How to Stay Sane

A blog about self help and psychotherapy.

Making a Commitment

The three areas of commitment: who we are with, what we do and where we do it.

Studies in humans have made clear that people with stronger social networks have greater longevity. In order to build a strong social network you need to be capable of making commitments. You can look at how you commit by examining three main areas of your life:

Relationships (who you spend time with)

Place (where you spend your time)

Activity (what you do with your time)

We all know that some people find it easier to commit than others, drifting without much awareness into a committed, full and happy life; whilst others find commitment to anyone or anything a struggle. Most of us manage one or two areas of commitment well and some people have a problem with all three. People commit in different ways too, and I wouldn’t go as far to say there is a right or wrong way to entrust in our relationships to others’, the way we spend our time, nor the place we choose to spend it. But what is it that makes it easier for some and harder for others? And it you’re having problems committing in one, or all of these areas how can you make changes in your approach to commitment and find a new way to move forward?.

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The usual explanation of the uncommitted is that something ‘better’ might be just around the corner or that no clear winner presents it amongst the choices available to you. This can only ever be part of the equation because it is not only WHAT you commit to, its HOW you commit to that decision that will make your choice successful or otherwise. Only the smallest part of committing is a passive process that either works or does not work depending on the thing or person you have committed to; the main factor that will make the choice successful or not, is what work you put into it. 

The key determiner of how you do or do not commit is the ‘script’ that dictates how you live your life. This is founded in your early relationships with primary care-givers, the environment you grew up in and the experiences you had. From these factors you will have formed your personal belief system – your internal script – and it is from that system you will be operating from today. Acting out in life on the basis of this script is mostly an automatic way of being, rather than something you constantly think about or are consciously aware of, so if you do seem stuck and cannot move forward in one of the three main commitment areas then it can be worthwhile having a closer look at your belief system

There is a difference between what you think you believe and what you do believe and this can be most prevalent in the area that gets the most attention regarding commitment, relationships. You might THINK, “One day my Prince will come” but you might BELIEVE, “All men are not to be trusted” and if you do hold such a belief it could prevent you from recognising the Prince even when he is begging for your number. 

Or is your weakest commitment area one of place? Can you put down roots and build up relationships with people and places to form a supportive community? We all probably know someone, is it you? Who is always moving house, towns, or even countries? The ideal situation is always the next one and then there is something wrong with it and off you go again. This is called ‘Doing a Geographical’. It is easier if you feel dissatisfied or stuck in some way to blame things outside of yourself and geographical location often comes in for a lot of blame. The trouble is when you move, you bring your problems with you and that is because they were internal, rather than external problems.

My particular area of ‘stuckness’ was in activity. I could never commit to a job. It was unusual for me to stick at something longer than a year. I told myself that I had not found my vocation and kept starting at the bottom in a new line of work. Through working with my therapist I discovered that my buried belief was that I believed I was stupid. We discovered that my being dyslexic and this not being picked up on as a child meant I did not have any of the help, support or understanding that might go with a dyslexcia diagnosis. I had to try so much harder than my peers and I formed the belief that undermined my life script that ‘work’ was not for me. Even if I was doing well in a job I could not believe that I was and felt increasingly awkward and left. Psychotherapy has given me many things besides discovering this belief and how it affected me, but this discovery was one of the most significant. I realised I could build a career and underwent a training in psychotherapy. Now I have been working in the world of mental health for more than fifteen years - for someone who could not commit to a career, this is something of a record for me. I have come late to the joys of laying down a foundation of learning and overlaying it with layers of experience, practice and deepening skills. But I also believe it is not necessarily the profession you choose, it is the level of commitment and investment you choose to invest that makes it satisfyingly worthwhile. Therapy gave the confidence to make that commitment. 

So if you think about the three main areas of commitment: relationships; place; activity, how well do you think your life script is working for you? Does your best friend agree with your conclusions?

A version of this article first appeared in Healthy Living Magazine in 2010. 

Philippa Perry is a psychotherapist, columnist, and author of How To Stay Sane.

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