Decisions, Decisions

decisions-decisionsAs a Resident Assistant at the University of Scranton, one of my jobs was to promote activities being held in our building. This usually involved making signs that were eye-catching and would get students interested.

One month the psychology graduate students were tasked with doing a program in our building and my fellow RA’s and I were tasked with getting students to attend. Our posters said things like, “You do it 600 times a day. Want to know what it is? Come to the lounge on Wednesday at 7” and “You do it 50 times before you get to your first class. Sometimes you do it with other people, sometimes you do it all alone. Do you know what ‘it’ is? Come to lounge on Wednesday at 7 to find out.”

Our posters were a raging success. The only problem was that the presenters didn’t have nearly as stunning a talk. I sat through the dry speech feeling bad for my students that, based on my posters, had expected so much more.

I did, however, learn two things from that presentation

  • Presenters and promoters should be equally enthusiastic about their topic.
  • We make more than 600 decisions every day.

Six hundred? No wonder I felt so stressed! Decisions as seemingly simple as what time to get up and what to wear, to the more complex questions of, “Should I switch my major?” Decisions about what clubs to join, which friends to spend time with, which guys to date, and what homework to tackle first. Just thinking about the number of decisions I made on a daily basis overwhelmed me.

Fast forward 15 years. I am on the Camino and in love with the simplicity of the routine and how few decisions there are to make. I wake up each day with only one mission: to walk. I find something to eat. Walk again. Take a break at a cafe. Walk some more. Find a place to rest my head, sleep, repeat.

Upon my return, I’ve been inspired to bring some of that simplicity into my everyday life. I’ve done a few things to minimize the number of decisions I’ve had to make. Perhaps you might want to try one:

Do something drastic

  • I became a vegetarian a year ago, and love how many fewer choices that gives me at restaurants, at parties. 
  • I joined Project 333 nine months ago. I wear the same 33 items for three months. This include shoes, jackets, and jewelry. It may seem absolutely mind-boggling to some of you, but I promise you I have never felt so calm opening my closet. And rarely do I find myself thinking I have “nothing to wear.”

Make a Meta-Decision
I teach my decluttering clients about meta-decisions: one decision you make that eliminates having to make a lot of other decisions.

  • One client decided not to not keep any magazines older than three months old, thereby eliminating the need to look at every magazine and try to figure out why they’ve kept it and if they still want to. They simply ask, “Is it older than three months?” If so, out it goes. 
  • Some clients choose a quote for their meta-decision. My favorite is by William Morris: “Do not have anything in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Clients pick up each piece of paper, each item in a drawer and ask a simple question: Is it useful or beautiful? If not, out it goes.
  • Still others use questions. I use three questions for clothes that I read on Oprah’s website years ago that changed how I decided what to keep and toss: Do I love it? Is it flattering? Is it the look I’m going for? If the answer to any of those is “no” out it goes.

Just Say No
I’ve taken on a challenge this month: to say “no” to something every day.

  • “No” to items on my to-do this that really aren’t necessary.
  • “No” to distractions — leaving my phone in my car while out with friends; keeping my e-mail off at work so I can focus on the project at hand.
  • “No” to people asking me to do things that I really don’t have the time for or interest in.

Saying no, I’ve found, gives me the time to say “yes” to the things and the people that I love.

I am blessed to live in a country that gives us so many choices. Simplifying the number of them, however, makes for a happier life.

What can you do to minimize the number of decisions you make each day? What can you say “no” to today?