Constraints are often imposed on use from outside forces. Your boss might want you to deliver a project on time and in budget, the weather can force us to change plans or the cost of things can force us to reconsider. So why might we want to impose constraints on ourselves?

Last week I talked about choice and how the realisation of having a choice can help you make or break habits. “Bad” habits are only so-called because they usually don’t align with our values or help us steer our lives to how we want them to look.

By putting constraints on ourselves we maximise the potential of any given moment to align our decisions with our values.

The plethora of choices we face in any given day is immense, from the mundane to the mighty. Before you’ve even left the house you will have made over a hundred decisions about your day.

“All of this choice has two effects, two negative effects on people. One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis, rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all. […] The second effectis that even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice,we end up less satisfied with the result of the choicethan we would be if we had fewer options to choose from.” The Paradox of Choice

Take companies like Apple. They have a dramatically simple product portfolio. Apple is one of the largest smartphone makers in the world and until late 2013 released only a single model every year. Why wade through the masses of other smartphones when you could just get “the iPhone”? Or for years, In-n-Out burger in the US has only provided a basic menu of burgers, fries and beverages.

Your willpower too is finite. It’s higher in the morning and will deplete as the day goes on. If you can implement a high value, low effort systemisation, you can take care of the smaller decisions ahead of time leaving you more willpower for the bigger ones.

President Obama knows this.

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” – Obama’s presidential productivity secrets

How do I constrain myself?

  • I keep a lean, simple wardrobe of about 30 items. This imposed simplicity means that I take less time deciding what to wear and in everything I do wear I feel put-together. For helping creating your own simple wardrobe look no further than here.

  • I constrain myself with my writing. I have a schedule to publish a new post every Tuesday and Friday. There are times when I don’t feel like writing or there are when it feels inconvenient but the schedule forces me to get the writing done and not procrastinate.

  • I limit my beverage options to just water, coffee, tea or wine depending on the situation or time of day. These are the best choices for me to lead a healthy, balanced life and still enjoy some freedom of choice.

Simplifying choices is not to say you shouldn’t expand your point of view now and again, but trying to cook a new dish every day can be exhausting and time-consuming.

“There’s no question that some choice is better than none, but it doesn’t follow from that more choice is better than some choice. There’s some magical amount. I don’t know what it is. I’m pretty confident that we have long since passed the point where options improve our welfare.” – The Paradox of Choice

By consciously and deliberately simplifying the choices we make, how we spend our time and what we own; we motivate ourselves to be more resourceful, more creative and lead a more fulfilling life.


Jane says:

This is why shoppers, myself included, are moving away from the big super/hyper markets and shopping instead in the smaller chains where choice is more limited. I dont want to spend hours traipsing round endless food aisle. I dont want to have to choose between 20 coffee brands and varieties, it consumes my time, my energy and my patience, choice is good but a little choice is better than a huge range. I dont like cooking so I look to my childhood years when we had leftovers on a Monday, stew on Wednesday, Fish on Friday, salad on Saturday etc.

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