The Commitment Switch

There’s a well-known quote, attributed to Goethe, that says

“The moment one is definitely committed, then providence moves too…”

I’ve noticed from my own experience that truly committing to a decision involves a very specific mental muscle. There’s a sensation that’s almost like turning on a switch in my brain. When this is really clear I feel a sense of alignment and purpose that leads inexorably to action. My coaching and sport psychology clients recognize this when I describe it, so perhaps the process is common and just requires self-awareness to notice and develop.

I’ve come to believe the commitment switch is binary. It can be on or off, but not somewhere in between. It’s easy to kid ourselves that it’s on, but if we pause and reflect we can learn to tell the difference. We may kid others too, outwardly agreeing to a decision but on the inside failing to flick the switch. This leads to all sorts of problems in relationships and at work. Perhaps that’s why it takes so long to get some things done, or why projects stall, or why marriages break down.

Having flicked the switch, does that mean I can sit back and relax? Far from it. Once a light switch is turned on the electric current starts to flow. In the same way we need to keep our attention and energy flowing so that the commitment stays alive. Commitment is an ongoing choice, not a single act.

I believe that the commitment switch can be strengthened by awareness, practice and feedback. Awareness will help us learn just what it feels like to commit, to identify the subtleties and nuances of our own unique process. Practice involves deliberately choosing areas of our life in which to experiment and strengthen our commitment switch. Then staying alert to various sources of feedback to learn about the consequences.

It pays however to be thoughtful in using the commitment switch. Don’t fritter away your power on the mundane; instead use the switch to focus your energy and action on the decisions that will make the most difference in your life. Like what work you do, who you spend time with, and how you treat your body.

Here’s a simple exercise that takes only a few moments. See what you discover about your own commitment switch:

Reflect on a time when you engaged your commitment switch on a major decision:

  • Why did you do so?
  • What did it feel like?
  • What was the outcome?

Now reflect on a time when you took a major decision without flicking on your commitment switch:

  • Why did you do so?
  • What did it feel like?
  • What was the outcome?
  • What was different from the first situation?
  • What conditions do you need in place in order to flick your commitment switch?
  • Are there any important areas of your personal or professional life where your commitment needs to be reviewed?

Jonathan Males


Commitment is part of Acting Powerfully – see our online diagnostic here