Just get on the train (or the freedom of commitment.)

“The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.” ~Anne Morriss, Starbucks customer from New York City. She describes herself as an organization builder, restless American citizen, optimist.

I read this quote on the back of a Starbucks mug in May of 2009 days before I was leading a teleseminar on “The Joy of Commitment.” The synchronicity of it was so beautiful and I’ve saved it on my fridge ever since to remind me daily of yet another way to live a more free life.

The other day on Tim Ferris’s blog I read a brilliant article by Claire William’s entitled “The Choice Effect,” in which Williams suggests that the reason so many people are single these days is because of limitless choices. I’m so grateful to have been born during a time and in a place that gives me lots of choices. I can be anything I want to be. I can go practically anywhere I want to go. I’m blessed to have no major limitations as far as who I can date…my family is totally open to whomever I choose and so am I. I don’t have any major criteria that would limit my choices such as religious affiliation or a preference for a specific racial or cultural background. But sometimes I feel debilitated by the number of choices available to me as a single 27-year-old woman living in New York City. There are times when I fantasize about having come of age during the 1950’s when I could have gotten married, become a nurse, or become a teacher. Simple. Just pick the best out of three. I like prix fixe menus. I like shopping at small boutiques with fewer options. I do my shopping in Maine instead of New York City because I find that I’m calmer and more productive when I have fewer choices. I find it’s easier to commit when there are only a few options and it’s a huge relief too.

I spent forty days as a member of the crew on a 135’ wooden schooner in my early twenties where we stood military watch, sailed and did oceanographic research 24 hours a day. While in some ways it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and there were times when I fantasized about somehow physically hurting myself so that a rescue helicopter would come and take me home, it was also incredibly freeing because there weren’t many choices to make. I was committed to a lifestyle without regular showers, without a phone of any kind, and with no email for forty days. Someone else told me when to wake up, when to steer the ship, when to haul away, when to swab the deck and when to eat. A great calm settled over my mind during this time. I saw the amount of energy and space in my brain that’s usually taken up every day by making a million decisions. My skin has never been clearer than it was during this trip (usually stress leads to breakouts for me) and I lost a whole bunch of weight. I really got it how freeing it is to narrow the field of choices. And that freedom often comes from commitment.

Gretchen Rubin author of The Happiness Project talks about the fact that research shows that people who research decisions extensively don’t make better decisions than those who simply look at a few choices and then make the decision in less time. It’s one of her Secrets of Adulthood: “Most decisions don’t require extensive research.” I so agree with her on this. Plus it saves time, which is simply practical.

When reminding people (mostly people who are me, myself and I) about the importance of commitment and simply making a choice, any choice, I often use a train analogy. The analogy is that you’re standing on a train platform and a train is pulling out of the station. Rather than debate about if it’s the right train, if it has the most comfortable seats, if it’s going express or local, if it will have a good view, if its destination is exactly where you want to go, if the bathrooms are clean and if they serve organic, locally grown produce in the café car, I think most of the time it’s best to just get on the train. If it turns out that you want to get off later, just get off at the next stop. But it’s better to be traversing the beautiful countryside and moving somewhere than to be stuck in endless internal debate alone on a platform somewhere.

I love what Anne Morris says about the irony of commitment being that it’s “deeply liberating.” It’s liberating because there is no “right” choice. There simply is the choice that we’re making in this moment. And then there’s the choice we’re going to make in the next moment. Yes, making a commitment today means I’m not choosing a whole bunch of other options. But it also means that tomorrow I’ll have wonderful things I’ll have the chance to commit to that I never could have imagined had I not made a choice to commit to something today. And sometimes, like when I was living on the boat, committing to something and narrowing the range of choices makes you feel free. And calm. And present. And really, isn’t that the point anyway?

So thanks Bindu for 21.5.800 and inspiring 400+ of us to commit to our minds, our bodies, each other, and ourselves. I have wavered and wiggled in my commitment to 21 days of yoga and writing. But I can feel the commitment to this practice changing me on a cellular level and, as Bindu wrote on discipline today (which could be interchanged here for commitment in some ways), it “can take your life from the level of amateur to professional.” There is great freedom in commitment. There is tremendous worth in simply making a choice. Pick a train, any train. Just choose. Just commit.

