OC Emberton

The curse of freedom

In the western world we enjoy the freedom to do almost anything. You could spend your day getting a tattoo or learning Spanish or cataloguing videos of kittens playing the piano. You could work as a firefighter or blogger or start a business designing inflatable cutlery.

All this freedom has come at a cost: the need to make constant choices. This wouldn’t be a problem, except we suck at choices.

Ironically, the more choices we have, the harder it is to make decisions. If you ask someone to choose an iPhone in one of three colours they should have little problem. Now tell them they can have it in any colour they can imagine, and watch their foreheads crinkle.

When your options are infinite, it’s impossible to pick the best option. But a fear of making the wrong decision can stop us from choosing anything. Like a career, for instance.

We also like easy decisions. This means we’re incredibly easy to manipulate, because given the choice between “go for a run” or “go for a drink” we’re liable to act against our own best interests. Companies and advertisers exploit this habit relentlessly.

Of course we sometimes take the tough decisions. But only for a while. Scientists have long observed that willpower is finite, and that each tough decision you make weakens your ability to keep doing so (until you recharge on food and sleep). That gym session you managed makes you more vulnerable to choosing chocolate cake later. This is the main reason tough habits are hard to keep: we literally grow weak from trying to enforce them.

The solution to making better choices is to impair our freedom. You need to make hard decisions that restrict your ability to make dumb decisions later. You need to plan for your own weakness.

Freedom is a wonderful privilege, but don’t underestimate the burden of your choices. If you don’t protect yours, the world will make them for you.

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