Commitment: the best strategy for happiness?

Written by Varouna Baroud on Thursday, 17 August 2017. Posted in Self development, Life management

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Photo by Uroš Jovičić on Unsplash


On my ankle, I have a tattoo of the famous Tolkien quote: “Not all those who wander are lost.” To emphasize my point, I added a compass without a pointer. Probably not very original nor subtle but it suits me. I always had a wandering tendency that was often, even by myself, mistaken for being lost.

You know that friend at festivals that always ends up wandering off somewhere? That is me. It is also a good characterization of how I lived the first 30 years of my life. I wandered through university, wandered from one relationship to the next and those relationships led me to wander my way over the world. I always seemed to just end up at one place, while curiously exploring another.

I jokingly blame my gypsy heritage: It is in my genes to always be in transit without a final destination.  And I guess from the outside it could easily appear as being a free-spirited. But the truth was, at times I secretly wondered if it was really wanderlust that drove me or just fear of commitment.

I regularly see the same struggle in participants in our workshop. Vivacious, strong-minded and intelligent women and men that want to make an impact but don’t want to lose their freedom doing it.

Take Daniela, a young, sensitive but outspoken manager, who participated in a recent "Design your Legacy" workshop to discover what direction she wants her future to go in. She practically sailed through the workshop, showing some powerful insights. She seemingly had all answers she needed to define a clear vision, but when the time came to put it on paper….she blocked.

Suddenly she was struggling to get clarity and unable to select keywords that best described her vision. She pressed for more time to search for the right words.

Over time, I have come to understand that it is not the amount of time that she is struggling with. It is the idea of commitment. She knew perfectly well what she wanted until she had to buckle down on just one thing. That’s when the doubt set in and the backtracking began.

In our workshops, we call this a roadblock: an inner struggle that interferes with making progress in life. The most common roadblock we see is fear of commitment: struggling to choose one direction and going for it unapologetically.

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The problem for those like her and me is that we have so (too?) many options. Every option is potentially the most successful. That makes it very difficult to choose. Biologically we tend to estimate the value of possible outcomes higher than the outcome of our choice, so even if we make a decision, the result is often dissatisfaction.

To add to this, choosing the wrong option is often experienced as a failure. A personal failure even that you have no one to blame for but yourself. Because the successful option was there, you just didn’t pick it.

People are programmed to avoid failure. So the result of all these options is paralysis. We do nothing, so we don’t fail or miss out.

But what I came to realize is that by not choosing any one direction, I also made a commitment. A commitment to definitely not achieve what I really wanted. Because an achievement by definition is the execution of something you consciously set out to do.

My mistake was that I had always confused commitment for settling and getting stuck. But commitment is not the enemy of freedom. Commitment is about creating opportunities. Committing to achieving what you really want results in progress and movement. And isn’t that what freedom is all about?

True to form I wandered my way into commitment. I took some turns that brought me to a point that was not easy to return from. My detour to forcing myself to commit. But then the weirdest thing happened: Once I committed to that path, other things started to fall into place as well.

 At the same time, that eternal fog of doubt in my head cleared and I found it easier to commit in other areas of life, with a relationship, with my career and my health. Not all decisions turned out great. But so what? Even the bad ones all yielded new insights or new opportunities. Plus, I don’t have time to worry about missing out because I am busy with things I love to do.

The weirdest thing? I now live a more committed and responsible life than ever before but I have never felt as liberated and happy as I do now.

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