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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Learn to Love Constraints - Barry Schwartz

From the closing chapter of The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz:
As the number of choices we face increases, freedom of choice eventually becomes a tyranny of choice. Routine decisions take so much time and attention it becomes difficult to get though the day. In circumstances like these, we should learn to view limits on the possibilities we face as liberating not constraining. Society provides rules, standards, and norms for making choices, and individual experience creates habits. By deciding to follow a rule (wear a seat belt, never drink more than two glasses of wine in one evening), we avoid having to make a deliberate decision again and again. This kind of rule-following frees up time and attention that can be devoted to thinking about choices and decisions to which rules don't apply.

In the short run, thinking about these second-order decisions --- decisions about when in life we will deliberate and when we will follow the pre-determined paths --- add a layer of complexity to life. But in the long run, many of the daily hassles will vanish, and we will find ourselves with time, energy, and attention for the decisions we have chosen to retain.

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