A Practical Guide to Commitment

A way to think about how you treat others… and yourself.

I have some serious commitment issues.

I have this friend that I was close with for a year in college. He just moved in town. Every time I think of him I have that gut-wrenching thought, “Wow, I really need to hang out with him, I’ve been a terrible friend!” This person asks me all the time to hang out. This friend just moved in town and likely relies on my friendship for some company. What’s my response you might ask? Usually a solid “Yes! Of course, I’ll hang!”

I am a master at the over-promise, under-deliver approach. Say yes enthusiastically and then hit them with the 0 follow through.

Friend: “Hey, still good for tonight?”

Me: “Umm yeah. Just checking, is there any way we could do tomorrow night?”

Friend: “Sure.”

So, why am I so bad at following through?

I am what you might call an “opportunist”. I love to take opportunities as they come, but I am very bad about knowing what I will want in the future. Or maybe it is that I have very strong preferences how I use my time, and hate to see it go to something wasted. Or, more cynically, it may be that I am selfish and don’t value relationships as I should.

Regardless, I don’t want to be in the business of letting friends down, so some changes need to be made.

Write it down

While driving the other day I was considering my poor friendship-managing skills. It dawned on me that I’ve never seriously considered my own values in relationships. I just did what most people do: Go with the flow. The flow can be good, but if you aren’t naturally empathetic and prioritized, it’s down-right foolish.

So, I’m going to write down what I believe my approach to relationships and commitment is.

The un-replied text messages and missed calls, that’s got to stop. Communicate early and often with people. Even if you have a poor reason for missing a time with a friend — “just don’t feel like it” — communicate early and transparently. It’s guaranteed to work out better than if you text them after or near the pre-arranged time.

We will get back to communication because there is a lot more here.

Too often, I am trying to go wide and please everyone. This most often happens when you come across an old friend or acquaintance and you mumble, “Oh hey! Let’s get together over coffee soon!” Are you actually going to get coffee? Or, should you focus your energy on friendships that matter to you? The real reason you said that is because it’s become social etiquette to do so.

I have made the commitment to go extremely deep with a select few people. I am talking like 5–8 people. I wrote their names down. I try to call, text, or see in person if possible every week. It is my goal to build trust with these individuals. That means being reliable and interested, always. When friends know what to expect from you, they feel secure around you, which breeds honesty and openness. Being interested means asking good questions and wanting to hear their response.

Decent question: “How was your trip to Michigan last week?”

Excellent question: “It seems like your making a lot of trips out of town these days. Why is that???”

Being curious to understand the motivations and goals of other people is exhilarating. The best part is, people LOVE talking about themselves. It is a win-win. This is the stuff of good relationships.

If you make the decision to go deep, you will have to perfect the art of no to social encounters that you know you can’t commit to. People will always appreciate a considerate, honest “No” over a fake “Yes”. If they don’t like when you give them an honest “No” it’s time to consider whether the relationship is worth it to begin with.

To say no you have to get used to being much more honest with other people. Here’s some practical ways to say no:

  • Ask to get back to them. “Is it alright if I let you know tomorrow? I have some other commitments as well and need to think about it.” This is my new go-to approach.
  • Be honest. “I’ve been going out a lot and I just want to spend some time at home reading. It’d be good for my mind.” I love this one because you are being vulnerable with people and revealing part of who you are. If they don’t appreciate it, forget them!
  • Give a realistic replacement time. “Next week doesn’t work because of x commitment. BUT! I’d love to hang out by the end of the month. I’ll text you sometime next week about it.” This one I am really bad at because I forget to get back to them… Oh well.

You will likely overestimate how offended your friends will get. Keep in mind they will be much more offended if you over-commitment or be fake with them. Honesty paves the way towards healthy relationships.

This might actually be the most important consideration out of all of mine.

Unhealthy relationships must immediately change — through honest communication and follow through — or end.

The reality is, some people will not honestly communicate with you or follow through. What is needed is a clear explanation of why you’ll won’t be around as much.

You want to peel off the band-aid nice and easy. Do not be overly explicit with why the relationship is going to end. I recommend this approach:

“I’m going to be extremely busy these upcoming months focusing on some things that are really important to me. I doubt we will be able to see each other much. Let me know if you want to talk!”

It’s honest, albeit, vague. You don’t need to give them the reasons for the unhealthy relationship unless it is an intentional, honest conversation.

This person will could very easily bad-mouth you and say you’re a bad friend. This is further indication of the poor health of the relationship.

Rule of thumb: Try to build a healthy, honest relationship but don’t fear letting it go when need be. You’d compromise your own honesty if you hang on for too long.

So, there we have it. That’s my approach to confronting the at-times messiness of relationships. I hope you gleaned something from my thoughts and can write down your own approach as well!


Working on The Habit Loop.