Freedom From Choice

Too many choices can keep us from the Excelerated Life™. When we are focused on living a life of flourishing and well-being and a life of meaning, purpose and service, then we do not have so many choices. We don’t make the same decisions again and again. We make them once and cut off other options.

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too many choices

Decisions, Decisions

This is a story about two people, the choices they face in a typical day, and the results of their decisions. With a question for you at the end.

The first person is Sally. Sally set her alarm for 5:00 AM so she can get a quick start to her day. When the alarm goes off at 5:00, Sally has a choice. She can either get up as she planned or she can decide to sleep a few more minutes. She decides to sleep a few more minutes and hits the snooze button. A couple more hits of the snooze button and now it’s 5:45. Sally gets up.

One reason she planned to get up at 5:00 AM was to go to an exercise class at the local gym. She has a plan to work out at least 4 days per week. Sally has a choice. She can either go to the exercise class – if she hurries – or she can skip today and go another day this week. She decides to exercise another day.

Sally showers and dresses, then goes into the kitchen. For breakfast, she could have cold cereal, a muffin, or she could fix herself an egg with toast. Sally has a choice. The egg and toast would be the healthier option but Sally decides she doesn’t feel like going to the trouble of cooking an egg. She opts for the sugar-laden cereal.

At work, Sally has a presentation to upper management that is due next week. She has jotted down some ideas and now needs to flesh out the presentation. She also observes that her e-mail inbox is overflowing. Sally has a choice. She decides to take a few minutes to clear out her inbox in case there is something important there. She gets caught up in a discussion with some colleagues about a trivial subject. Before she realizes it, two hours have passed and she is so worked up she has trouble concentrating on her big presentation. And so goes the rest of Sally’s day – many choices, many decisions.

Then there is Annie. Annie set her alarm but she went to bed early last night so at 5:00 AM, she wakes up before the alarm goes off, ready to start her day. She doesn’t have to decide to sleep in or not because she made that choice once, long ago. Annie goes to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Today is Wednesday, so she goes to the gym. She doesn’t have to decide because she made the choice of when to work out once, long ago.

Back home, Annie has the same healthy breakfast that she has every morning. She doesn’t have to decide what to eat because she made that choice once, long ago. At work, Annie has an important presentation to upper management scheduled for next week. She sits down at her desk and begins working on the presentation. The first hours at work are her best time to focus without interruptions. She doesn’t look at her e-mail inbox until she has put in a couple of hours of deep work. She doesn’t have to decide what to work on because she made that choice once, long ago. The rest of Annie’s day follows this pattern – very few choices, very few decisions.

And now the question, two questions actually. Who do you think is the more successful, the person living on purpose? And, which one is most like you?

Choice Is An Enemy Of Good

In our modern world, we are inundated with choices. Big choices: where to go to school; what type of career to pursue; where to work; where to live; who to love; who to marry. Small choices: what kind of car to drive; where to go on vacation; what to do for a spouse’s birthday. And myriad daily choices: when to get up; when to work out; what to wear; what to eat; when to go to bed; what to watch on TV, etc. etc.

However, when we are focused on living a life of flourishing and well-being and a life of meaning, purpose and service, then we do not have so many choices. We don’t have to decide if we get up at our selected time, or if today is a work-out day, or what to eat for breakfast (or lunch or dinner), or if we do our deep work today. We make those decisions once. Decide comes from the Latin words de– ‘off’ and caedere ‘cut’. When we decide we cut off other options.

“Do your daily duty, and let the rest go,” Stephen Cope advises in The Great Work Of Your Life. “Poke away systematically at your little calling. Tend the garden a little bit every day. You do not have to exhaust yourself with great acts. Show up for your duty, for your dharma. Then let it go.” [Cope] Don’t exhaust yourself by having to make the same choices day after day after day.

100% Is Easier

“It’s easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time.” ~ Clayton M. Christensen

In his book, How Will You Measure Your Life?, one of the concepts Clayton M. Christensen introduces is the trap of marginal thinking. We tend to believe that the big decisions will come “with a blinking red neon sign: CAUTION: IMPORTANT DECISION AHEAD.” [Christensen] But life doesn’t work that way. It’s generally the small decisions, made day by day, over time, that have the biggest impact.

One of the hazards we face is the temptation to think “it won’t hurt just this once”. And in truth, it probably won’t, if it is “just this once”. The problem arises in the fact that making an exception one time makes it easier to do it a second time, then a third, and so forth, until we forget our original intent altogether.

In the end, it is easier to do something all the time than to do it 98% of the time. It is easier to work out every day, or on specific days, than it is to work out, say, 4 times per week. We don’t have to decide is today a work out day? It is easier to always skip dessert than to have to decide if today is a “cheat day”.

In my journal each morning, I write “I->A->F NOT F->A->I”. This is shorthand for Identity leads to Actions lead to Feelings and NOT Feelings lead to Actions lead to Identity. I have decided who I want to be and I choose my actions based on that Identity and the way I feel comes from that. Contrast this to the person who acts based on how he or she feels so that their identity comes from their feelings. That is the person who has to decide each day do I “feel” like doing what must be done? Not a consistent way to move forward.

It is easier to decide once and then act on that decision all the time. 100% is actually easier than 98% – if you aspire to live an Excelerated Life.

Choice As A Competitor

In fact, too much choice becomes a barrier to living as our best selves. “Making bad choices is the lifeblood of average,” Trevor Moawad writes in It Takes What It Takes. “Choice is a competitor — as much as any tangible opponent you . . . will face.”

Our choices determine our actions and our actions determine our results. Decide on the results you want, then make the choices that lead to those results. And then stick with your selection. As Moawad says, “champions behave as if they have no choice.” [Moawad]

I-A-F NOT F-A-(

Freedom From Choice

There are two paths in life. You are on one of them now. One path leads upward to success (however you define it), happiness, well-being and flourishing. One path leads downward to stagnation, lassitude, poor health, even despair.

The grade of each path is so slight, it isn’t evident if you are moving up or down. Only after many days of taking many small steps on the path do you suddenly realize you’ve made a turn upwards or a turn downwards, even though you’ve been going in that direction the entire time.

What puts you on the upward path? The choices you make day by day.

What puts you on the downward path? The choices you make day by day.

Do you see the importance of making the right decisions, cutting off other options? The simplest way is to make the choice, then take the small steps to turn your choice into a habit. Automate the behavior you want to repeat and you remove the need to make the choice each time.

All In Is Easier

We appear to have a good many choices available to us but that isn’t the case if we truly want to live a meaningful and purposeful life. A healthy and happy life. A successful life, using our unique gifts in service to the world. For that, make your decision and “cut off” other options. Get on the upward path to your Excelerated Life™!


Excelerated Habits™ — automating your best behaviors — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose and service.

Read more about the Excelerated Life™.


Resources:

Christensen, Clayton M. How Will You Measure Your Life? New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2012.

Cope, Stephen. The Great Work Of Your Life: A Guide For The Journey To Your True Calling. New York: Bantam Books, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, 2012.

Moawad, Trevor with Andy Staples. It Takes What It Takes – How To Think Neutrally And Gain Control Of Your Life. New York: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2020.

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