How Less, Is More Freedom of Choice

In a recent blog, I wrote about how I noticed that when I do less, more seems to happen. In reality however, there is not really happening anything more. It is just that I have the head space to notice what is actually going on. On a similar note, the result of minor changes that I made to my daily routine recently, showed me, how reducing my freedom of choice, actually gave me more freedom to choose.

Unlimited possibilities

I decided that I would not use my phone until midday. As a consequence, my working efficiency went through the roof. After though, I realized that it was not necessarily the phone itself that made it harder to concentrate, but rather the choices it demanded me to make.

Without fully recognizing what was going on, I had to make 20 decisions within a minute. To respond, or not to respond. Like this photo, or not. Watch the next video, yes or no. Ultimately, my mind was tired before anything constructive had taken place.

Over the previous 12.000 years our society has changed immensely. At the time, it began with Agricultural Revolution, that changed our everyday life from gathering and hunting, to making crop grow on the field.

Then, roughly 200 years ago, the Industrial Revolution provoked another major change. Factories allowed for mass production, therefore creating space for other people to specialize in fields that not directly provided food and shelter.

Finally, roughly 50 years ago with the Digital Revolution, the first computers made it’s appearance. From then until now, these computers went from hardly producing a word, the size of a bedroom, to computers that allow you to access every bit of information on the planet, the size of a chest pocket.

The world around us has at least changed a thousandfold, nevertheless, it seems that our brains are still the same as before all these developments. Some sources even argue that our brains have shrank the previous 10.000 years. The amount of decisions we had to make before however, were significantly less than now.

Scholars once proclaimed that the agricultural revolution was a great leap forward for humanity. They told a tale of progress fuelled by human brain power. Evolution gradually produced ever more intelligent people. Eventually, people were so smart that they were able to decipher nature’s secrets, enabling them to tame sheep and cultivate wheat. As soon as this happened, they cheerfully abandoned the gruelling, dangerous, and often spartan life of hunter-gatherers, settling down to enjoy the pleasant, satiated life of farmers. That tale is a fantasy. There is no evidence that people became more intelligent with time.

Harari, Yuval Noah

Our brain, weighs about 2% of our total body mass, but it consumes up to 20% of the body’s energy production. Therefore, the increased amount of decisions that are demanded to us nowadays put even more strain on our energy supplies.

All these possibilities create an illusion of freedom. What is really happening however, is that they trap the mind in a circle of consecutive decision taking processes. That make us prone to worrying about the past, and overthinking the future. Even though, the only thing we can actually influence, is now.

I realized that when I put away my phone, do not open my e-mail, or make a planning, I am far from limiting myself. The thing with restriction is, that it is subject to the values and ideas of myself and my environment. What for the one is restriction, is liberating to the other. In the west we value our “freedom” so highly, that everything that seems to reduce it, is diminishing our quality of life.

When you take a better look though, we have not only become slaves to the luxuries and the comfort we enjoy, even more so, we have become slaves to our sense of freedom. How free are you really then?

I believe freedom is not the accumulation of the amount of choices I have, rather it is the presence that I have when taking decisions.

The moment I reduce all the blur, my mind has energy to do what it is good at. The fact that I limit my physical actions, does not mean that everything that is not physical is limited as a consequence. Therefore, when I reduce the amount I use my phone, the amounts of time I turn on the TV, and the food choices I have to make, I actually create a better environment for my mind to thrive in.