I have commitment issues. Some are the fairly obvious ones demonstrated by never having stayed in a relationship physically AND emotionally longer than 5 years. Others kept me, until now, from having a job that lasted longer than a couple years or from living in the same location for any length of time. These days my lack of commitment shows up in the sneaky mirror of my playtime.
Neil taught me to golf in addition to refining my skiing skills. He rapidly caught on to my tendency to bail out when I get uncomfortable and one of his mantras has been “you have to commit all the way through your swing/your turns”. Easy for Neil to say when a poorly hit ball for him just means he has a tough lie – I might have killed someone two fairways over. And imagine what would happen if while skiing, in the apex of my turn when my skis are pointed straight downhill, something funky happens and I head through a crowd of small children at top speed cursing as I double eject headfirst into the snow. Why would I fully commit to something that is likely to go very, very wrong? No matter whether it is skiing or golfing or life in general, there are factors I cannot anticipate and an error in skill and judgment could have very painful results for myself or an innocent bystander.
I am a bit of a control freak born out of both the need to prevent potential disaster and the result of much disaster striking in my life. How funny that my main two sports are comprised of tiny muscle movements (did I mention I am a klutz?) that act in combination with uncontrollable variations in terrain. This should have been a huge red flag that these sports were going to stretch my physical and emotional growth! It certainly makes me wonder about my sanity and tendency towards masochism. Topping it off is knowing that when I get scared or frustrated, I don’t just quit and go in for a beer….I am likely to do the same bloody thing over and over again until I die trying or someone locks me up because they can’t stand the brutality of it all. Somehow I seem to think if I keep doing it until I cannot stand it anymore it will get better. It never seems to occur to me to examine exactly WHY I was having so much trouble with a relatively easy set of instructions or actions. It simply starts with the conviction, before I even grab a club for the first swing or as I pick up speed at the start of the a turn, that chances are good that I am going to fail miserably and either get hurt, or worse, look like a fool. And yet, I keep doing both sports – and many other things in life, repeatedly as long as I can, until I am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.
In investigating how to improve my golf game, my skiing and life in general, I began to look deeper in to why I struggle with sports that I SHOULD be able to grasp easily given my strength and physical abilities. One of the primary things you are taught in golf is that your “swing thoughts” impact every movement your body makes thus affecting the outcome of every swing. As I am standing over the ball, here are what my swing thoughts are like: “Okay, Neil is watching me. I have to keep my arms straight. I am never going to do this right. Don’t forget to be slow. Wait my hands are too tight – I am strangling the baby bird! Oh, geez I never hit well with this club. Take a backswing. Oh God, that was way too big. This ball is never going to go straight. Don’t forget to release the club head. Uh oh, that was too late. AAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!! It is taking a sharp right hook! FORE!!!!!!!!!!!! I am NEVER going to fix this. I can’t believe he stays with me. I bet he would MARRY someone that could hit the freakin’ ball. I am such a failure……this is a stupid game. Why do I do this? Oh, look I found another ball. I wonder if I can…..”.
I don’t think you have to be a golfer to understand that all that negative talk in the middle of a second or two worth of action cannot possibly result in a positive outcome. Recently an LPGA pro asked me about my last swing thought before I hit a ball. My response? “Oh Crap”. She looked at me in horror before saying dryly, “We need to get you a new one.” And this is what I think nearly every time I pick up a golf club – which, depending on the round, might be 80 times in 4+hours. Imagine what my inner life is like when I am not playing golf! If I am that hard on myself when I am playing a GAME how hard am I on myself about my role at work, being a parent, what I see in the mirror, what kind of writer I am? Somehow I often see myself or my actions towards a goal as inherently flawed at the beginning, with little hope of a positive outcome. Being so hard on myself and having so little faith in my ability to accomplish my lofty goals (a little golf joke there!) results in me lacking the commitment to myself and my actions I need in order to be the person I want to be — much less to be able to complete a golf swing.
When I was diagnosed with cancer I really didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the “why me” place of the diagnosis, instead I dug into that thoroughly stubborn part of me and plowed onward. Maybe I felt that this too was just another example of how the adage “shit happens” always seems to apply directly to me. But the action of committing to the steps towards health felt different somehow than changing my belief that I would never be a good golfer. In the face of impending disaster I rarely ever give up, but now I had to come to terms with the fact that just because I am stupidly tenacious in my actions does NOT mean that I am completely committed to the outcome I actually want to see. So many times playing golf, I WANT to hit the ball well; I know what I should do and I know where it should go; but I give up at the last second and somehow do not follow through physically because I did not believe in potential for the positive end result of my actions. With such an immense health crisis in front of me I had to believe wholeheartedly that while there were many possibilities for health at the end of it all, there was no question that health was what I was going to achieve. I learned to use my strength of character – that tenacity I had previously used to prove what a dork I was – to get me through long physically and emotionally painful days on my road to a new life as a survivor.
