a goal to grow your revenue by 20% motivate you to take action on a day-to-day basis?
Commitments, on the other hand, are hot because they are imbued with emotions and tied to your deepest values. Commitments get to the core of your being. They make a statement about who you are and how you want to operate in this world. They are defining and deep while goals, by comparison, skate on the surface.
3. Goals are focused on the destination; commitments are focused on the journey.
You know the old saying, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” Goals are fixated on the destination. Goals are about meeting a specific objective regardless of the means to achieve that objective. Goals can be met without any enjoyment or personal growth along the way (just like my disappointing first mountain climbing trip). Goals are about sticking to the highway instead of taking the scenic route.
Conversely, commitments allow you to chart your own course while still keeping the ultimate aim in sight. Commitments enable you to take a side road, sample the scenery, yet keep moving forward. Without the solid anchor of a specific goal to weigh you down, a commitment keeps you light on your feet and open to serendipity.
Commitment Setting Process
Making commitments instead of setting goals is liberating. You are no longer tied to cold metrics. Rather, you are inspired to take fulfilling action. You are drawn to movement instead of having to force yourself to act.
If you are willing to step into a new zone and experience a higher level of engagement, here are the three steps of the commitment-setting process.
1. Clarify what your highest values are.
This is key! It is easy to get fluffy here and say things like your family and your faith are your most important values. But do your actions back that up?
How much risk or pain are you willing to endure in order to live or pursue these values? How many things will you say “no” to in order to keep space for saying “yes” to your values? Your answer to these questions will help you clarify which values are truly important versus which ones are merely posturing and virtue signaling.
Ultimately, if something is truly meaningful to you, you will automatically do what is necessary to live and fulfill that value—regardless of whether you set a goal or not. Knowing what your highest values are will help you determine what you want to commit to.
2. Feel the emotions attached to those values.
One of the key differences between goals and commitments is the degree of emotion involved. Commitments are highly emotional and as a result, they are much more engaging. If you have trouble finding strong emotion behind your value, then that value may not really be important to you.
3. Visualize what a successful outcome of living those values looks and feels like.
Here is where you can be very creative. If your family is your highest value, what does that visually look and feel like? Are you visualizing the family together enjoying a meal around the dinner table? Or how about on a family vacation? What are your favorite moments?
If having a successful business is highly important, what does that look like? Can you picture it? Can you get all your senses involved and feel the emotion welling up in your body?
Examples of Commitments
Once you have completed these three steps, it is time to pull them together in the form of commitments. Your commitments should be tied to your highest values, have emotional appeal, and allow you to visualize the outcome.
Here are several examples of commitments.
- I commit to deepening my relationships with my very best clients so we can enjoy a more rewarding and successful working relationship.
- I commit to delivering more value to my clients so I can make a profound impact in their lives.
- I commit to increasing my company’s profitability so we can deliver more returns to all our stakeholders and make each of their lives better.
- I commit to enhancing my company’s culture and work environment so my employees will look forward to coming to work, work hard, have fun, be loyal, and make a difference in people’s lives.
- I commit to meeting important and interesting people this year so I can broaden my network, expand my horizons, and help more people.
- I commit to being a more loving and engaged (husband, father, wife, mother, sibling, friend, colleague) so I can truly experience a deeper and richer relationship with my (husband, wife, children, parents, siblings, friends, colleagues).
- I commit to eating healthier so I can feel better, look better, and have more energy to devote to my family, friends, clients, and colleagues.
Goal-setting purists will argue that the above commitments are not measurable or time bound. So what? In reality, when it comes to measurement or time, there’s only one judgment that matters—yours.
If you’ve made a commitment and you ask yourself each day, “What can I do today to fulfill this commitment?” you will know in your heart if you’ve lived up to it. Your heart cannot betray you whereas your mind can.
Will it be easy to jump off the goal-setting treadmill? No. And I will say that I still set some traditional goals. In 2023, I have 5 commitments and 2 measurable personal goals.
Goals are not evil—there is still a time and place for them. What I can tell you is by adding commitments to your toolkit, you will enjoy a richer relationship to life, a renewed sense of reward from your business, and a new appreciation for what’s possible.
What are you willing to “commit to” in 2023?