Our generation has a thing for freedom. We’ve been told since childhood to follow our passion, and our value systems have been shaped by the notion that we can do anything we want to do, be anyone we want to be.
When we’re cut loose as young adults, it makes sense that our first inclination is to keep our options open and explore all of our possibilities. The idea of “settling down” makes us feel claustrophobic, and we’d rather sit back and weigh the pros and cons than commit to something we might regret.
But I think if we’re really honest with ourselves, some of us (me included) could admit that the pursuit of freedom is nothing more than a fear of commitment. Somewhere deep down, we feel that by choosing to move in a single direction we are somehow limiting ourselves or selling out. Or perhaps we’re afraid of failure.
But there’s a difference between limiting ourselves (being complaisant) and channeling our energies (committing). The former diminishes our freedom. The latter cultivates it.
I’ve certainly found this to be true in my own life. Here a few ways my commitments are empowering me:
Commitments keep me present.
It may sound silly, but now that I’ve got a nine-to-five job, I often find that my stress levels are highest not during the workweek, but on the weekends. Why? Because weekends are wide open and full of possibilities. And possibilities mean I have to make choices.
Often it’s not what we do that stresses us out, but rather the process of making decisions. The “shoulds” and the “what ifs” can be paralyzing and can prevent us from fully investing in the present moment – even if the tasks on our list are enjoyable ones.
Routine, on the other hand, quiets the mind. When our schedules are locked in, the anxiety of choice fades away. We are able to embrace and enjoy the tasks at hand, rather than being distracted by having to choose what’s coming next.
Freed from the “shoulds” and the “what ifs”, we have more meaningful conversations, we produce better work, we have more creative ideas, and we fully appreciate the moment we’re in.
Commitments keep me productive.
In physics, they say an object in motion stays in motion. This is certainly true for me when it comes to my productivity. Having an established routine forces me to set priorities throughout the day and naturally motivates me to complete projects during their allotted times.
My working + blogging schedule is an excellent illustration of this. I designate my lunch hour each day to working on my blog, and I often find that I get more quality writing done in those 60 minutes than I do in an entire weekend.
Why? Well for one thing, that hour is the only chance I get all day to focus on my blog. Rather than being an intellectual chore as it sometimes feels on the weekend, blogging is a lunchtime treat.
It’s like when you find downward dog for the first time in a yoga class. Your shoulders ache, your hamstrings are tight, and you wonder anyone could ever find this posture relaxing. But miraculously, after moving through three or four sun salutations, downward dog becomes a welcome recovery from the flow. It’s all about perspective.
That’s what structure does for us – it forces us to prioritize and it inherently creates motivation for us to achieve our goals. No willpower necessary.
Consistency keeps me physically energized.
We often forget to pay attention to our bodies until they stand in the way of our plans. But once something starts to ail us, whether it’s a runny nose or a broken leg, it’s nearly impossible to avoid letting it impact our mood and productivity.
On the flip side, when our bodies are at peace – that is, when we’re rested, nourished, physically nimble, etc. – our minds are at peace as well. We’re free to devote 100% of our energy, both physical and psychological, to our work, relationships, etc.
Now, allow me get a little…biological. We don’t like to talk about it in our culture, but digestive problems (even mild ones) can seriously limit our ability to present our best selves to the world. Committing to a consistent routine of meal times, exercise, sleep and…elimination…is crucial for our bodies to stay energized and regularly flush out toxins.
When our bodies are balanced, we see clearly and make good choices. Our reflexes are sharp and our immune systems are strong. We are energetic and creative. We are capable of offering support to others, rather than requiring it. We stumble less often and handle life’s inevitable challenges with more confidence and skill.
But this balance doesn’t come naturally in our modern world. We have to pursue it. We have to commit to it.
Commitment reveals passion.
*This is the most important point on the list.* Again, it sounds backwards, but as Mark Manson explained in a recent (and totally awesome) blog post, “What most people don’t understand is that passion is the result of action, not the cause of it.”
None of us (or at least very few) are born knowing our life calling. Finding it is a lifelong process of elimination, and the only way to move forward is to get out into the world and experiment!
It may feel like we’re taking baby steps, or even like we’re moving backwards at first. But new insight will never come if we simply sit around contemplating it. Each action we take inspires new thoughts and ideas that lead us closer to zeroing in on that ultimate happiness.
To all my fellow commitment-phobes out there, I get it. I hate it, too. I’m the one who turns a quick trip to the grocery store into a two-hour outing because I can’t decide which brand of almond butter to buy.
The independence that comes from freedom of choice is certainly empowering, but it does us no good if we’re sitting on the couch (or loitering in the almond butter aisle). It’s up to us to take advantage of it and give it power through our commitments. And when we do, it will only grow!
What about you?
Are you a commitment-phobe like me? What makes you hesitate?
Does structure make you feel less stressed?
How do you structure your day to stay energized and motivated?