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22 Responses to Just get on the train (or the freedom of commitment.)

  1. Juliana says:

    Great post. Thank you!

  2. Ellen Swerewski says:

    Kate, such a wonderful article, and I love the initial quote on the Starbucks coffee mug. You have an incredible way with words, and I love reading every one of them. I am now retired, I can choose those things I commit myself to. I am now in my 5th year commitment to the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation (www.tbbcf.org), where we give 100% of gross fundraising dollars to medical research for breast cancer. We’ve given $1.5 million in four years. I’m proud to be committed to such a great organization. Our annual marathon walk (half and quarter marathons as well) on October 2. If you are a walker and would like to walk to give 100% to cutting edge research scientists, we’d love to have you.

    I’m so glad I discovered your site. Thanks

    Ellen

  3. Ellen Swerewski says:

    By the way, the TBBCF marathon walk is along the scenic countryside from Old Saybrook, CT to Camp Harkness, Waterford CT.

  4. Rene' Gibson says:

    Kate, you’re starting to creep me out about how you always blog about exactly what i need to hear!!!!

  5. Fiona says:

    Wow, thankyou so much for writing this. Om Shanti

  6. Lori says:

    Very insightful article, Kate. With the huge influx of information we have access to at all times, we can sometimes become immobilized by too many choices. Good observations.

  7. Stacey says:

    Hi Kate!

    Thanks for this great post! When I was in my early twenties, and I was interested in so many things, but overwhelmed by all my choices, the best advice I ever got from my dad was to commit to *something* I loved, because then the whole world would truly open up to me.

    Then later I read this quote from the Scottish mountaineer WH Murray: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

    Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
    Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

    I have found that I never regret the things I commit to. If I feel regret for something I *didn’t* commit to in the past, I simply give it my attention. I have many passions, and it may look like I’m spending very little time with them, but I get great satisfaction from them all the same, and I know I’m making traction on all of them, like that train slowly, but surely, making its way up a mountain.

    Thanks, again, for such a great post! I look forward to hear how providence moves for you! Take wonderful care, s

    • Kate says:

      Thanks Stacey for these quotations. I had forgotten about them and they add a whole other layer to the topic. Especially the part about providence moving and unleashing a whole stream of events that would never had been possible without the initial, unwavering commitment. I think it’s true that we will never regret things that we fully commit to…its when we’re wishy-washy with one foot in and one foot out that we get into trouble. Thanks for your thoughts!

  8. Vikki says:

    Kate, this is a very relevent topic to me. I’ve been terrified of commitment since I got out of college [I'm 58] yet have managed to function in a ‘normal’ life with husband and children and ‘creative’ jobs. Even now, I don’t like to make a lunch date til the day of… I relish doing things ‘as the mood hits’. I guess commitment brings fear that I’ll let someone down and not follow through. Commitment makes me feel trapped. I haven’t yet figured out why. Your perspective on commitment fascinates me since it is the opposite of how I’ve been looking at it. Your views are courageous and inspiring to me!

    • Kate says:

      Hi Vikki -
      Thanks so much for your comment and your honesty. I often feel trapped by commitment too! But that’s why I wrote this post. To explain myself out of feeling trapped. I love that you’ve been afraid of commitment your whole life and yet you have a beautiful, full life. Obviously you’ve committed to something. Thanks for joining the conversation!

      Kate

  9. Kim Shirley says:

    Hi Kate
    I love this blog and the others you’ve written! I’m so glad you committed to the yoga and writing and are sharing your insights with us. I’ve had so little commitments the last three years of traveling, moving, being single and my favorite times have been when I committed to something…anything. Be it Mama Gena’s, a work project…I felt more grounded. My very favorite memory from my 7 month trip in SE Asia is the one structured adventure I did. Trekking in Nepal. Hiking for 6-7 hours everyday, being in a community with a goal, relishing the present moment, being in my body and nature and away from choices/cultural noise/technology. It was such a gift and I thrived! Keep writing and sharing.

    Kim

    • Kate says:

      Hi Kim! That’s so interesting that our favorite memory of your unstructured years was a structured trip. Fascinating stuff. Thanks so much for commenting and great to hear from you!

