Hey Problem Solver!
You’re right on time.
Here’s the situation: We know what to do. It’s also never been easier to figure out how to do it. We even want to do it, for goodness sakes! So, why exactly—in our modern age—don’t we get more done?
The easy answer is to blame distraction.
Social media is the problem. It’s our Inbox. Nope… our phone is the temptress that calls me away. Wait… it’s the “tyranny of the urgent.” That’s it. There’s not enough time for what’s important!
However, underneath the nose of these natural and felt experiences is something far more insidious.
The common denominator? Options.
More specifically, we have too many of them. Worse still, we seem to want more of them. What we hate the most is when our choices get taken away.
Consider, for example, the supercomputer in your pocket. This little device doesn’t just give you access to all of the world’s knowledge. It also gives you the false promise of never missing out on anything, ever. From texts to emails to blog posts to podcasts to carefully curated newsfeeds that ignite all the passions. All of them then invite us down more rabbit holes. The more options we consume, the more we feel consumed.
In this case, the phone is primarily a messenger—like an out-of-control delivery system. On the one hand, we’re flooded with options. On the other, we’re incentivized not to choose. That’s because we’ve bought the idea, however unconsciously, that establishing optionality is the equivalent of gaining freedom.
We’re never settled. We resist limiting our options because the moment we choose, all alternatives disappear. We’re left wondering what life might have been like if we chose a different path.
How do you choose less?
James Clear's Atomic Habits was the #1 book sold last year across all genres on Amazon. Numero uno! It seems the whole world is craving better habits in their lives.
What’s probably not talked about enough, though, is the more minimal path: The practice of completely removing the things that get in the way of those good habits. Imagine a world where you intentionally abstained from optionality.
“Wait,” you might protest. “The habits I’m interested in are things like working smarter, eating better, and exercising. Removing options entirely seems a little extreme, don’t you think?”
It is not. What’s extreme is the chaos people invite into their lives when they have endless options while simultaneously being terrified of committing to any of them.
Look. I get it. When the word abstaining is brought up, it’s usually in the introductions at an AA meeting. “Hi, my name is (fill in the blank)…, and I’m an alcoholic.” The assumption is that the person speaking is in active recovery. Meaning they aren’t drinking ANY alcohol. They’re choosing—one day at a time—to entirely remove what they’re addicted to. For many of us, maximizing our options is closer to an addiction than not.
So much so that the likelihood that we can turn options off like a faucet is probably naïve. Again, we’re swimming in them! For some, just choosing which brand of toothpaste can be debilitating. What may be required is something more aggressive.
The most accessible intervention I know is to get in front of the options before they appear. The easiest way is to make a single choice to remove the choices. An example of this in my life is Men and Women Of Discomfort (WMODlife.com). This isn’t just a clever program for me. It’s a lifeline.
On the surface, MWODlife looks like a health and fitness program based on voluntary discomfort—when it’s a training school to learn how to do hard things, especially when you don’t want to.
When we started the project, we knew that very few would voluntarily choose to be uncomfortable. There’s a reason our tagline is #probablynotforyou.
So, we created an onboarding experience that removed the option of opting out. Participants retain their autonomy by choosing to participate but do so in a way that gives up future choices. Once they opt-in, the choices around what and when to eat, what and when to drink, when to sleep, when and how to work out, when and how to recover, what to do when you’re sick or injured (and on and on) are all decided on your behalf. Even the temperature of your daily showers is chosen for you.
Here’s the thing…
Once we give into not having options, we get something remarkable in return. The freedom they were craving in the first place. No more waking up in an existential haze wondering what to do next. It’s already decided. You’re invited to recognize your feelings and keep your commitment when things get complicated. The option of opting out isn’t on the table. Your emotions don’t change the decision you already made. With the support and challenge of the community, you do what you told yourself you were going to do... and you do it.
You don’t need to become a woman or man of discomfort to experience the freedom of removing options, though. There are lots of ways to do it. Here are a few of my favorites…
TMYD’s Top 10 Ways To Get More By Doing Less:
1. Ban your phone from your bed. Removing the option of checking your phone will guarantee improved sleep over time. Easy peasy.
2. Reduce the size of the bag you carry. Traveling light gives you fewer options to carry too much, whether a backpack or a purse. Less = More.
3. Close your kitchen at 7:30 pm local time. The moment late-night cereal or just one scoop of ice cream goes away, you’ll sleep better and reduce empty calories forever.
4. Set a timer for 2 minutes and grab only the important stuff out of a junk drawer. When the timer is up, throw the rest in the trash. This fire drill will give you an instant sense of liberty that is almost unexplainable.
5. Declare Inbox bankruptcy. If you’re overwhelmed with a backlog of responses, (a) cut and paste an email to each person saying, “I had a glitch and lost all my emails. I’m so sorry! If you’re waiting on me, please forgive me! And, would you let me know what I can do to get us back on track?” Then, (b) select all and (c) delete everything. Over the next few days, about 10% of the people you wrote to will write you back with an understanding note. You’ll then comfortably be able to respond at a human pace. You’re welcome.
6. Take one box of stuff to Goodwill every week. I did this six months before a recent move, saved thousands of dollars on moving costs, and got an easy write-off in tax season. Better, I had the joy that only comes from having less (h/t to Marie Kondo).
7. Google “Marie Kondo” and do what she tells you.
8. Get a workday uniform. Decide on a high-quality top and bottom set you love, and get a few of each. Next, throw in a signature jacket or set of comfortable shoes. Make sure they all work in almost any work context. Put the rest of the stuff you used to choose from in a box for a month. Wear your new uniform every day for 30 days. Finally, watch how little you miss picking every morning and how much simpler your life gets.
9. Unsubscribe from emails you don’t look forward to getting. This one included! You can always re-subscribe if you miss it. By constraining unwelcome content vying for your attention, your Inbox may turn into a Blissbox.
10. Pick just one of these ideas (and do it). Doing something in response to an idea is the only way ideas become real. You know it’s time. You know this is for you. Decide and do.
Removing options isn’t losing out. It’s leading.
By leading yourself this way, you increase your awareness and strength. Your capacity goes up. So does your competency. Life gets simpler. You can do the things you say are most important without the cognitive load of too many options getting in the way.
As you live into this newfound freedom, you’ll also offer a powerful example for those following. Your people are watching.
Today’s conversation was about getting more from opting for less as an individual. Next time, I’ll be sharing the most straightforward way I know to increase the speed of trust in your team.
I can’t wait.
Dane Sanders is CEO of TellMeYourDreams.com. His team of certified mental health professionals and coaches - trained in TMYD's motivation modality - offer workshops tailored for organizations looking to become great. Tom Rodriguez is TMYD's Chief Mental Health Officer. Comments, questions, and inquiries are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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