decisions and routine
As the world keeps getting more complex, I’d argue there’s more decisions and choices to be made than ever before. Science and technology keep providing advances and new questions. The constraints and rules imposed by different religions, and geometrically local customs, are dwindling. This increasing amount of choices and freedoms can have a wearing effect on us all.
Everyone has a limited reserve of willpower to spend. It definitely varies form person to person, but I doubt no one has infinite one. Choosing socks or what flavour of tea to have in the morning will consume the willpower, little by little. There are the legendary examples of Jobs, Zuckerberg or Obama, who wear the same clothing from day to day, presumably because of exactly the same reasons. Less choices generally ease the decision making, as more of them can steer to total decision avoidance.
One should therefore be aware of potentially wasting the available mental resources. A “control-freak” can deplete their willpower on unimportant decisions, eventually undermining the more important ones.
It’s been suggested that this depletion depends somewhat on “The Decider’s” attitude, and their belief on the fact that willpower is indeed limited. I would argue then, that decision fatigue can serve as a kind of excuse for laziness or intentional, “bad” decisions.
Having a predetermined set of routines removes decision making from daily details. A routine can be a morning ritual consisting of shower, coffee, meditation, reading, or pretty much anything. Having not to think about something that can be automated or is otherwise obvious, you will have more mental energy as the day goes by.
Another way of avoiding unnecessary decision making is outsourcing it. That is, letting software or preferably other people make those decisions that don’t concern you that much. Reducing decision makers in a social setting can accelerate the decision making process. Sometimes, therefore, tactical indifference can serve both oneself and the group.
I’ve found an interesting source for inspiration in these matters to be Mason Currey‘s “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work”. It lists different work habits of artists across centuries and professions. Currey describes many time-wise both familiar and weird strategies for scheduling creative work. Some do their best at night, some scatter their work in small chunks across the day and some depend on heavy use of intoxicants. The main takeaway is that many have their allocated slots for work, without waiting for any particular creative insight.
Inspiration comes in waves, and waiting for it can be frustrating. It is certain to wane, but routine and persistence keep the momentum on when no inspiration is available. Sometimes, inspiration comes only after one strenuously starts doing something, and continues to build up from thereon.
Inspiration can be found in the most unexpected and unrelated places. Finding connections between non-obvious things can be both inspiring and creative. Meditation, or meditative/repetitive practises help the mind to heal and clear itself from outside influences, as well as self-harming or standstill thoughts. Jogging, yoga, walking, swimming, bicycling, etc. are good for resetting the mind. Within the daily grind, it’s a good idea to periodically pause, and take a break from the perhaps stalling struggle to produce.
Now I’m not advocating to avoid decision making, but instead encouraging one to save their willpower on those important decisions. Being aware of mental resources is key, as is also remembering that the mind is flexible. Having a routine that helps diminish those uninspired moments and keep working is essential for steady progress.
a fitting summarisation, via Daily Rituals, by William James:
The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than on in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.