  10. Thanks again for the great insights, Kate! I’ve long thought that I should have been born in a Communist country so I wouldn’t have to decide on which product to buy at the drug store. (So you can imagine how stressed out Sephora makes me with its 500 options of brown eyeshadow!) So I love the idea of liberation from commitment (not trying to make this a Cold War comment!) and that I can just get on the train to get off at the next stop if I want. You’ll be in the back of my mind all week. Thank you!

  11. Cat says:

    Wow Kate, get outta my head!

    My biggest struggle since adulthood ensued? Picking what to do! I grew up being praised for being “gifted” and “well-rounded.” Unfortunately all that well-rounding has created a desire to do a little bit of EVERYTHING! Yes, most of the things I’m good at are creative and artistic (acting, directing, singing, dancing, fiddling, painting, writing…) making them all fun and loveable, but being 33 and having never made more than $22K in a year (and that only happened for two years) makes me wonder how good I really am! Have I just chosen the wrong path(s)?

    I’ve always been slow to commit. I’m always waiting for the prerequisites to show up; the things I have to complete before I’m allowed to start something. I started a business, but didn’t feel like I could, in good conscience, advertise until I’d had some clients under my belt! What’s up with that?! I understand the concept of doing what I’m afraid of to overcome the fear, but one of the primary fears is that I’ll waste money or time; especially when other people are involved.

    I’m about to go back to a retail job I used to hold (something I do VERY well, but CANNOT STAND!) and am challenging myself to commit to keeping the promises I’ve made to myself to make the job something other than a burden.
    -I’ve given myself a time limit. I plan to have moved onto something better before the holidays.
    -I’ve given myself a list of items to look forward to buying each month with my generous discount.
    -I’ve given myself a new, enjoyable workout program I can focus on to bookend my work days.
    …and I’ve given myself goals I can reach for within the store, that will allow my own life to grow.

    I’m looking forward to moving forward, out of the cranky little rut I’m currently in and into the delicious life I deserve!

  12. Christine says:

    Oh my gosh! I needed to read this just now!
    I am the one that always has to take her own car (fear of being stuck somewhere with people I don’t want to be with), always have an ‘out’, make plans mostly at the last minute – then wonder why no one is available (they’ve made their commitments!), and alot of times back out at the last minute. Why are some of us this way?
    And, I have been ‘deciding’ which site to use to start my online home/retail business. I get to spinning because there are so many choices, opinions, reviews on line.
    With some things, I just ‘jump in’ – i.e. clothes, decor, etc. But some just baffle me! As my two dear friends always say “Just Choose!”
    Kate, I’ll just Take The A Train and if that don’t get me there, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo is always coming down the other track!!!
    God bless you all!

  13. Christine says:

    Also, like other posters, can’t shop big box stores – too many decisions, too loud, no help! I like the boutiques where I can get concentrated attention and decision-making help.
    Love the quote by the Scottish Mountaineer.

  14. Jessica Jones says:

    Wow!!! Thanks Kate!!! This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear right now as I am in the middle of trying to make a big decision of whether to “get on the train or not”. Perfect Timing as always!!

  15. Ophi says:

    Isn’t this one for a Gemini moon to work through! Ah, the “C” word. I love this post and the idea of commitment as liberating. It IS hard to narrow down choices and not get the “grass is greener” syndrome (even at a restaurant!). But it’s hard to be fully engaged when you’re wondering if you’re stuck in analysis paralysis. I look forward to more posts on this topic as you explore…

  16. Susan says:

    Kate – totally love your posts. You continue to blow me away with your insights and thoughtful words. You are so prolific at 27. Perfect timing, perfect topic…..Thanks!

  17. Nancy says:

    Will and I occasionally talk about this very subject. I heard someone say, shortly after we were married, that being 99% committed to something makes adhering to that thing complete torture. You think about it, you question it, you have to keep deciding whether to do it. But being 100% committed to something is the easiest thing in the world. xoxo

    • Kate says:

      @Nancy, I used this in my Women and Wealth presentation tonight in terms of keeping track of our expenses and being committed to financial clarity and freedom. It is SO TRUE that being on the fence is torture, but that 100% commitment is actually the simplest thing. Thank you!

  18. [...] on for comes from the fact that it is simply that: a role—one among a multitude from which I can choose on a daily basis. I am so blessed to live in a time and place in which options abound and choice is [...]

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