By Suma Varughese
What is the secret behind the ironclad commitment with which successful people approach their goals?
Amy Tan, the best-selling author of books like The Joyluck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife was once just another business writer. When she suggested to her partner that she should be allowed to write more, she was brusquely informed that her real talent was making estimates and collecting bills. Stung, she resigned. The road ahead was hard. As a freelance business writer she worked for a punishing 90 hours a week. But quitting was not an option. The more she wrote the better she became and in time, she ventured into fiction. Her magical, beautiful works have since been a rare gift for the discerning reader.
Steven Spielberg was not known for his academic excellence. As a youngster, what he liked best was to make 8-mm films of his toy train wreckages. Film-making was clearly his destiny but it was by no means a foregone conclusion. He failed to get admission into a film-making institute, for one thing. Others may have given up at this juncture but not Steven. Luck threw him a faint opportunity by putting him in touch with an executive at Universal Studios, who liked his work and threw in a casual invitation to come again. Steven leveraged on the invitation creatively. Every morning he would sally forth in a suit and tie carrying his father’s briefcase and sail past the gatekeeper who mistook him for an employee. He spent the whole summer there, gaining valuable experience. All of this no doubt helps explain why he is revered as one of the best directors in Hollywood today, having made such monumental blockbusters as Jaws, Jurassic Park, The Color Purple and so on.
Tulsidas, the immortal narrator of the Ramayan in Hindi, was so in love with his wife that when she went to her mother’s house for a short break, he swam a river in spate just so he could make love to her. When she chided him for his devotion to her perishable body and suggested that he divert the devotion to God instead, he was so stung, that he turned ascetic on the spot and spent the next 14 years looking for God. His wonderful works of literature are testimony to the fact that his search bore fruits.
The success stories of great men and women make for thrilling reading, but hidden behind the guts and glory lies a saga of passion, relentless hard work, persistence against all odds and most of all, commitment. These people never gave up on their goals, or themselves. While the rest of us would have consigned our dreams to the dustbin, they hung in there, never letting go, never giving up, never calling it a day.
Behind every great achievement looms the rocksteady visage of commitment. In small things and in big, it is commitment that enables us to achieve our goals. Whether it is making a meal for the family after an exhausting day at work, helping your little one complete his project, being there for your spouse during a challenging time at work, cultivating a perfect marriage, writing that magnum opus, overcoming a medical condition, losing weight, or achieving enlightenment, only commitment can come to our support.
What is commitment?
Commitment is strength personified. It is absolute allegiance to a mission, a value system, a goal, or a relationship. Commitment is what we hold on to when everything else is gone. No matter how gigantic the odds, commitment can see us through. Commitment gives us a diehard determination to hold on, no matter what. Someone once described it as ‘persistence with a purpose’.
The most common and, at the same time, most demanding commitment is to marriage. When two people of different upbringing, gender, experiences and goals come together, only commitment can solder the union into a lasting one. Although there are other aspects that endanger the institution of marriage today, perhaps one of the leading causes in the breakdown of so many marriages is the lack of commitment.
Says Shashikala, a homemaker in Wisconsin, “Commitment is the call of duty. Sri Sri Ravishankar says that commitment goes beyond love. Commitment or duty towards children and aged parents takes premier place because of their sheer dependence. Perseverance, independence, not seeking others’ approval and not getting discouraged by others’ opinions helps one to stick to a commitment.”
My first tryst with commitment emerged when I was granted the grace of a spiritual awakening. In a difficult situation I chose to put the happiness of another over mine, and voila, I flipped my ego, just like that.
When I discovered that this, in fact, resolved the conflicts between me and the other, I committed myself to focusing on the happiness of the other. Each time I uttered the mantra, ‘It is their happiness and not mine that matters’, I would transcend my ego and enter into a state of such immense peace and acceptance that I could easily see things from the other’s point of view and was able to therefore effortlessly achieve win-win solutions.
After a year, I lost the ability to flip my ego so easily and that is when I took on my first strong commitment. I determined that I would reach a stage where focussing on the other’s happiness would be a natural state of being. I decided from the core of my being that even if I died in the process I would not give up. It is now a good 16-17 years since I took on that challenge. I have not achieved it yet, but am I quitting? No way.
Of course when I made that commitment I had no idea that what I was after was enlightenment – that elusive goal that tantalises millions of seekers. If I had known quite how hard the task was I wonder if I would have made the commitment so easily. But I did make it and even in my most excruciating moments of despair or agony, it helped me to stick fast and soldier on.
For absolute commitment is a force of nature that little can contend with. For it means that no matter how we feel, or how we think, or what the circumstances are, we will stay committed to our goals or projects. Writes someone going by the name of Nickolove Lovemore on the internet, “When you truly commit yourself to achieving your goals you redefine the meaning of impossible.” Another writer, James Womack says, “Commitment unlocks the doors of imagination, allows vision, and gives us the ‘right stuff’ to turn our dreams into reality.’
