The price of choice

Choices are expensive.

And not just because of opportunity cost, but because of the impact that making a choice has on us.

That’s why discipline is so hard. Or any kind of change where we aren’t being driven by passion or some form of natural motivation.

We are creatures of habit. And once we’re headed in a direction it’s very hard to change it.

That’s why trying to make changes outside of our norms is so taxing on the mind. I’ve always found it hard to illicit change in myself. Even when it’s something I really really want to see happen, the energy only lasts so long before it runs out.

As an illustration, I’ve been focussed on weight loss and fitness for the last four years. It’s been an up and down road. 

Over the years, a few things have settled as habits, but I’ve also found it harder and harder to remain focused on eating right. 

And honestly, I’ve always found that focusing on exercising was a lot easier than focusing on eating, and I think I know why. 

Exercising is an active thing. Once I do it I always feel better, it feels like I’m proactively changing, and so I think it’s a lot easier to keep motivated with it. Eating, on the other hand, is very passive. There are some immediate impacts of eating healthily over not (less chance of feeling bloated, etc) but generally it doesn’t feel very active. 

Additionally, I think the main issues boil down the to the number of decisions one needs to make for each.

When exercising it’s really a matter of deciding when to exercise and what to do. And typically it’s three to four times a week. 

Eating on the other hand is deciding what to have, and that includes remembering what you can and can’t eat as well as usually having to make (or pre-make) food, three times a day, six to seven days a week (if you’ve got a cheat day). And it’s not just three times a day, but it’s also repeatedly choosing not to indulge that chocolate or pasta craving, and that typically happens a lot more than just at eating times.

So, in summary, where exercising requires you to make the right choice maybe 8 times in a week, with eating it’s upwards of 50. And all those choices tire out the brain and willpower. 

The other side of it is that the more you make the right choice, the easier it is the next time, and so, arguably, making 50 right choices in a week means it should set in as a habit a fair amount quicker than the 8-odd times with exercising. 

Thankfully, though, there are tools one can use that reduces the day-to-day choices and makes it a lot easier to instigate change consistently.

A bit more on that next time.


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