Decisions erode our focus and willpower. We don't realize how many dozens of choice points we face each day, and we only start to realize how much they eat into our mental bandwidth after it’s brought to our attention. It's formally known as 'decision fatigue.' Habits are one way to reduce the number of decisions we need to make each day. Not giving a [fig] is another way. Making a policy is one of the key skills that separates happy, relaxed, successful people from the rest of us.
Everyone has the ability to make a policy. We do it all the time without realizing it. How funky
and scary leftovers need to be before we definitely won’t risk taking a bite is one of those firm
policy decisions. Spores? Nope. Blue-green, aqua, or teal? No thank you. We don’t have to
dither or waste any time making up our minds. We have a policy in place. See how easy it is?
It’s easiest for us to make firm policies when a situation arouses disgust or fear. We won’t eat
gross moldy food; we won’t let our personal hygiene drop past a certain level, even if we’re
feeling ill; we have bare minimum standards for the kind of spills we’ll tolerate on our floors
before cleaning up. We won’t walk down dark alleys or handle exotic creatures such as
tarantulas or snakes. Some of us are more comfortable with activities or behaviors that others
would avoid, but we’re generally aware of that. I won’t scream when I see a snake on the trail,
but I will respect its space and leave it to go about its snaky business without interference from
It’s easy to make a policy for situations that come up only rarely. Am I a hugger or not a
hugger? Policy decision. Do I handle or not handle exotic animals? Policy decision. Am I an
early flight person or a late-night flight person? Do I check bags or do I aim for just a carry-on?
How big of a tipper am I? Do I look for parking as close as possible, or do I accept a certain
distance and save time by walking some extra yardage? Am I committed in my relationship, or
do I somehow think there’s room for potential romantic interactions with other people? Am I a
dog person or a cat person?
Where we don’t always realize there might be room for a policy decision are matters of daily
routine. How many times are we late in the morning because we made room for a choice point
about stopping for breakfast or coffee? How many times are we held up because we tried to fit
in one more task or chore before leaving? How much time do we spend fretting over what to
wear or what to eat for dinner? Are we committing to our health by getting enough sleep,
eating well, and exercising? Are we committing to peace of mind by maintaining a restful,
organized personal environment?
The more I put personal policies into place, the more I realize how liberating they are. So much
mental clarity can be found by just making up my mind once and for all about certain things. I
floss my teeth every night. Policy. I sleep 7.5-8 hours a night, even if I want to stay up late instead. Policy. I eat in such a way that I meet the RDA of all key micronutrients each day. I exercise at least 30 minutes every day, even if all I do is go for a walk. My policy is to try to beone percent healthier every year. That means walking a little faster, being active a little longer each day, increasing my range of motion and flexibility just a little bit, sleeping a little better, eating vegetables and fruit a little more often, and having a little more muscle mass. When I think of these things in one-percent increments, it feels manageable. It feels like something I can do, something that I can control, something that will always fit in my schedule.
Here are some policies that I like in my life:
Have an ultra-comfy and relaxing bedroom
Weigh in every day, just like I use a clock, a speedometer, and a thermometer
Power-slam a glass of water as soon as I wake up
Try to be a world-class listener
If I have something nice to say, say it
Check my emergency preparedness on a scheduled basis
Never miss a chance to say "I love you" to the important people in my life
Go to a gas station as soon as it hits a quarter tank
Seek out current research on health, fitness, etc and assume it probably has a point
Have a Power Hour once a week when I take care of any unfinished business
Do chores every day so I never have to do housework on the weekend
Only answer the phone if the number is in my contacts list
Be the first to apologize
Go ahead and scratch mosquito bites
Always buy lemonade from kids with lemonade stands
Stand up for other people if they are being treated unfairly
Return wallets or other items when I find them
Unsubscribe immediately from any email list I don’t want to be on
Make written goals every New Year and check progress every quarter
If I thought about it, I probably have hundreds of policies about everything from what I order in
a restaurant to how I choose what to read next. The idea is that when I have to use mental
bandwidth on a decision, it’s a big enough deal that it truly merits special attention. I’m not
going to burn through my quota of mental power for the day merely deciding what to wear. I’m certainly not going to burn through all my decision-making willpower before lunch! Policies
can always be revised on demand. Usually, though, a decision like "default to oatmeal for
breakfast every day" is a simple, risk-free decision. Policies are a simple, perhaps paradoxical
way to create freedom and flexibility. Almost all my brainpower is available for the fun, creative stuff.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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