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Our Choices, Our Lives

Mark Zuckerberg famously marked his return from paternity leave by posting a “what should I wear?” photo of a lineup of grey t-shirts and hoodies. Steve Jobs, known for wearing a black mock turtleneck and jeans every day, reportedly returned from a trip to Japan wanting his employees to wear uniforms to work. These men are not alone — a cursory web search on this topic returns article after article about successful people wearing the same thing to work every day. Their logic is simple: eliminating decisions saves mental energy.

Amidst the sea of options permeating modern life, the notion of reducing choice is alluring. For example, I prefer small grocery stores to big ones. I favor restaurants with short menus over those with long ones. I’ve been wearing the same make of running shoes for 20 years, religiously replacing them every 300 miles. And lots of mornings – when I’m scrambling to make breakfast and get out the door – the idea of a work uniform is actually pretty appealing.

There are other areas of life, however, where a bounty of choices can be beautiful…where reducing choice might actually decrease pleasure. Preparing for my children’s arrivals, for example, I relished the time spent pouring over name books and trying out every possible permutation of the first and middle names I liked. With time to spare on a Sunday morning, a vast expanse of wildflowers at the farmer’s market feels intoxicating, and the final selection feels like art. I love browsing travel magazines for inspiration, opening up a vast sea of possibility.

Managing choices is a key part of life design. While too many choices can be paralyzing, too few can be boring. Here’s my litmus test for when to eliminate choice and when to invite it:

LIMIT CHOICE WHEN NOT HAVING TO MAKE IT SAVES ENERGY. EMBRACE CHOICE WHEN THE ACT OF MAKING IT BRINGS JOY.

There are a few simple ways we’re limiting choices in our house these days, trying to free up some emotional and mental energy. Here are five ways this is working well:

  • Soup Sundays: We make soup every Sunday. This takes the guesswork out of what’s for dinner Sunday nights, narrowing the discussion from “what should we make for dinner?” to “what soup should we make for dinner?” This turkey chili recipe is a favorite these days.
  • Quinoa Bowls: A quinoa bowl is a staple in each week’s menu. We mix up what will go in it (salmon, sautéed spinach, pumpkin seeds, green goddess dressing topped our quinoa last week), but we stick with a bowl of quinoa, leaving the choices to simple ones – which protein, which veggies, and which dressing.
  • #52hikes: As a family, we’re aiming to do 52 different hikes in 2016. Toting along little ones, the criteria for a hike is pretty basic – it’s got to be at least three miles, with some elevation gain, on a trail. This has been an amazing forcing function for weekend plans – the hike is now a known that we plan around, versus a hypothetical we discuss.
  • Saturdate: Tired of weeknight apathy about what to do for a date night, a few years ago, we shifted to morning workout dates. Rather than considering all of the options a date could include, our choices are simple now – trail run or bike ride…and where to go for brunch afterwards!
  • Nightly Thanks: Rather than think about what we want to share from the day, we come together as a family at the end of the day by holding hands and repeating a simple message we wrote a few years ago. This takes the guesswork out of how to leave the day behind and stay present at the dinner table and lets us simply drop into doing that

While I don’t every think I’ll have a closet full of grey t-shirts or black mock turtlenecks, these few practices are helping to cut my mental clutter….shifting the time and energy toward activities and decisions that bring more joy.

I’d love to hear from you. What practices do you have to limit choice in your life? And where are you embracing choice and expanding joy?

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Great post. I feel like our lives become so complicated. The 52 hikes is a wonderful idea.

    March 26, 2016

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