The Freedom of Limiting Choices
Life is a series of choices we make every single moment—from the mundane (what to wear, what to eat, or which route to take to work), to significant life altering decisions (get married, have children, or switch careers).
And it’s not like we make a choice and then we’re done. Something else comes up and we face more choices.
- What exercise program would work for me?
- What software do I need on my computer?
- Which computer should I get?
- What books do I want to read?
- Which couch should I buy?
Choice is freedom. It allows us to fulfill our dreams and desires, and express our unique selves.
In some parts of the world choice is a scarce commodity. Political, social, and economic conditions may curtail one’s ability to choose. But in the west, the world is our oyster and more and more societies are moving towards more options—which is mostly a good thing.
There is a paradox though.
Choice can become a curse when we’re faced with too many options. We can drown in details and weighing options. And the more we dig, the more we fear making the wrong decision.
The freedom of choice turns into a mental and emotional prison.
Let me share with you a recent (albeit silly) example.
I needed to print some tax forms but my printer ran out of ink. This is one of those inkjet printer/scanner/fax combo thingies that was sold at a ridiculously low price. But its black ink needs to be replaced frequently, though I use it probably three or four times a year. A simple printing job triggered these options:
- Refill the ink cartridge
- Buy a new ink cartridge
- Throw the thing out and get a new printer (do I get another combo or a printer only? And what about scanning?)
- Go to Staples and print the documents
I probably spent an hour thinking about it and exploring all the options out there. The truth is: using a printing service was and is the most logical option for me. But because I had other choices, I wanted to make sure I considered everything.
And that’s a big waste of time. I spent more time on the printing decision than the work itself.
There are many situations in life (excluding the biggest decisions) when we’re faced with so many choices and options, we end up spending more time in the choosing process than the actual action or experience itself.
It also seems the more we advance as a society, the more options become available to us. This means more things to consider, more time to spend on each option and more worry about picking the wrong one.
The only way to not fall into the trap of too many choices is to:
The best practice when we have too many choices is to consciously limit our choices. Meaning you choose to have less options to work with.
In my example above the only choice I’ll stick with from now on is to print on demand, when needed, and forget about owning a printer and worrying about ink.
The thing that I’m learning each day is this:
The option we choose does not matter as much as making the decision, doing the work, and letting life be.
The freedom of limiting choices
We tend to think of more choices as a sign of freedom. And it is, until it isn’t anymore. Choice sometimes chains us to indecision and fear.
It takes courage to limit your choices—by choice.
Here is what happens when you limit your choices.
Facilitating action: If you limit your opportunities, you won’t waste your precious time and energy looking for the perfect choice. You make a choice, and do what you decided you’d do.
Action leads to results, which leads to:
Gaining clarity: A focused choice will allow us to fully experience the choice and decide if it works or not.
Building trust: The choice you make will help you make the next one. With time, you learn to trust yourself and the choices you make. You’ll trust your abilities more, and you’ll hesitate less about limiting your options.
Developing stamina for mistakes and regret: When we make the wrong choice (which is inevitable from time to time) we will learn from the experience and realize that we survived the failure and regret. Over time, we develop a tolerance for failure, which will reduce our fear of making the wrong decision.
Peace of mind: Making a decision to choose a certain path, if nothing else, gives you peace. There is a calm and powerful surrender to a decision that’s made. To me this is the greatest advantage of letting go of the distraction of too many options.
Let me add a couple of thoughts here.
Limiting choices doesn’t mean
Limiting choices is not about curbing growth or ignoring what we value. It’s about choosing one thing for a particular area of your life and moving on.
You can have five passions. No one is stopping you. Choose one option for each of them, and do it. It’s better to have five interests and do one thing for each of them, than one interest and a hundred choices that will take you nowhere.
Limiting our choices doesn’t mean we increase our risk of failure. We actually increase our chances of getting results and gaining clarity.
It’s better to fail and know that we failed than to fear an abstract failure and hide behind the excuse of too many choices.
How to limit your choices
We all have different preferences and circumstances, so the choices available to you may not apply to me and vice versa. Here are a few considerations.
Focus on your why. What do you want to get out of the situation? Why are you doing this?
Choose simple over complicated. The simplest option is usually the best place to start. What’s your gut feeling telling you?
Imagine that it’s the only viable option. If it helps, forget about the availability of other choices and imagine that you only have this one choice available to you. Can you live with that?
What is the worst thing that could happen if you chose the wrong thing? We’re usually stronger than we think and reality is much kinder than our imagined fears.
Trust. Whatever choice you make, trust that life is on your side. And even if things don’t work out, you’ll be okay.
Play with it. Take a step forward and honor the choice you made. Act with curiosity and playfulness and see what happens.
When we know that what we chose is not working, we can make a fresh choice and eliminate the one we tried.
The biggest choice and exercise of freedom is to limit opportunities, focus on a single choice, and let go of everything else.
We may succeed or fail but we won’t be confined by hypothetical what ifs. This is where we live and breathe freedom, and not just think about it.
What choices are you limiting? And what action are you playing with next?