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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.