We live in a time when we have a seemingly endless array of choices. Go to Target and you can choose between 100 different types of toothpaste.
We think that choices give us freedom; but in reality, having too many options actually does the opposite. When we’re faced with so many choices, we feel overwhelmed and we experience decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is defined as “difficulty in making a good decision experienced as a result of the number of decisions one needs to make”.
The solution to decision fatigue is constraint.
Constraints are limitations or restrictions that you intentionally put in your life to make your life simpler.
Many people are resistant to the idea of constraints because it seems too limiting, but the truth is that constraints don’t take away our freedom; they give us freedom.
Here are some common examples of constraints.
Even if you’re not currently on a diet, you have constraints in your life related to food. There are certain foods that you don’t eat simply because you don’t like them or because you’re allergic to them. This is a constraint in your life.
If you’re committed to eating a vegan diet, a constraint in your life is that you don’t eat meat or dairy. Any other type of diet would also be considered a constraint.
This might feel limiting or frustrating at times, but think about how much easier it is to make decisions when these specific constraints are in place.
If you have some vague plan to “eat somewhat healthier” and then you’re offered some donuts, what will likely happen? Your brain is wired to pursue pleasure and you’ll probably come up with plenty of reasons why it’s fine to eat the donut.
Conversely, if part of your diet plan is that you do not eat sugar at all, you don’t even have to think about it. There’s no room for chatter or decision fatigue. The choice is simple. You don’t eat sugar, so you’ll pass on the donut.
When I had gall stones (which make it hard for your body to process fat) and someone offered me high fat foods, I didn’t even think about it for a second. “I don’t eat fatty foods” was a constraint I had in my life at that time.
If you use a budget, this is a constraint in your life. This is something a lot of people hate. I get it.
What many people don’t understand is that it’s hard to manage your money when you have no clue where it’s even going. Often, this leads to living paycheck to paycheck, being broke all the time, and never getting ahead financially.
Is that freedom?
True financial freedom comes from “restriction”. Your budget tells your money where to go so you don’t have to wonder where it went.
Gaining control over your money will allow you to pay off debt, build an emergency fund, save for retirement, and achieve whatever financial goal you want.
This will give you so much freedom.
Many people dislike spending too much time deciding what to wear. As a result, they might stick to neutral colors so that everything in their closet matches and putting together an outfit becomes quick and simple.
I didn’t do this intentionally, but it did end up happening accidentally and I’m glad it did. I wear colorful tops often, but all of my pants are either black or denim. This makes it so much easier to pick out my clothes in the morning.
Another constraint I have implemented in my life is doing my full makeup every day (unless I’m super sick). I feel more confident when I wear makeup and I like to look nice for the day.
Because of this, I don’t have to waste any time deciding whether or not to wear makeup or how much makeup to wear. There is no mental chatter about how I don’t have enough time or how I don’t feel like it. I just do it.
Faith is another area where many of us have constraints without even realizing it. If you’ve chosen to be a Christian, for example, a constraint that is in your life is that you follow Jesus and you don’t worship other gods.
You might also have constraints in your life about how you always attend church on Sundays or how you read the Bible for a certain amount of time each week.
The 10 commandments are a perfect example of something that might seem restricting on the surface, but it’s actually a constraint that gives us freedom rather than taking away our freedom.
Think of a parent setting rules for their children. They don’t do this because they’re mean or they want their child to be frustrated.
Parents set rules for their kids because they love them and want to shield them from harm. We tell our kids not to play in the street because we don’t want them to get hit by a car.
Likewise, God loves us and wants to protect us. Following His commandments (to love Him and love each other) gives us freedom.
We all have time constraints in our lives, whether we realize it or not. You might begin your work day at 8:00 a.m. and leave at 4:00 p.m. each day. This is a constraint.
Another example is sticking to a schedule. When you keep a schedule, you’ll find that you get more done, and therefore, you’ll have more free time to do whatever you want.
I recently started a cleaning schedule. I was hesitant at first because I thought I would find it restricting and annoying. The exact opposite turned out to be true!
I love having a cleaning schedule. I no longer waste my entire weekend cleaning my house. Instead, I do one or two cleaning tasks each week night. This is easily manageable.
I never feel overwhelmed about cleaning anymore because I know that as long as I stick to the schedule, everything will get done. There’s no need to spend an entire day cleaning (like I used to do!).
Why You Should Add Constraints
We often want to “keep our options open” because we think this is what freedom looks like. We’re wrong!
When we avoid restrictions like budgets, schedules, and diets, we often find that we have less freedom. We might be broke, overweight, endlessly busy, overwhelmed with decision fatigue, and constantly feeling like we can’t get our heads above water.
If that’s how you’re feeling, stop avoiding constraint and try it out.
Constraints don’t take away your freedom; they give you freedom. Instead of wasting time wallowing in decision fatigue, you can make quick, simple choices.
This frees up your brain (and your energy) to focus on things that are more important.
It’ll also build your self-discipline and your ability to go after challenging goals.
How to Add Constraints
Ready to be more intentional about your life? Think about where you’re feeling most frustrated or stuck.
Is it your weight? Your debt? Your spending habits? Your relationships? Your time management?
Choose one (or more) area where you’d like to add a constraint. I recommend trying just one or a few at a time. This might be a challenge at first, and there’s no need to over-complicate it.
Here are a few examples of constraints you can try:
- Cutting out dairy, sugar, or meat.
- Sticking to a whole 30 diet for one month.
- Going to the gym 4 times per week.
- Setting a monthly budget and sticking to it.
- Committing to a one week (or one month) spending ban.
- Using an all cash budget (the cash envelope system).
- Buying only neutral colors for your wardrobe.
- Doing your full hair and makeup every day.
- Attending church every Sunday.
- Praying every day at 7:00 p.m.
- Reading the Bible for 20 minutes per day.
- Sticking to a cleaning schedule.
- Setting a schedule at work.
After you’ve chosen 1-4 constraints to add to your life, commit to sticking to them for 30 days.
At the end of the month, evaluate how everything went. What different results are you seeing in your life? Are these constraints decreasing your decision fatigue and giving you more freedom?
It’ll be a challenge at first, but I promise you, it’ll be worth it!