The paradoxical freeing power of commitment

Partially due to some incidents this golf season—including getting hit by a golf ball and an embarrassing tantrum—I am revisiting commitment and accountability as keys to performance and living with integrity and purpose.

After a hiatus due to COVID, I’m once again delivering my Commitment is Freedom Workshops to businesses. I’m currently conducting pre-interviews with managers at the site of two November workshops, and they’ve reminded me that commitment is a powerful tool of transformation.

I’ve got a couple of riddles for you, one you’ve likely heard and one you probably haven’t.

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a classic that’s been pondered in philosophy classes for eons.

Here’s one you may not have heard:

“Commitment is freedom.”

You might ask: How can making a commitment—which one definition describes as “dedicating oneself to a cause or action”—be freeing? Especially when the second part of the definition says: “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.”

I first heard “commitment is freedom” from Fred Shoemaker, one of the wisest golf coaches today, way back in 2016 on Episode #24 of the Swing Thoughts podcast that I co-host with Howard Glassman.

As soon as I heard “commitment is freedom,” it resonated with me, although its true meaning escaped me for a while. I immediately used it in coaching sessions. One client loved it so much, he used it like a mantra throughout his summer tournament season.

I’m fascinated by the topic of commitment, although I struggle with it as most of us do. But it’s my conviction that commitment is how we move forward in our lives. We execute our commitments by taking action.

As a golfer, the failure to commit to a goal or an intention for a round of golf almost guarantees that you’ll fall back into your old habits when you’re under stress. It’s the same in your personal and business relationships.

Change is difficult because we are creatures of habit. Even with iron will and insight into ourselves, when we’re stressed, tired and emotionally wrung out, we’re prone to doubt, rationalizing and giving in to old patterns.

However, when we commit to a course of action, we increase our chances of change dramatically.

A commitment is not a whim, something you’re giving a whirl, or a vague promise that you don’t intend to keep to get someone off your back.

Commitments are not made lightly. When you commit to something, you have given your word. Your word is your sacred bond. You are putting yourself on the line.

The best way to maintain your commitment is to declare it to someone, and ask that person to hold you accountable. You have made an agreement. Few people want to let others down, and prove that they cannot be counted on.

Commitment displaces doubt, insecurity, tentativeness and overthinking. It prevents you from wriggling out of your commitment.

Commitment is freeing.

(In future blogs, I’ll delve into how accountability is not about shaming, blaming, ridiculing, or throwing someone under the bus, but that used properly it can be a performance- and life-changing process that changes behaviour on the golf course, at home and at work.)

A few years ago, I was working with a college golfer on a U.S. scholarship, and he was giving me some feedback on how committing to shots in his pre-shot process improved his shot-making.

Our session was winding down when he mentioned that he was getting behind in his homework. Each evening, he’d intend to get to work but most of the time he didn’t, rationalizing that he was too tired.

I asked him if he thought he could sit at his desk for just 10 minutes a night. “Easy,” he said.

“Beauty, then commit to that,” I said.

“OK. I commit to sitting at my desk for 10 minutes every night at the same time for seven nights.”

I congratulated him on taking me up. I noted that although he had made this commitment to me, but more importantly, he had made this commitment to himself.

A week later, as per our agreement, I checked in with him. He enthusiastically reported that he had lived up to his commitment. He said it was much easier than he thought. He had already increased his commitment to 30 minutes a night. Living up to our agreement felt great.

You might try applying the wisdom of ‘commitment is freedom.’

And feel free to clap for yourself—with one hand or two.


Read more of Tim’s columns HERE.

Tim O'Connor
Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID — a Guelph punk band!

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