Why Wearing The Same Thing Every Day Didn't Help My Creative Thinking

We figured if Obama and Zuck were doing it, why not try wearing the same thing every day, among other things. Were we as successful? Meh.

President Obama claims part of what helps him get so much done is wearing the same suit every day. Would doing the same thing propel me to epic levels of productivity?

Sadly, not so much.

Last week we challenged readers and ourselves to expand room for creative thinking by cutting down on inconsequential decisions such as what to wear.

Experts argue that "decision fatigue" or making a bunch of small decisions like what to wear and what to eat wears out your brain and saps your mental power for more pressing matters.

What I experienced, however, was unimpressive results and a kick to my general disposition.

What Happened When I Put Theory Into Practice

I took on this challenge with such high hopes.

Up until college I wore a uniform every single school day, and I loved it. Life for me, eternal nerd that I am, was less a competition about who had the best clothes and more focused on academics. So I figured this challenge would be much the same.

But what I started to realize throughout this experiment is how much I appreciate variety over efficiency and how plans rarely go as you anticipated.

After a few days a I began to resent the black T-shirt and jeans I wore each day and daydream about the bright pink shirt or the polka dot dress I would wear next week.

I also couldn't help but think when 2 p.m. rolled around some days how much I wanted something else for lunch other than my planned frozen meal. And without Obama’s personal chef to whip up dinner each night, unavoidable circumstances easily derailed my resolve to not think about dinner. "No more chicken broth? Looks like we’re not having soup tonight."

In my quest to eliminate even more small decisions, I began planning my to-do list in advance every night, but this too backfired. While knowing ahead of time what tasks you have to accomplish in a day is great, thinking you can stick to that order without deviation is simply unrealistic. Deadlines change, and new tasks pop up, forcing you to make all those tiny decisions you were attempting to avoid.

In the end, I was still thinking about these decisions that were supposed to be free from my mind. They clearly weren't.

So I've decided that I’m okay with sapping a little bit of my brain function. At least then I can mix things up a bit.

As they say, variety is the spice of life, and my life felt sufficiently bland by the end of this challenge.

While psychologists and scientists suggest that having infinite choices paralyzes us and undermines our happiness, some choice is undoubtedly better than none. Scientists also say that questioning our decisions can lead to stress and unhappiness.

So in my case, while I will admit that not choosing my outfit when I woke up, grabbing the same frozen meal for lunch before I headed out the door, and knowing what I had to do as soon as I got into the office shaved a few minutes off my morning, I can’t say that they made me feel less fatigued at day’s end. The monotony made me uncomfortable and I wondered if it was all worth it. I became no better at making other decisions, and now I was also stressed and bummed out.

I'm not the only one who had this utter rejection of the challenge. Reader Heather Taylor, who says she also works in a creative field, wore black trousers every day with a different blouse. Here's what she had to say:

I couldn't wear the same top every day . . . That would start to look strange. I'm already the new girl working in our office so the last thing I need is a reputation for being the new girl who wears the same damn thing every single day. Only the pants stayed consistent and THAT was a challenge because it was so hot outside that wearing them felt completely stupid once I left that AC'd office floor behind at 5 p.m. I anticipate wearing a dress tomorrow and freeing my legs of their miserable pants confines!

But some people embraced the added simplicity:

Reader Nicole M. Truog admits that her wardrobe of pencil skirts and button-down shirts can sometimes be boring, but she offers an alternative to the challenge. She says she pares down her decision-making and simplifies things by only picking the color of her skirt and shirt to match each morning.

I . . . think wearing (essentially) the same thing creates a certain dependability and I don’t get distracted with wardrobe decisions each day!

Paring down your closet to only a few options seems like the best solution, and several readers agree.

Diane Danielson is the COO of a commercial real estate advisory company and a mother of two teenagers. Her job requires her to travel a lot, so she's put a lot of thought into what will make traveling easiest for her.

When getting up at 4:30 a.m. to catch a flight, who wants to think? I know what shoes can get through the scanners and never wear pants that need belts, and I wear business casual that could work for a meeting if something happened to my luggage along the way.

Danielson says she owns much of the same clothes in two sets of color schemes, and when she returns from a trip having worn one color scheme, she immediately puts that set in the wash and packs her other color scheme for the next trip. She makes sure all the clothes she purchases are fuss- and wrinkle-free, and she packs the same pair of shoes and jewelry each time.

What I've noticed, besides the less stress in the mornings, is that because I'm sticking to styles that look professional and are well fitted and suit me, people think I'm more stylish than when I had every latest trend in my closet.

All totaled, I believe that routinization of daily tasks can certainly help us simplify things and give our minds a bit of a break. But at what point do we become autobots, and is the sacrifice worth the payoff?

When running a startup, or say a country, and you have some serious decisions to make, yes, I think the payoff would be more significant and worthwhile.

For me, not so much.

[Image: Bombaert Patrick via Shutterstock]

Add New Comment

2 Comments

  • I am drinking your productivity Kool aid. I tried the 'insanely early' wake up but failed both due to a new class that ended at 1:30am (I work in Hollywood, crazy place) and got sick at the same time, so I could barely pull myself out of bed a half hour earlier (at 7) -- but the mind set was there. It helped get some writing work done but nothing innovative like I do in the midnight hours. But at least, now, I set my alarm. The 'wear the same thing everyday' was more effective. Being an actor and a fashion addict, cultivating a Pinterest worthy outfit beyond audition wardrobe and workout gear had become an obsession. And a huge waste of time. I'm not a style blogger monetizing my OOTD so who really cares. Thus, knowing that I'm going to put on my 'uniform' of a tank, jeans and boots each day - albeit different varieties of - was a welcome change, mostly because it forced me to examine my 'brand' again. With creative endeavors taking up my day, a streamlined look was a relief.

  • This, of course, is why men wear suits to work. The only choice then is what shirt and - at a push - what socks to choose each day (given that the tie is now dead). I have taken to calling my suit 'my uniform' and relish the fact that I don't have to make any choices about what to wear 5/7 other than the shirt/sock combo of the day. It also makes business travel much easier - travel in the suit so you don't have to pack it for wear the next day. Less non-business wear packing as a result. Just my tuppenceworth...