When David Cain was 31 years old he had a life-changing breakthrough: He figured out breakfast.
As he writes on his superb Raptitude blog, fixing the same meal of oats and apples every day has lent a sense of spaciousness to his mornings that was otherwise absent, given the eenie-meenie-mynee-mo of choosing between choices. He used to think that leaving the breakfast choice to the day-of would lead to a more organic, fulfilling fast-breaking experience–though it did not.
Why? It’s the most first-worldy of first-world problems: Given an embarrassment of riches, we get embarrassed. And indecisive.
Cain extends the issue beyond the breakfast nook. We’re inundated with choices, he says, from the big ones like career, family, and relationships to small ones, which manifest in our breakfast choices and the suffocating inbox and the distracting smartphone.
This, Cain notes, is Not a Good Thing:
When we’re faced with a number of options, we’re always going to assume that one of them is better than all the rest. This means the more options there are, the more likely we are to choose one that isn’t the best one. We also presume it would take more homework to choose the right one. In other words, as options increase every decision becomes bigger, and so the more likely we are to delay our decisionmaking.
Since you’re always on the lookout for the perfect job, schedule, or partner, you have that nagging fear of missing out on something–which has been linked to life dissatisfaction. In the same way that you get bummed from seeing all the rapid successes of your Facebook friends and LinkedIn people, you get envious because you didn’t order the most awesome meal or aren’t dating the most awesome person. Since we are getting more and more options in every sphere of life, Cain notes, we assume our results will correlatively get better. But they don’t.
From what Cain argues, the key is to exercise some discernment about how you manage your decision-making itself. In the same way that Evernote designs a culture of design, we need to decide on the way we make decisions–pretty meta, right? Since we only have so much energy to spend on decision-making, we’d be more spacious–and effecitive–if we were mindful of what we were doing with our deciding.
“The best approach seems to be to give ample deliberation to the decisions that concern major aspects of life, such as career, family, relationships, high-level goals and creative pursuits, and don’t let small ones hang you up. The big ones determine what you actually do with your life–and it is their doing that contributes most to happiness, so it’s worth pruning out as many of the distracting minor decisions as possible so that you don’t cease the important doing because you’re caught up in unimportant thinking.”
Only do the important thinking: sounds like the right kind of routine, one that enhances, rather than erodes, your creativity. One which, by the way, Barack Obama and the ultra-productive Bob Pozen have already figured out.