My colleague, Jamuna Rangachari is an outstanding example of absolute commitment in action. When she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a few years ago, she wasted little time in bemoaning her fate. Ever since I have known her she has been steadily and consistently pursuing various alternative therapies in search of a cure, and with some success. What keeps her going? Says she, “Surely, if God has given me such an ailment, he will surely also provide solutions.”
How can one achieve this form of absolute commitment? Of prime importance is the goal. The goal must matter more than anything else in the world. It must appeal powerfully to our imagination. For some this could be achieving perfect health, or one’s optimum weight, for others it might be winning an Olympic award, running a marathon or making one’s marriage work. The more meaning the goal has for us, the greater the commitment it engenders. Says Dinakar Adhyam, IT professional, Hyderabad, “It is passion that enables one to stick to commitment. To me, the best known example of passion is Mahatma Gandhi. His passion to free his country and his countrymen made him utterly indifferent to what the world thought of his unique methods. Indeed, Satyagraha was the most outstanding ‘marketing strategy’ humankind has ever seen. Gandhi was truly and genuinely ready to die for the cause he passionately believed in! A famous quote of Gandhi goes: ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win!’”
Says Mona Sogal, Banking Ent-repreneur, Bangalore,“Promises and commitments are like babies. We make them too easily but die a thousand deaths in the process of delivering them. The secret is not really in sticking to a commitment, the secret is in actually making commitments that can be stuck to. I always take baby steps before I make a commitment but once I do, I become a giant and leap towards its completion. I put the pros and cons to myself, I advocate them, I challenge them, I deny them and I fail them…but once all things fall to place, I accept them and never look back.”
However, no matter how committed we may be, it is still a hard struggle to persist as days, months and perhaps years go by without reaching our milestone. How can we stay as committed during the course as we were when we first started out? I had once gone to interview Medha Patkar, the NBA activist, in the early ‘90s when she was holding a hunger fast in Mumbai in connection with the Narmada dam agitation. Although she had been fasting for the last four days, there was no sign of weakness or lassitude. I still remember her motivating some young boys by urging them to “make it new”. What she meant by the term, I believe, is that they were meant to renew the goal for themselves so that staleness and habit would not creep in. They were supposed to keep renewing their own commitment to the task and the reason why they were there. I think she also meant that they were to approach the task creatively, freshly, without the burden of the past dragging its weight. Here is a valuable insight into how we can charge ourselves with fresh vigour and energy so that our efforts do not flag.
Personally, I keep on reminding myself of the state of mind I enjoyed during the one year when I could transcend my ego voluntarily. I remember what it felt like, I remember the many beautiful moments it gave rise to, I remember the insights I obtained at that moment, and these are enough to send me on the path with renewed vigour.
Another related approach is to look at what you will get and not at what you will lose. What stops most of us from achieving our goals is the sacrifices we will have to make. If we want to exercise early in the morning we will have to forego sleep; if we want to lose weight, we will have to give up eating our favourite foods; if we want to win an Olympic award we will have to sacrifice virtually everything else in favour of that goal. If we can shift the focus instead on what we will gain, our motivation will increase by far.
Here are a few other great tips on how to stay motivated when working on a long-term goal.
• Love the journey, not just the destination. If we do not inhabit our lives until the magic moment when we reach that goal – guess what. We may never get there.
• Take pride in the small steps. Okay, you may not have won an Oscar as yet, but is that any reason to ignore the acting award your housing society has given you? Rejoice and be exceeding glad!
• Find encouraging friends. If there are too many nay-sayers among your friends and family, time to get some new friends. Friends who believe in you and are rooting for you and who can get you through your moments of severe self-doubt.
• Use everything along the way to commit yourself more and more to your goal. So you broke your diet, were unfaithful to your spouse, and binged on the money you had kept aside for buying your dream house? All the more reason to re-commit yourself to the goal. Do not lose hope. You will make it if you keep the faith.
• On a related note, please forgive yourself for all the things you have goofed up on. Mistakes are ok. Failure is ok. Success is a process. Keep going!
• Never, ever give up. That is all it takes. Honestly.
• Give yourself some rewards along the way. Dieters often give themselves an off every Sunday when they binge on whatever they studiously avoid the rest of the week. This frees them of the sense of deprivation. If you are grimly pursuing enlightenment, give yourself a break from meditation and other spiritual practices. Hang loose. Read some nice fiction. See some movies. Take walks in wonderful nature. You will soon be raring to hit the med mat.
• Affirm away, This is a great way to bring your goal closer to you. Visualising is great too.
• Meditate, introspect and catch your mistakes early. Keep checking to see if you are on course. Learn from your mistakes.
• Celebrate your success. Because you are sure to get there!
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