The Why of Commitment

“It takes 1,000 hours to establish a discipline and 10,000 hours to establish mastery,” came the proclamation from the Master Samurai to the aspiring student.  An overwhelmed look came over the student’s face as this statistic began to sink in. The master, recognizing the impact of his statement, said, “It will only take you 47 days to establish the discipline of a Samurai and only 417 days to become a master.”  The student’s face began to relax but then the master went on, “That is if you practice 24 hours a day.” The student’s shoulders slumped, and the master continued, “My advice to you, if this is something you really want to do, you must commit to it every day of your life, for the rest of your life.”

Author Malcom Glidewell details in his bestselling book, Outliers, the stamina it takes to not just learn something but really master it. It is what he calls the ‘Tipping-Point’ of greatness. This understanding comes from the work of Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer in their research, The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Their data suggests it takes 4 hours of practice 5 days a week for 50 weeks for 10 years to reach expert or mastery status. Glidewell simply suggests the ‘magic number’ is 10,000 hours of practice or engagement.

Being a bit of a statistics nerd I appreciate the data but I think the master has the deeper perspective of the value of consistent commitment. One of my favorite perspectives on this comes from actor Denzel Washington in one of his passionate acceptance speeches as he describes the importance of commitment, especially in the face of hardship, “Keep working. Keep striving. Never give up. Fall down seven times, get up eight. Without commitment, you’ll never start. But more importantly, without consistency, you’ll never finish. Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship, so keep moving, keep growing, keep learning. See you at work.”

The core question is not only what we are committing to, but why. Because the reality is without that deeper discernment the likeliness that we will be able to sustain that commitment is greatly diminished. Is this something that I feel passionate about? Is this in the wheelhouse of my affirmed gifts? Will this just be life-gving for me or will there be greater benefit to the world around me?

Colleague and Executive Director of the Episcopal House Prayer, Christine Luna Monger, offers a wise perspective, “In the work of life-span development, the Commitment to Wholeness is visible in the bright fire of life exuding from folks who have overcome selfishness and who have learned to integrate all of their daily life activity into a vision of Wholeness in service to the Common Good. People like Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Thomas Merton, and Martin Luther King readily come to mind, but the Commitment to Wholeness also shows up in slivers in the lives of ‘ordinary folks’. When parents prioritize their children’s needs, when co-workers set aside ambition in favor of the common good, when lovers love their partners according to the others’ tastes, letting go of their own preferences, when communities watch out for the least among them and direct resources to the needy–all of these are glimpses that contribute to the Commitment to Wholeness.”

When we consistently commit ourselves to fully using our God given gifts, even in the face of challenge and hardship, in the benefit not just for ourselves but for the world around us, we are then living into the fullness of who are called to be.

“A practice requires sacrifice – but it restores us…requires effort – but becomes effortless…demands commitment – but eventually proceeds like second nature…needs persistent will – but after a while flows unimpeded…is hard to start – but eventually cannot be stopped.”

– Michael Murphy & George Leonard (The Life We Are Given)

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