Life is heavier than the weight of all things – Rainer Maria Rilke
I’m not just talking about the mental “weightiness” of our lives or the existential weight of the decisions we make on a daily basis. I’m talking also about the basic physical weights and measures of the things we possess and the life that we carry with us wherever we go.
The average North American home has tripled in size in the last 50 years while the number of people living in those homes, the average family size, has gotten smaller.
1 in 4 of those homes doesn’t have enough room in their garage to park a car while 1 in 10 rents extra off-site storage.
Over the course of our lifetime we will spend a total of 153 days (or 3,672 hours) looking for misplaced items.
All of this “stuff” is quite literally weighing us down but that’s not all – Psychologists have identified a relatively new pathology known as decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of the decisions we make the more we make them. It is now understood to be one of the main causes of irrational decision making. Judges and other professional decision makers have been shown to make less favorable decisions later in the day than they do early in the day. If you want to win in court, try to make sure your case is on the docket in the morning.
Decision fatigue also leads to poor choices in our personal lives, such as how we spend our money and our time. There is also a paradox inherent in decision fatigue in that people who lack choice seem to want it more while at the same time find that making too many choices can be psychologically draining.
Lastly, research is beginning to show that the single biggest factor causing decision fatigue is not the importance or consequences of the decisions being made but their sheer volume. Deciding what to wear in the morning or what to eat for breakfast contributes just as much to our daily decision fatigue as determining the case of a plaintiff in a multimillion dollar civil complaint. A decision is a decision and fatigue is fatigue.
Ask anyone what they truly want out of life and the answer will more often than not boil down to some form of peace and happiness. Still more research is beginning to show that people who report being the most peaceful and happy with their lives also seem to be the ones who are forced to make the fewest decisions throughout the day. And the decisions they do make whether in their personal or professional lives tend to be of higher quality.
I was recently challenged by a friend and spiritual mentor to embrace some of the tenants of minimalism. At the same time I’ve been reading David Allen’s definitive work on time management and productivity “Getting Things Done”. Both seek to reduce stress and increase enjoyment and productivity by reducing the weight of things in our lives and streamlining decision making.
It seems counter intuitive but by reducing the number of choices we are faced with we actually open up our minds to new possibilities and new ideas and lighten the burden of some of the bigger and more consequential decisions we are faced with. Albert Einstein, one of the greatest thinkers of modern history was known to have 7 copies of the exact same set of clothing, one for each day of the week, and ate the exact same meal for breakfast and lunch every single day. That’s three fewer decisions he had to make than most other people which helped to open his mind for weightier things.
In my work as a financial advisor I see the other side of the coin every day. Lives built on a house of cards of debt, and stress. People are running faster and faster just to remain in one place. We have been sold a lie that the key to happiness is the acquisition of more. And that the truly happy and “together” people are also able to do more with their time. Carrying last year’s model smart-phone is considered a sign of poverty in some circles and simply stopping to relax with your family, without a program or agenda to follow, is somehow seen as sloth or a waste of precious time.
The truth is we need down time in order to maintain our sanity. There is nothing wrong with staying in and doing nothing, just like there is nothing wrong with carrying and using a still functional smart-phone.
Minimalism and the type of streamlining decision making advocated by authors and consultants like Allen, are not a panacea for all that ails us. But they can be a first step in determining what truly matters, making better decisions and living a more peaceful and fulfilling life.
It’s time to lighten our lives, worry less and live more.
Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated a small farm, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, and has written 3 books on Economics, Ethics and Spirituality. He has presented his ideas to business owners and leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.
Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations. He brings to his work a passion for people and a desire to teach everyone to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 613-295-4141.