The reality is that, beyond a certain level of freedom to choose, we actually are happier when we have some limits to our choices.
By setting rules for myself, my life is greatly simplified. For instance, when I go grocery shopping, I don’t have to agonize over whether the free-range organic lean chicken or the organic low-fat cottage cheese is a better choice. Because the answer is: neither.
By eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, I automatically limit the majority of unhealthy food choices. This allows me to choose healthy fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts without having an internal dialogue about the pros and cons of each item I put into my shopping basket.
Similarly, when I wore the same dress every day for a month, my mornings were streamlined and I could get on to other, more interesting, aspects of my day.
These ideas are examined in a book I recently read, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, by Barry Schwartz. Schwartz contends that we make a mistake when we equate liberty directly with choice. We do not increase freedom by increasing the number of options available. Rather,
we make the most of our freedoms by learning to make good choices about the things that matter, while at the same time unburdening ourselves from too much concern about the things that don’t.
In other words, we free our minds from the tyranny of small decisions and have time to consider the big things in greater depth.
I think the mistake many people make is to assume that by giving things up, they will feel deprived. I believe the opposite to be true. For example, when I counsel people on making plant-based dietary choices, I emphasize that there may be some initial discomfort in giving up meat, poultry, fish, and dairy. But after a few days or weeks, the initial discomfort is replaced by a heightened feeling of health and well-being.
In other words, limits are not the same as deprivations.
How about you? Does setting limits in your life leave you more time to attend to things you really care about?
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