Keep Your Commitments

On Monday, I did my 2nd to last training run before my 5k on Sunday, July 31st. I’ve typically just run the streets of San Francisco but on this day, I took a bus to the Embarcadero where the race will actually take place, and I basically ran the course. [1]

I started off pretty excited and found myself going a little bit faster than was wise early on, but settled into a good rhythm for mile 2. I was going at a decent pace coming into mile 3 and decided to see how fast I could really go. At one point I could see, up ahead, the building where I had started. I decided to commit to sprinting all the way to the end to really finish the run / practice race with the best time possible.

I took off and for the first 10 seconds it felt great. I’m pumping my arms hard and feeling like a fast runner. The my heart started slamming up against my ribcage, my arms and legs start to lose feeling and I started gasping for air. I kept pushing on. Almost there! I could see the building come closer and closer.

As I neared the finish line, I reeled in horror: I had identified the wrong building. The start was actually the NEXT building ahead. Demoralized, I slowed down and almost started walking. I had aimed to finish at this building and was nearly out of juice.

But then, something clicked in my head:

I had made a commitment to myself to sprint all the way to the finish line. I had made a mistake about WHERE the finish line was, but that DID NOT mean I could quit because I was tired.

So I pushed on. Ran as fast as I could through that last building, even if it was only a hair faster than walking. A speedwalking grandma could have lapped me. I crossed the “finish line” and spent 2 minutes panting and scaring the crap out of the family that was eating breakfast outside, next to the building. Whatever. The bottom line was I didn’t walk.

Why am I so obssesed with keeping my commitments?

Because without your commitments, you are nothing. When the going gets tough, are you going to bail out or grit your teeth and get things done? [2] How can you make a commitment to someone else – a business partner, a customer, your spouse, your children, your friends – if you can’t even keep your commitments to yourself!?

This is something I learned from Stephen Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He talks about winning the private victory before the public one. Keeping personal commitments are your private victory.

If you strive to always keep your commitments – two things happen:

1) You learn to only promise / commit to what you deliver. If you know you aren’t going to make something, you won’t lie to yourself and say you’ll do it – knowing that you probably won’t.

2) You gain confidence in yourself. When you bust your butt to try and keep a commitment – you strength your self-discipline and often grow your own abilities. You’ll know you’ve toughed out hard times and come through.

And when you do this enough and the people around you become aware of your standard for keeping commitments, you will gain their trust. When you look them in the eye and say “I’ll make sure of it” – they will breathe a sigh of relief and know that you are truly 100% committed and will go all the way to get the job done.

And that’s why you should keep your commitments.


[1] In the name of transparency, my time was 25:30 mins for 3.10 miles. You can see my time on Runkeeper. It actually turns out that I ran too far and that the starting point and ending point were not the same. But that doesn’t negate my point about keeping commitments.

[2] There are times when you should not keep your commitments – especially when the conflict one another. For instance, I told a friend I’d come to her pool party this weekend, but because of my commitment to my startup, I can’t. This isn’t to say work should trump all. I would drop everything and go see my family if something important came up there. The point is that you should have your priorities straight and keep your commitments based on how important they are to you.

I believe most people break commitments they make to themselves simply because they don’t have the will / dedication to follow through, rather than a prior/more important other commitment they are holding to. Think smokers who resolve to quit every New Year’s and fail. Don’t make a commitment unless you plan to see it through.

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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  1. @-mark- Great point Mark. You’ve got a really relevant blog post that that goes deeper into what I was trying to say. Break your commitments at your own risk!

  2. @jasonshen Thanks Jason. That means a lot coming from you. I started my blog after reading your entry on increasing your luck surface area!

  3. Some of us have an almost pathological inability to take commitments to ourselves seriously. You mention smokers committing to quit smoking every year and then breaking that commitment. That’s an extremely general problem: weight loss, procrastination, making time to play music or learn new skills, getting in shape… It’s quite common to break commitments to do things that we really wanted to commit to doing. (The general term for this, btw, is akrasia: )

    If you can turn it into a commitment to another person, that helps. Like having a scheduled time to work out with a friend.

    When that’s not an option I think the right thing to do is use an all-out commitment device:

  4. Hey Jason, congrats on making it to the second finish and never letting yourself down, even if it did make you look like a bit of a tit :) I love that photo too and the simplistic overlayed text, don’t suppose you took it yourself?

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