What makes one person commit their life toward a specific goal, while another person quickly gives up pursuing a goal the first moment they experience adversity? In sports, what makes one athlete continue to persevere against all odds, while a fellow teammate quits the moment he begins to feel pain and discomfort? Why do some people experience conviction, while others never seem to be motivated to do much of anything? Are these biological, individual differences? Or do social conditions and patterns of reinforcement explain these differences?
Nature, nurture…or both??
Rather than try and determine if the psychology relating to human commitment is rooted in nature or nurture, it might be more productive to assume that a little of both are likely at play. For example, our unique biology (nature) includes tendencies and predispositions to do specific things — for example, a more active child will more regularly pursue and engage in physical activities. On the other hand, social prompts (nurture) can also trigger physical behaviors. An example here might be reading an advertisement about the benefits of exercise — including becoming more physically attractive to others by having an in-shape physique — and then beginning a new physical training regime as a result. As you can see sometimes our internal drives lead us to do specific things, while other times positive reinforcement dictates our future behaviors.
“The harder you work, the harder it is to give up”
– NFL Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi sent the message to his players that by committing to work hard every day, eventually the pay-off would be great resiliency to ward off any thoughts of quitting. Using Lombardi’s philosophy, it may not be all that important to learn where a player’s commitment came from, but instead to push players to work hard because of the expected consequence: Greater commitment. In sports, we see some athletes who give everything they have because of love of the game, and we also see players who are candid about playing solely for financial security. If both types of players commit to the task at hand, it may not matter how they developed their motivation.
Tips to help improve commitment
Regardless if the impetus for your future goals is driven from inside (nature), or your surroundings (nurture), there are a few ideas to consider to help improve your level of commitment:
- Set specific, controllable, measurable goals. One way to dramatically increase the odds for future success is to set goals that are specific, controllable, and measurable. Not only does this approach provide a clear map to follow, it also allows for daily growth to be observed, and confidence to increase with each small goal attained.
- Feel the end result daily. As you experience success, it’s important to take pause and enjoy your success. When we feel good about our efforts and witness the fruits of our labor, we generate even more enthusiasm and commitment for future goals.
- Solicit support and encouragement. By letting others know about your goals you will gain support and encouragement from them — as well as accountability.
- Ask for feedback. While it’s not always enjoyable to hear how you are progressing when things aren’t moving along quickly, it is a good move to learn from coaches/mentors how you are doing. Often by soliciting feedback you learn where you can improve, thereby increasing your chances for success.
In the end, it may not be that some of us are committed to goals, and others are not, but instead that we are all able to improve our goal commitment with the right conditions around us. Specifically, this means having specific targets, ongoing support and encouragement, and feedback to help steer us straight when we begin to drift. Additionally, we all run the risk of seeing our motivation decrease when the conditions just mentioned are absent during the pursuit of future goals.