A few days ago, someone asked if I would be willing to talk to a high school girls swim team about commitment.
It’s the perfect time of the year to talk about commitment. For many athletes, the end of summer signals the end of their 2011 season. The buzz about next year has already started. The emails pour in, the “I just signed up for Ironman what have I done” posts on Facebook, the phone calls about this is what I want to do now what do I have to do to achieve it. Everyone is dreaming big, throwing it out there and serving up big helpings of pie in the sky.
Dreaming up the goal is the easy part, writing it down is even easier but actually getting there?
Commitment is one of those terms loosely thrown around in sport when talking about goals. Just like dedication or desire. We know we need it but we’re not exactly sure how or why it relates to our goal. Or what exactly it is. If you show up for practice every day, are you showing commitment? If you sign up for the race, are you committed? If you do some of the workouts, is some good enough to equal commitment?
I thought a lot about commitment. It’s hard enough to spell, can I really explain it to high schoolers? I started with the definition of the word: something pledged, an obligation, dedication, an agreement to do something in the future, the state of being emotionally impelled, engagement, involvement, a promise that restricts one’s freedom of action.
Commitment implies there is something in the future that we dedicate ourselves to achieving. We feel impelled to engage ourselves in doing these things. Why? Because what we are committing to is of deep importance to us – so much so that we have to get involved. It becomes an obligation. At times is might restrict our life and actions. But we feel so strongly about it that we are willing to make the sacrifices believing our commitment is worth it. Which means we must really care about the end result of our commitment. And if we are willing to make all of those sacrifices, we have a strong belief that we can get there. So much so that we commit ourselves every day, consistently, to fulfilling our obligation.
Then it hit me. Three things that make up commitment: care, consistency and confidence.
If you’re going to make the commitment, you’ve got to care about what you’re committing to. You’ve got to possess it for yourself. It can’t be something your coach, your team, your sponsors or any external source wants you to do. This has to be for you. When you care about something, you value the outcome, you place meaning on it. When you personally care about something, you do things because you want to not because you have to. You do things because not doing them disappoints yourself – not someone else.
When you don’t care, you do things half-heartedly. You skip things. You find better things to do than what you’re supposed to be doing. Your practice becomes half-assed. We’ve all been there. Whether it’s because of burnout, a goal that we set too high, or something we’re just not that into, if you don’t 100 percent care about the goal and outcome, you won’t make the commitment.
When you do care, you’re unstoppable. No morning is too dark, no day is too cold – you’re up and at it. The other day, someone asked me why I was doing Ironman. They gently reminded me that I don’t have million dollar contracts. This is true. But I’m doing it because I set a goal a year ago, one that I care about and I won’t be satisfied until I either achieve it or finish knowing that I’ve given it my best. It doesn’t have to bring me fame, money or anything external but intrinsically it means something to me. It makes me want to stay committed.
Part of commitment is consistency. It’s day after day, mile after mile, doing it when it feels good and when it doesn’t. Doing it when everyone else is doing something else. The cornerstone of commitment is sacrifice. To get something you have to give something. Whether it’s giving it your best, giving a lot of your time or giving up _____, this type of day after day sacrifice and practice is the consistency it takes to stay committed.
After years of competing as an athlete and working with other athletes, I have uncovered only one secret: the only thing that matters is consistency. Without it, you will not gain fitness, you will not make progress, you will not gain anything from what you do. Read that again. To get to where you want to go months from now, you need to be putting in the day to day work right now. No shortcuts. The week before the big race is too late. The month before the big race is too late. It starts now.
When you are committed, you are saying that you will be consistent. To be consistent you have to stay healthy. This means paying extra attention to your diet, health, recovery, sleep and stress. Each can influence your consistency. A week of poor eating, catching a cold, an injury, unnecessary life drama – all of this interrupts your consistency. True that it takes a lot of time, money and energy to give each of these things proper attention. But the meaningfulness of your commitment impels you to do so. To keep yourself in balance and healthy. It’s worth it.
When you make a commitment, you do so with the underlying certainty of yes you can. That is confidence. Confidence is what sparks us to think – I can do this – and then empowers us to get it done. Confidence is the bottom line with any commitment. If you think you can or you can’t – you’re right. If you’ve committed to something, you know you can – so honor yourself and do it.
In life, you will encounter many people who try to take away your confidence. People say all sorts of stupid shit to make you feel less able, guilty, weak or less confident. Understand that you have no responsibility to believe any of what they say. Know who to listen to. Listen to yourself, listen to the opinions of those who mean something to you (your parents, your coach). Don’t place value on anything else. The best piece of advice I’ve ever received: don’t change who you are for anyone else.
If you made the commitment for a goal, you are confident. You know you can. You care about this goal and believe you can do it. It will take consistency in your practice and habits to follow through. So, when you think about what commitment means – it’s about setting a goal you care about, it’s about acting consistently to do the work required to achieve that goal and it’s letting your own confidence carry you through.
So ask yourself: what am I going to commit to this coming season? Is it a personal best? Is it winning my division? Is it showing up to every morning practice? What will draw you out of bed each morning when the big event is months away, when the water is cold or it’s the dead of winter. The beauty is that you decide about your commitments – you make the choice. Which means the process of commitment and achieving things is entirely in your control.
Go on now and set your season goals. Commit!