Don’t Make It A Decision

Obstacles are easier to manage when you’ve already decided where you’re going.

One of the most effective ways to overcome resistance is to stop making it a decision.

Deciding whether or not to do something implies that it depends on something subjective like how you feel or what the weather is like. That might work for deciding when you go to the park, but for something like your commitment to exercise, meditation, reading, writing, or cleaning your home, even considering it a decision will only hurt your ability to be consistent with it.

When it comes to beneficial activities, we often find ourselves wanting to do them, but not feeling like doing them. This can turn into a draining internal battle of opposing forces. But what if you made the executive decision that it wasn’t even a decision in the first place?

This technique is extremely powerful, but subtle. Most people wouldn’t differentiate between weighing their options and choosing A compared to choosing A without weighing their options. But they’re actually two completely different approaches, two different decisions.

  • Weighing your options and then choosing A: This puts option A on a level playing field with your other possibilities. The best option wins based on your current context. For example, I could wash dishes, play guitar, or work out. If I’m feeling groovy, I play guitar. If the full sink is bothering me, I wash dishes. If I have a lot of energy, I work out.
  • Choosing A without further consideration: This locks in option A as something of critical importance to you, and precludes you from knocking it down into a battle royale with your other options. You’re choosing not to choose. It’s option A. It sacrifices some of your freedom in order to ensure that it gets done. But there’s something paradoxical about it.

The Burden of Choice

The constant battle royale of all possible options (the result of complete freedom) is exhausting. It takes a lot of energy to consider everything, narrow down your options, and pick something to do. Doing it hundreds of times per day amplifies its energy cost.

I was in a situation recently in which I wanted to work out that day, but was running a bit late. I also had to do laundry (no more clean underwear) and eat before meeting with friends, and I would be busy for the rest of the day. Because I had unique time constraints, such as the timing of a laundry cycle I couldn’t skip out on, I was suddenly faced with a decision—I had to exercise right then and there or I wouldn’t be able to do it that day. In that moment, I felt like the decision had been made for me—I had to go to the gym immediately. But instead of feeling trapped, I felt free and empowered. If I could put it in thoughts, it would be, “Finally, I don’t have to make a decision!”

It can be a relief not to have to decide! How odd, too, that I can go from fighting myself to do something beneficial to feeling relieved that I MUST do it. It’s paradoxical to feel free when you’re giving up freedom, but it makes sense when you consider the burden of choice.

The cost of freedom is the burden of choice. When you have little choice, you simply do the best you can. But when you have a high amount of freedom, you not only worry about doing your best—you worry if you’re even doing the right thing!

Pre-deciding to do important things is so useful because it puts us in that restricted state of mind where we feel we must do this one thing, so we might as well do our best with it. 

The Freedom in Self-Discipline

Freedom means doing what you want to do, right? Too much freedom, however, can prevent us from doing what we want to do! We can become slaves to the burden that complete freedom naturally creates. That burden is the pressure to choose correctly and the constant distraction of everything else you could be doing.

Self-discipline is the answer. It is “the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.” But self-discipline is a term loaded with dread. To many people, it looks like sweat, blood, and tears. To many, it looks like forcing yourself into a robotic, anti-fun person. It doesn’t have to be like that! 

It’s not forcing action as much as it’s giving up your right (and burden) to choose.

Self-discipline is not always about forcing, it’s often about letting go.

Self-discipline is not micromanaging, it’s giving up your need to micromanage.

When you know you can trust something or someone, you can safely give up control. We all do this every day. Here are some examples that might help clarify what I’m getting at…

  • I’m flying to Vegas soon, and when I say that, I don’t mean that I will fly the plane. I will happily give up control to the pilot and the flight safety procedures of Delta; I won’t make any choices that affect our flight. That’s a GOOD thing. If I had to decide how we flew there, there’d be a (much) greater chance for catastrophe, and I’d be really stressed out about it!
  • A good manager won’t need to micromanage good employees, because they can be trusted to do their job. This works better for everyone!
  • You eat your food without sending it to the lab for testing. Your decision to eat food without worry negates your need to perform safety tests on it first.

In the same way, you can trust that every second you spend exercising will provide you with an excellent return on that investment! The same goes for things like meditation, writing, reading, cleaning, and practicing valuable skills. You don’t need to weigh your options to decide to do these things. You can give up your need to micromanage your life and simply trust that any effort and inconvenience associated with doing them will be repaid handsomely over time.

Now, I don’t recommend that you try to do 16 new things at once, because there are limits. In addition, I actually recommend this as an in-the-moment strategy as opposed to a rule you require yourself to follow. As I wrote about in that prior post, rules get stale and subsequently get broken.

This is for when you have a moment of free time, wondering if you should do what you want to do, but don’t feel like doing. It’s for the moments when you are fighting yourself to do the right thing. Forget the fight. Make it a non-decision.

NOT THIS: “I’d like to work out today, but I feel a little tired, and my left foot is a bit sore. I feel like watching Netflix, but maybe I could use that as a reward? Or maybe I could promise to work out tomorrow first thing in the morning.”

THIS: “I AM working out. It’s as good as done. My job to figure out how.” (I recommend saying this out loud with your chosen activity. It reinforces the idea.)

See how this changes the problem? It goes from wrestling with yourself about whether or not you’ll do it to figuring out how you’re going to do it. The latter is a more enjoyable problem to solve AND you get the benefit of the activity!

Try this today with something you know you “should” do, but don’t necessarily want to do. Make it a non-decision and you’ll feel a different kind of freedom.

(photo by screenpunk)

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