Are you making too many decisions?
Save your sanity by limiting your choices
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Last week was A WEEK, huh?
I hope you’re making time and finding what you need to relax and recover from days (that felt like years) of election uncertainty, attacks on democracy, record-setting COVID-19 infections, and reverberations from continuing police violence.
That’s on top of whatever’s happening in your own home, which we’ve all realized doesn’t take a break just because the world is burning outside. If you’re raising kids amid the pandemic, navigating troubled waters in a relationship strained by all this time at home, or dealing with the array of mental health issues our current crises can exacerbate, my heart goes out to you.
(You know what? My heart goes out to you no matter what your 2020 looks like. We all need love.)
Election day/week was particularly personal for me. Watching underwhelming results roll in for Wisconsin candidates my partner Stefan had worked hard to send to our state legislature. Checking in with my sister, who administers elections in a county up north and has her fingers crossed the president won’t strain her small office with a Hail Mary recount request.
It came at the end of a month Stefan and I spent visiting his parents in Salt Lake City.
A month with the in-laws would be enough. We tacked on pandemic restrictions and a stressful election, because we like to get feisty, I guess?
Life saw these challenges to our sanity and raised us… one week of surprise contract negotiations with my top client (Lots learned! I’ll share those details in another post!), a subpoena to be a witness in a lawsuit that has nothing to do with me, and — drumroll, please! — Stefan passing a kidney stone so big it required surgery.
The day after election day. During a pandemic. Two days before we were supposed to drive 1,300 miles home.
My past month was a bit much. But it taught me a tiny lesson I’ll use forever:
Limited choices are a lifesaver.
When life overloads your brain, the last thing you need is a decision to make. Finding opportunities to cut out decision making frees up brainpower to handle all of the everything you’re dealing with.
You’ve probably heard the tech-CEO version of this: Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs famously wearing the same outfit every day to conserve energy for their Big Important Decisions that would impact the lives of bajillions of people.
My brain function isn’t quite so consequential, but I still value it highly.
My version of limited choice started early in my trip to Utah, when I realized how choosing a daily yoga routine (in my Yoga Studio app) chipped away mental resources.
To make that one choice, I have to decide how long I’ll practice, which skill I’ll focus on, how much difficulty I’ll take on and which parts of my body need attention.
Once I’ve made the decision, I expend bandwidth evaluating it — shouldn’t I have spared five more minutes for my health? I could’ve probably gone harder. Have I focused too much on flexibility and not enough on strength this week?
The trip and the ancillary affairs already had my head filled with bees. Throwing yoga angst into the swarm was totally counterproductive.
So I stopped deciding.
I went with one routine I’d been doing for years — intermediate, full-body, poses that gave me strength, flexibility and balance. I did it every day for the whole month.
I no longer had to start my day with a decision. And OMG. What a game changer.
Home now, I’m eager to be more intentional about limiting choices in my daily life. I’m excited to free up some brain space for the work and learning I have to do every day.
Here are a few ways I’m eliminating daily decisions:
A morning routine of mediation, yoga, journaling and exercise that makes self-care non-negotiable.
The same breakfast daily, to start the day fed and focused.
Letting my smart watch tell me when to stand and how much to exercise.
Meal planning a few days at a time, from a list of our favorite recipes.
Tracking calories, so I don’t have to decide whether I have room for a cupcake.
Envelope budgeting, so I don’t have to decide whether I can afford to spend money.
Subscriptions to have my toothbrush, period products and razors delivered automatically.
Weekly or monthly scheduled video calls with family and friends.
And some new ideas I’m considering:
A capsule wardrobe with a limited color palette.
A capsule diet of my favorite clean foods.
A food subscription that chooses produce or meals for me.
Book of the Month to narrow my reading choices.
I especially love apps that make decisions for me! I unload my burdens onto these:
Seven — an app that generates a random HIIT workout.
Calm — a mindfulness app that includes a daily 10-minute meditation.
MyFitnessPal — not my favorite calorie-tracker, but one I’ve used long enough it’s not worth the mental energy to choose another. (I’ve heard good things about Lose It!, Noom and WW, though.)
Anylist — a grocery list app that includes a meal planning calendar and recipe list.
Simple — an online bank account I e v a n g e l i z e! It includes easy budgeting buckets and calls your checking balance your “Safe to Spend” amount.
Activity — on the Apple Watch.
What do you think? Anything else you’d recommend? How do you limit choices to save your sanity — or, where in your life could you cut decision making?
Leave a comment below for the community, or hit reply to this email to tell me directly.
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Love the term “capsule diet.” Thanks for that idea!
Love this! Great ideas. I like the app suggestions and will try some. Still, I am sure you can find your own reading material without a book of the month club! You have good taste and don't need assigned reading anymore.
New words I learned: envelope budgeting, capsule diet/wardrobe. Thanks Dana!
I like to walk the dogs in the same routes and times daily. Don't have to think about it, just go out and do it. Frees up the brain power a bit. I also make a playlist of podcasts to listen to that I put on shuffle so I don't have to waste 10 min looking for one.