Last year, after I decided to take the leap to move across the country alone, I got rid of anything that wouldn’t fit in my car (okay okay, I may have one or two boxes at my parents’ house still). This was a necessary and welcome downsize for me as I didn’t see the point in paying thousands of dollars to transport stuff that wasn’t worth that much (either monetarily or sentimentally). What I didn’t realize, however, was that with my downsize of worldly possessions and a fresh slate in a new city, I was inadvertently carving the perfect path to a choice minimal lifestyle.
A choice minimal lifestyle is just that: a lifestyle in which we minimize the attention we give to choices and decisions. In his blog, author Tim Ferriss calls it “a subtle and underexploited philosophical tool that produces dramatic increases in both output and satisfaction, all with less overwhelm.”
To me, it is a happy byproduct of simple living.
Coincidentally, choice minimal living is also a fantastic way to improve our health and happiness. Why? As it turns out, each and every one of us has a finite amount of mental energy. Think of it as an allowance that we are given each morning. We can spend this allowance however we want, but when it’s gone, we are pretty much S.O.L. until we are given more (for most of us, that happens naturally with a good night’s sleep).
It is important to note that mental energy is required for creativity, attention, and willpower.
This means, if we spend up all of our mental energy on trivial decisions (Which shoes should I wear? Should I order my coffee hot or iced?) and distractions (another cute puppy video, procrastinating on doing the dishes again), we will have very little left for being creative, exerting willpower over temptation, and making important choices to improve our quality of life.
Just think, have you ever made it to the end of your day, or worse, the middle of your day, and realized you are so mentally and emotionally exhausted that you just have to have that extra indulgence? Or maybe you had every intention of going to the gym, or spending an hour on that extra project that will get you closer to your goals, but you are feeling so drained that you put it off to the next day?
By minimizing the attention and mental energy we give to the endless trivial decisions and distractions that bombard us everyday, we can exert self-control where it really matters, and give more attention and focus to important decisions which will propel us forward in life.
So how do we create a choice minimal lifestyle? As I mentioned, getting rid of a significant amount of stuff and moving across the country to somewhere new worked tremendously for me, but I know that these same steps may be unrealistic for others. There are, however, many steps to take to create a choice minimal lifestyle that do not involve uprooting yourself:
- Create routines and systems. Automating is one of the most critical steps for freeing up mental energy and becoming healthier and happier because it allows us to do the things we know will be beneficial without having to put much thought or effort into them. Eating the same healthy breakfast and/or lunch each day, going to the gym at the same time each day, incorporating mediation into our morning or evening routines, always taking the same path around the grocery store, and even having a set standing date night with a loved one are all examples of ways in which we can create routines that enable us to stay healthy while freeing up mental energy to be used in other areas.
- Get rid of clutter and create an organized environment. Even though we might feel that cluttered and disorganized spaces do not affect us, subconsciously, living and working in a cluttered and messy space is like having a tiny monkey on your shoulder poking you and whispering “hey, look at that mess over there, and that clutter over there . . . you should maybe do something about that someday . . .” It might not feel like a direct mental drain, but we do notice the loose ends in our environments. Doing away with the clutter is like kicking that monkey to the curb and being able to focus 100% of our attention and energy on other things.
- Focus on making non-critical decisions faster. Ask yourself, is this really important? If I choose one option over the other, is it really going to make that much difference to my life? If the answer is no, make the decision quickly and move on . . . save that mental energy for something more important!
- Downsize. I’m not saying we all ought to be living out of backpacks, but by reducing the amount of stuff we own, we actually reduce the decisions involved around that stuff. A smaller wardrobe, for example, means we will have fewer choices of what to wear each morning. So instead of wasting tons of mental energy on which outfit is the cutest between 10 options, we can choose between 2-3 and move on.
In this busy era of technology and face-paced living, there is no doubt that many of us are overloaded with decisions and endless pulls for our attention. But our mental energy is a finite resource day to day. By purposely minimizing the mental energy we expend on things that are less important, we are able to cultivate the attention, willpower, and creativity to ultimately create happier and healthier lives.