Commitment. Yikes. We’re not really the best at it.

For many, commitment is that weird out-of-control feeling of holding on to a dog’s rope toy while on the other end is a mad dog wildly whipping its head around, toy clenched in its drool-covered teeth. That dog, the one making those guttural, vicious growls, those are your excuses.

It’s a tug of war. Commitment versus everything else. So what does it really mean to commit to something?

A commitment is a promise to do something. An agreement. A dedication to a cause or activity. It is the putting of time and energy into something you believe in. OK. Cool beans. There it is.

It seems pretty straightforward. Want…do…get. Boom. You wake up in the morning. You don’t want to be naked when you head into the office. So you get dressed. Coffee. Drive to work. Walk into said office wearing that super sharp outfit. There it is. You committed to not be naked. You got dressed. You’re now clothed.

But, uh-oh. Shit just got complicated. Why shouldn’t you be naked? Who says showing up at work naked is weird? There are some things we bump up against out there. Lots of somethings. Cultural norms. Traditions. Expectations. Influences. Excuses. Stronger commitments to competing activities, competing actions.

Look, you probably don’t think much about getting dressed as it relates to the act of hiding your nakedness. You just wake up and get dressed  every day. It’s a habit. It’s a routine action. You just do it.

In the world of behavior change, this “just doing it” stage is the Maintenance stage. And the longer you function in that stage, the easier it gets to stay there and, well, maintain. This is living. Sustaining. Sustainable. It takes works, but it’s not the put-a-Post-It-note-on-the-bathroom-mirror-that-says-“put-on-pants” kind of work. It’s more the put-pants-on-and-go-about-your-day-then-take-pants-off-and-go-to-bed kind of habit where you likely don’t even have the thought of “I wore pants today so that I was not naked.”

Get it? Good. Enough about freaking pants.

But let’s say you commit to eating more healthfully. There you are, standing in the Preparation stage of behavior change. You’re determined. You’re ready to change. You’ve done some research. You’ve connected your desire—for what?…feeling better, getting off your cholesterol prescription, losing weight—to an action or actions that can help you realize your goal.

Yay you!

Now, you’re taking steps. You’re doing. You ate a carrot at lunch. At dinner you had AN.ENTIRE.SERVING. of broccoli. After wondering why this hasn’t made the national news, it at least makes your Instagram feed, and you feel proud. You’re doing the work. And it is work. You’re all Action, baby. And that’s the behavior-change stage you’re in. It’s challenging. You’re being tested. Those competing actions rear their ugly heads. Your old french-fry habits speaks loudly. Calls to you.

Today, you don’t want broccoli. Unless it comes deep-fried and drenched in ranch dressing. And only then if you replace the broccoli with those thin-cut, crispy fries you can down a plate of. And you only reallllly like them when you eat them with that double-bacon cheeseburger with the melty pepper jack cheese. Yes, today, broccoli isn’t cutting it. So what? You give in. You go for it? Perhaps. Maybe you can have that one meal and then go back to more veggies and healthy eating. But what if that’s your off-the-rails meal? The one that takes you on a lifestyle detour in old-habit land and doesn’t find you back in your Action stage until 5 months later when you’re 7 pounds heavier and your doctor is talking about upping your cholesterol medicine. How did you get here again?

Commitment. There is a goal setting and promise keeping to it. Every decision you make bolsters your commitment, furthers your advancement toward your goal, ingrains a new habit. Or it doesn’t…preoccupying you with the amusing, yet laced-with-a-little-fear game of playing tug of war with your excuses.

I deserve these fries. I’m rewarding myself for that hard workout. I was good all day. Broccoli is boring. This burger IS protein. Bacon isn’t that bad for me. I’ll start again tomorrow. I’m on vacation. It’s my birthday. It’s the weekend. I’ll start again Monday. I’m sick and I need comfort food. It’s that time of the month. It’s not that time of the month. I’m tired and I need comfort food. I didn’t work out so today is shot, might as well… Etc. Etc. Etc.

You know the excuses. They are yours. THEY are like putting pants on.

But what if eating broccoli…and carrots…and collared greens…and whole foods…lean proteins…fresh foods…was? How does THIS become the habit? The new normal. The sustained behavior. The maintenance stage.

Unfortunately, there’s no pill or diet or easy, just-do-this answer. Changing our behavior takes consistent effort over time. That’s pretty much the definition of commitment. Isn’t it? I’ll answer that for you. Yes, it is.

Working in that challenging Action stage of change for about 6 months will help get you there. Not 21 days. Not 30 days. One-hundred and eighty days. Half of a year. Six months. That’s 4,320 hours…but really, hopefully, actually only about 3,000 because I hope you’re sleeping at least 7 hours each night.

Changing our behavior takes CONSISTENT effort over time. Desire + Action x Time = Change

Consistency is key. Perhaps the Post-It note on the bathroom mirror doesn’t need to say “put on pants.” Rather, make it a commitment-to-change statement. Write out your desire. Detail what actions you will do daily. Define the term during which you’ll practice this new behavior (hint: 6 months!). Every day. Want that. Do that. Every day. Want. Do. Want. Do. Every day. Want. Do.

…Get.

And watch out for the Boogeymen.. The traps. The what-everyone-else-is-doing comparisons. The excuses. The rewarding ourselves for practicing newer, healthier habits by falling back into those that don’t serve our goals, our true desires for ourselves. What if feeling better, getting off your cholesterol prescription, or losing weight was the reward for your hard workout? For being good all day. What you deserve. How you celebrate your birthday. Why you eat vegetables all week long, INCLUDING the weekend.

COMMITMENT is a long game…of keeping ourselves alive and healthy and happy as long as possible in our lifetimes. It’s dedication to THE CAUSE…of preserving the vehicle we’ve been given to drive around in during our lifetimes’ journeys. PROMISE…to ourselves to value, celebrate and take responsibility for ourselves. Putting TIME and ENERGY into something WE BELIEVE IN…ourselves.

How do we commit to a job more intently than we commit to ourselves? How do we commit to our children better than we commit to ourselves? How do we commit to less-than behaviors easier than we commit to ourselves? See, we’re actually not that bad at committing. We’re just really bad at committing to OURSELVES. At being OK with prioritizing ourselves. At placing value on ourselves. At not apologizing for having wants and needs. For spending time…or heaven forbid, money…on ourselves to do for ourselves.

What does it really mean to commit to something? It means committing to self. First. Daily. Recurringly.