When asked to describe their ideal life, most people we've talked to offer remarkably similar visions. They describe living somewhere with a strong sense of community and access to the outdoors and beauty. They imagine being with people they care about and doing things that are meaningful and fun. In this new reality they also have plenty of time for good food and good times.
Essentially this is a place where the structure and defaults—where you live, what you do, even your choices of what to eat—lead you to well-being. Unlike an airport waiting area where your decision is between Cinnabon or a diet Dr Pepper, the choices in your ideal world are between homemade bread, fresh fruit, and really good tea (at least in ours!).
Somewhere we read that President Obama leaves all his mundane day-to-day decisions—like what to wear, and what to eat—to others. He does this in order to save his energy for making the important decisions only he can make. While our decision burden is significantly less than the President's, we can relate. All decisions take energy regardless of their size or impact. Studies show that we only have so much decision making capacity and that the process depletes us physically and psychologically until we have a chance to restore. Talk to anyone faced with a lot of choices like remodeling a home, planning a wedding, or even contemplating the proverbial cereal aisle and it becomes clear that decision fatigue is real! And with one million iPhone apps to choose from—to name just one itsy bitsy example—relief doesn't seem to be anywhere in sight.
This is why a big part of the good life is about creating the right kind of structure and defaults, so that well-being is highly likely given the limited choices you've created for yourself. You don't have to decide to get enough exercise; it's part of your daily walk to work, or school, or to run errands. You don't have to decide to see the people you care about; you see them regularly where you live, work, and play.
This is also why simplifying plays a role in the good life. By eliminating the extraneous choices from our daily menu, we are left with a few truly satisfying options. Which of the three healthy and tasty breakfast foods will I eat this morning? Which of my two pairs of work shoes will I wear? Which of the two good books by my bed will I read? (We know we lost a few of you with the last example, but for a moment just consider limiting that pile of possibilities.)
As we have said before, novelty is essential to our sense of well-being. We crave the unexpected, the new, and the shiny. But as we overheard a mother telling her child at the checkout counter the other day, "It's not a treat if we have it every day, is it?" Choice used to be a novelty, but now it is a daily, even moment to moment, possibility. Click here, look there, read this, evaluate that. And that's just the choice minefield (mindfield?) of opening your e-mail in the morning!
Endless options, while alluring, ultimately have a depressing impact on our satisfaction which, ironically, can make us crave even more options. The way off this hamster wheel of choice is to create good structures with a few simple defaults for the vast majority of our everyday decisions. By so doing we then have more time and energy to make better decisions about all the other stuff life throws our way, including figuring out what kind of novelty would be truly exhilarating.
In our work we assist people in making decisions and creating the structures and defaults that support their version of the good life, knowing that all of this is ultimately in service to their living the good life. These structures and defaults are not the end goal, but they are an important means to supporting the being and doing embedded in our highest aspirations. They make it easier for us to focus, and to carve out more time for it all, especially the good times.
What is your vision of the good life these days? Notice how much of your description involves "good life givens"—things that are stable over time—versus "good life options"—things that you decide continuously. What do you already have in place, and in what areas would you like to create simple structures and defaults?
If you'd like to better understand the decision making process and how to structure your life to minimize decision fatigue, here's a great article on the topic.
Simplifying is always a good first step. Is there a choice you make often in your life that you can streamline into a few good defaults? Try this for the next few weeks and see what impact it has on your experience, your time, and your sense of well-being.
Sending you a February full of love and support,
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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