I decided to read this book as a way to inform my perspective on failure. I was interested in information about why people fail to achieve the goals, particularly, the ones they set for themselves. The value in Reeder’s research is in its framing of the psychology of commitment. It is done in a relatable manner, a manner in which the reader is able to see him or herself. The author’s unique, yet relatable approach even compares (and provides data) the characteristics of marriages, whether strong and intact or falling apart, to the commitment and goal achievement process.
Broadly, the author explores four pillars, treasures, troubles, options, and contributions, as the tent stakes for success. Treasures refer to what you deem desirable about a commitment and is the thing that you want bad enough to endure the troubles. Every commitment comes with both treasures and troubles; however, most people need a 5:1 ratio of treasures to trouble in order to feel that the benefits outweigh the work, sacrifice, undesirables, etc., that it takes to have the treasure. On the other hand, while the treasures-to-trouble ratio makes easy sense, the idea of the third pillar, options, was a bit surprising. Essentially, it’s the idea that one’s commitment to a particular goal is lessened to the extent that the person feels that other options are available and viable. For example, a person may not put as much effort into his or her current employment if s/he believes that another job that would serve his/her purpose equally or better than the current job is available and likely to come by. The idea isn’t that a person must feel trapped. Rather, the idea is that s/he sees that they have a lot to lose and focus. The final pillar is “contributions”. Most specifically, contributions refer to the amount of effort you put into the goal. First at play is the notion of sunk costs, i.e., the more you’ve invested in a goal, whether in terms of time, money, sacrifice, etc., the more likely you are to want to stick with it because you’re hoping that your investment will be validated. Further, the more involved you are in the work of achieving a goal, the more likely it is that you’ll want it to succeed because you’ve become emotionally wedded to it even if it is clearly unattainable. Overall, Reeder explores these concepts through a series of metaphors and analogies that enable the reader to reflect upon those places in life where s/he has experienced failure, possibly repeated failure, and to see what was missing.
In addition to focusing on these pillars, Reeder points out that commitment isn’t just an intellectual decision. It is also includes the following components:
1. Commitment is a process, and it can grow and wane over time and fluctuates in relation to the other pillars of commitment. Commitment isn’t the same thing as a promise, nor is it the same as motivation.
2. Commitment is comprised of dedication (the part of you that wants to do the thing (intrinsic motivation)) and constraint (the part of you that that feels like you have to (extrinsic motivation)). If constraints outweigh the dedication, you’re likely to feel stuck. If a commitment is based largely on dedication, it is subject to more faltering when difficulty arises. Ask yourself which of your commitments that you’d like to let go of and which ones you eventually quit on.
3. You will bail on a commitment when troubles arise if you perceive that there is no beneficial exchange or that the exchange isn’t fair to you. Essentially, even if you think the goal is worthy, you will quit if you believe you’re putting out more effort than what you’re getting back. Additionally, troubles affect us more deeply than treasures do.
4. Some people experience difficulty with commitment because making a choice means taking the myriad of options off the table. These people often think they have lots of options and/or spend a significant amount of time seeking out the best option even when an adequate option would have sufficed. Further, some people engage in “future surfing” meaning that they think their future options justify not making a commitment now.
The book concludes with strategies to help you increase your levels of commitment, particularly in those areas where you know the value of the goal but lack motivation.