I have learned there are many possible actions that can still result in successful outcome. Sometimes I play what is called military golf – I hit the ball to one side of the fairway and then to the other side (right,left, right, left) . Maybe it will never be fairway center like a “good shot” but I may still hole it in par. I don’t always hold the same fall line in my skiing either, but enjoy the variety of turn shapes and speed that I do reach before I hit the chairlift a turn behind Neil. I am learning to not hold onto one idea of the right way to golf, one idea of beauty or wholeness, or one definition of what is a good relationship. In accepting the many possible options for a “good” outcome, it has become easier for me to let go of trying to control the impossible and let my committed actions bring me closer to what I want.
Not only did I change my follow through, but I changed my thinking in order to achieve the results I hoped for. Any golfer will tell you that if you are worried about hitting the tree (or a person in the fairway) you are GOING to hit it. The fairway could be 200 yards across with a 12“ wide tree in the middle (and you NEVER hit a straight shot) and you will hit it if you are thinking about it. Funny that even though golfers tend towards the fairly conservative male variety, what they are really talking about is belief in yourself (positive or negative) and the power of manifestation. No matter how unlikely it is that we will hit the perfect shot to hit that freakin’ tree – much less twice when the first one hits it and ricochets back at us – we tell ourselves “I am going to…” and it happens. How magical is that? And if it happens every day to ordinary guys on the golf course imagine what we are doing to ourselves when we say “I don’t have enough…..”, “ I am not ….” , “They will…..”. We can choose to believe that we are powerful, beautiful, creative beings, or we can choose to remember the nasty things that our last lover, employer, former friend or evil inner twin said to us and believe that we are not worth the air we breathe, that everything we do is screwed up and we are never going to amount to anything. That thought determines our actions and our actions determine the outcome. If tiny little muscle movements are governed so easily by our thoughts imagine how big the repercussions of those thoughts are in our lives. How is it that we can so completely believe that things are going to get screwed up and yet are unable to hold with equal conviction the belief that we can create the positive outcome we want?
A huge part of commitment is learning to find in myself the person who was worth all this effort. I have had to look deep within and decide what I really wanted and to believe without question that what I wanted was within reach. I have learned to not be afraid of the possibility of a negative outcome…. and when something went haywire to not let it stick to me in the same way I had adhered myself to other potential failures. I for one have let the negative power of belief rule far more of my life than would be apparent to anyone on the outside. I have been told horrible things about myself by people I once trusted and even though FAR more people have said amazing, beautiful things about me I choose to believe the worst. I have lacked commitment to myself and in my actions in life because I believed – wrongly – that the chances of disaster were greater than the chances of success. I didn’t allow myself to believe in the many potential good outcomes for my actions. I failed to remember the tree in the fairway theory – you stand a far greater chance of hitting the mark you choose if you choose to believe you will hit the mark.
I have a cut out piece of a Starbucks coffee cup that sits on the windowsill over my kitchen sink where I have to read it several times every day. Starbucks had a campaign going at one time where patrons could send in a quote or statement and it could end up on a coffee cup –it was like a fortune cookie, and sucker that I am I drank more coffee at Starbucks during this time so that I could see what the cosmos had to say to me that day.
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
Reading this quote every day has been instrumental in the previously unknown endurance of my relationship and my job; has increased my contentment in my home and enjoyment of my playtime and ultimately has helped save my life. I am freed by the choice to believe in the possibility that what I want to have happen just might happen . I needed to be reminded that all those fears that seem so justified were not the “protector” I thought they were. That type of protection kept me from writing, from maintaining the healthy relationships with people who love me, and from seeing the world as opportunistic instead of a place where I must continually push hard with tenacity to get even a fraction of what I need. Now days, when Neil harps on my “lack of commitment” while we are out playing, I think “buddy, you have NO IDEA” – he does not see the work that I have done to tackle so much of this issue internally. But he is finding less occasion to see that lack of commitment externally as I change my perspective. The fact that I don’t always complete a golf swing is an indicator of a much larger problem that I am trying to tackle with each ball in a large bucket at the driving range, each high speed arching ski turn, and each day I spend deeply committed to my life and those that I love.
And I really am working on developing a new swing thought for life………….