This is the season of excess. There is just so much at this time of year. So much food and drink, so many gifts and events.
In the midst of all the excess, it can be tremendously liberating to use a powerful tool to create a life that you love: constraint.
The type of constraint I’m talking about is just a limitation or restriction that you decide ahead of time to impose on yourself because you realize that it’s in your best interest.
When you decide ahead of time, you’re allowing your pre-frontal cortex to run the show and decide how you want to live your life. And when you do that, you’re likely to find that you like your life a lot better.
This is not about deprivation. It’s about taking care of yourself, deciding what you really want, and living with intention.
Most of the traditions that we follow at this time of year come from other people. We spend, eat, and drink too much during the holidays because it’s what we’ve always done and we continue to do it every year. But is it really serving us?
When you constrain, you take a step back and evaluate what you really want for your life. You get to throw out other people’s rulebooks and expectations and decide how you really to live on your own terms.
Here are some ways to consider applying constraint in your own life:
- Maybe you decide that you don’t really want to have tons of sweets in the house from Christmas until New Year’s, or until you finish them. You can decide to constrain. You can decide ahead of time to enjoy the treats at one or two holiday gatherings and then throw (or give) the rest away.
- Consider whether you want or need so much physical stuff in your life. If the stuff is taking a significant amount of your time or energy to care for or maintain, it might be time to simplify.
- Think about what you really want in your life for the next year. Write down your top five priorities and your core values and then see what changes you need to make to cut the rest out.
- If you want a less hectic schedule during the week and more time with your kids, you can decide to limit the number of extracurricular activities for the kids—many families require their kids to choose just one—and also the number of events that you’ll attend outside of work, etc.
- Constraining your consumption of social media, news, and TV will give you both time and the mental space for creativity. You can try going on a media fast for a week and see what it does to your productivity. Our brains need to rest and daydream, without consuming content during every waking hour. You may try it and decide (like I did two years ago) to limit its presence in your life.
- You might decide not to buy any new books until you finish the one you’re currently reading.
- You might decide that you’re going to have a fixed weekly meal plan (i.e. Italian on Mondays, tacos on Tuesdays, etc.) so that you don’t have to spend so much time and energy figuring out what’s for dinner at this point in your life.
- You can decide that you’re only going to shop at one to three clothing stores from now on. Why spend a lot of time looking everywhere when your three favorites will do?
How To Practice Constraint
There are myriad ways to use this tool to improve your life.
Regardless of which area of your life you decide to focus on, there are three main steps to practicing constraint.
- Examine your life with a fresh perspective. What do you have that you don’t need or want any more? What are you doing just because you’ve always done it that way? What are you doing because “everyone else” does it, too?
- Then ask yourself: Is this action/habit/practice/thing really serving me? Is it in alignment with how I want to live? Is it bringing me closer to my goals and the person I want to be? Or is taking me further from them? Is it taking something away from my life (like time, energy, space, etc.) instead of adding to it in a positive way?
- Finally, decide now what you no longer need and want. Decide now what the meal plan will be or what stores you’ll shop at or what your media usage will be. Decide and commit to that decision and you will eliminate the brain chatter that goes on when we’re typically debating whether or not do something. You’ve already decided ahead of time.
For example, I have decided that my family will only have sweets after dinner on the weekends, so my kids never ask for treats during the week. There’s no point in arguing or pleading. The decision has been made.
When you decide ahead of time, you are more free to focus on what you’ve already decided is the most important. You practice honoring your commitments to yourself. You cut out the excess that is no longer serving you and intentionally enjoy what is most important to you.
Have a beautiful New Year.
Go forth, grow, and bloom.