The Costs of Choosing

Keyword Update

English: A snowy day, not so far from me - Loo...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that my keyword for winter is clearing. I have way too many projects and tasks that need to be done. I had a four-week semester break from mid-January to mid-February, and I had planned to make big strides on many of the responsibilities I have and move toward the clearing. And while I got a fair amount done, it fell far below my expectations. During those four weeks, I often found myself just treading water or worse, falling further behind. I found myself getting more and more frustrated. I felt like I was procrastinating, but I made three observations that made me realize there was more going on. Specifically, I noticed three basic ways I approached tasks during the semester break.

  1. With many projects and tasks all clamoring for attention, I tried to juggle things and work a little on many projects. Or at least, I made sure to schedule everything on the calendar. I convinced myself that I could just power my way through. But there was so real focus. I figured as long as I’m making progress on ONE or more of the tasks, things would eventually work out. But then suddenly, a deadline would loom, and I would be in crisis mode. When a specific project was screaming for attention, I would focus on that project, eventually completing it on time. However, the process was usually stressful.
  2. This was a less effective version of #1, in that the pile of tasks was so overwhelming that I gave up on all the separate piles of stuff and stacked up all the tasks in one pile. I started at the top of the pile and moved through whatever showed up next. So the time was filled, some things got done, but it’s terribly inefficient because there is no grouping of tasks, no prioritizing, and no real progress. In the end, I feel like I’m spinning my wheels, with very little to show for it, and the important projects crash in on me as in #1 above.
  3. Sometimes, the pile of tasks is so overwhelming that even taking the top one or two from the pile seems like a waste of time. I start to feel immobilized by the sheer number of projects on my to-do list. I engage in activities to escape, even if that escapism is to rearrange my to-do lists in different ways. I keep trying new ways to schedule the activities, new ideas for organizing, in the hopes that a new method will break the logjam. Rhe problem is that in spite of all my list-making, prioritizing, and shuffling, I can’t seem to find my way to being productive in an ongoing way. I am constantly forced into action by deadlines. 

Freedom and Choice

In the blog, Farther to Go, the concept of choice as freeing is challenged.

The concepts of freedom and choice seem to belong side by side. What is freedom if not freedom to choose? The idea that we could be free, experience freedom, without also having and exercising the ability to choose is difficult to contemplate. But Krishnamurti believed otherwise.

We think that through choice we are free, but choice exists only when the mind is confused. There is no choice when the mind is clear. When you see things very clearly without any distortion, without any illusions, then there is no choice. A mind that is choiceless is a free mind, but a mind that chooses and therefore establishes a series of conflicts and contradictions is never free because it is in itself confused, divided, broken up.

It was the shift from thinking I was free to choose which activity I wanted  to work on next that was causing some of my trouble. It wasn’t just the number of items on the to-do list, it was the illusion of choice. My mind was confused, and I could not move ahead with any kind of clarity.When there are 10-15 or more things competing for my attention, my mind is confused. I have the illusion of choice. All those options and I keep trying to “figure it out.” As soon as I stopped looking at these projects as options from which to choose, it became easier to just complete the tasks that presented themselves. When the mind is clear, the next step doesn’t have to be “figured out.” I had to admit that while planning is important, I was getting caught up in shifting tasks from spot to spot on my calendar and trying a variety of different ways to organize as a way to avoid the actual work–a way of using choice and options as a way to continue the confusion.

Prioritizing vs. Choosing

Discovering the best use of my time at a given moment isn’t about choice as much as it is about priority.Once I prioritize, my mind starts to clear. Even though there is still more than I can do, priorities help move me toward the beginning of clarity. With most of the “noise” of endless possibilities removed, I am free to actually start working on the items that have emerged as important. Once my mind is clear, the steps are clear. Without the illusion of choice, I am free to be productive.

The Moratorium Revisited

I stumbled upon how freeing the absence of choice is when I put the moratorium into place at the end of December. Now that it’s March 1st, it’s time to renew for another day. There truly is no choice. I’ve discovered that by already knowing that I need to say “no” to any new responsibilities, projects, or activities that come along, I don’t have to consider the pros and cons of such things. I already know. Moving toward the clearing and having space and time for myself and what’s important to me can only happen if I get out from under the massive to-do list I have. And that can’t happen if I keep adding more things to the list. Now when some “opportunity” comes along, I don’t get sucked in. I am clear about my direction, and the moratorium reminds me to stay on track. It’s freeing to already know the answer to the question when it arrives.

Paradox as Challenge

I now recognize that my procrastination was more about a lack of clarity about what was really important. I kept getting stuck because I confused the tasks to be done with choice, will power, and “figuring it out.” With a clear picture of what I am trying to accomplish, the path is clear. I know what to do next. There are still challenges whenever that illusion of choice tempts me into cloudy thinking, but I will keep reminding myself about the freedom I’ve felt from relinquishing choice and moving toward clarity. It may seem a paradox, but it’s one worth continued exploration.

Related articles