Here’s a quote I love from one of my favorite books, The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason:
When I set a task for myself, I complete it. Therefore, I am careful not to start difficult and impractical tasks, because I love leisure.
The statement is part of a retort given by Arkad, the richest man in Babylon, to an attendee at one of his lectures who had said that he must have great will power to have kept on after losing a year’s savings to a bad decision. Arkad is not impressed with the idea of will power. To him it is “but the unflinching purpose to carry a task you set for yourself to fulfillment.”
Why is Arkad so dead set on completing tasks he sets for himself? In his own words:
If I set a task for myself, be it ever so trifling, I shall see it through. How else shall I have confidence in myself to do important things?
He makes an important point. Every commitment is a commitment to yourself. And if you don’t keep your commitments, in addition to whatever social repercussions may result, there is also a personal price to pay.
Sometimes we try to avoid commitment altogether. You cannot, after all, fail to keep a commitment that you never made. But those who avoid commitment make for unreliable friends.
Sometimes we commit half-heartedly, keeping the door open to change our mind later on. Or we commit and then lie to ourselves when we fail to follow through. The first way saps our self-confidence, the second drains our integrity. Either way, we pay.
So if you would have self-confidence, be a reliable friend, and be at ease with yourself, you must make commitments and keep them. If you would do important things, and if, like me, you love leisure, it pays to be careful about what commitments you choose to make.
Arkad makes another fine point in saying that he will see through a task he sets for himself “be it ever so trifling.” I’ve found that when it comes to virtue, it’s often the smallest things that betray our true character. Are you honest? You may not lie to your spouse about matters of fidelity, but when someone invites you somewhere you don’t wish to go, do you make up an excuse?
The smaller the consequences of an action, the greater the demand on character. If you wish to become a person of character, be scrupulous about how you behave in small matters.