We’re taught to believe that the more choices we have, the more freedom we have. Plenty of studies have demonstrated that too many choices are actually problematic, paralyzing. Still we imagine that we’re better off if we don’t foreclose on any option and keep our choices open. The problem is, each day we’re presented with roughly 35,000 choices—several hundred alone on food.
- What do I wear?
- What should I eat?
- Should I take the elevator or the stairs?
- What should I watch on TV?
- What books or magazines or podcasts?
- What do I say and how do I say it?
- What do I believe?
- How much should I spend?
It’s no wonder “decision fatigue” is so common.
When our two daughters entered junior high they attended an all-girls Catholic school. For the next six years they wore the same uniform. Every day. At first they chafed at their loss of choice and self-expression, but in short order the complaints stopped. The uniform foreclosed on hours and hours of fretting and fussing over what to wear today. (In fact, many highly productive people wear the same thing every day—think Steve Jobs, Adele, Elon Musk—in order to save countless hours of choosing, and free up brain power for better things.)
Advent is a bulwark against the ten thousand “holiday” choices we have between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. It’s a conscious limiting of our choices. When we make one big decision—that the four weeks of Advent will prioritize time for quietness, relationship and simple joys—a thousand other siren choices are automatically ruled out. That is the wisdom of any daily spiritual practice: a commitment to this one thing today means I don’t have to think about a million other possibilities. And that, we now know, enlarges our freedom and increases our personal effectiveness, creativity and power.