"Keep your options open."
While this sounds like good advice -- who doesn't want more choice, always? -- it often isn't.
I'm reading a mesmerizing book called 4,000 Weeks, by the British author Oliver Burkeman. This is how many weeks you'll live if you reach age 80. It is a laughably small number by almost any definition.
Burkeman spends a lot of time examining the mechanics of decision-making and why we should drop the notion of keeping our options open. Instead, Burkeman says, we should consciously be making decisions and closing off options if we want to become happier.
It's uncomfortable to feel limited.
By keeping our options open, we cling on to a feeling of control. If we don't decide on a particular course of action, and stay in a constant state of indecision, it can feel like the best way forward. We don't want to feel the discomfort of being limited. By consciously not making decisions, procrastination and indecision become part of our normal modus operandi.
Have you dreamed of something big -- writing that book, doing an extended retreat, traveling to distant locales, having a child? The best way of staying in control of those dreams is to hold on to the fantasy that we'll get around to them one day; by never starting the work needed to achieve them in the first place, we keep pushing them into the future. It's easier, and better, we imagine, to do nothing, since we can simply tuck it away and not risk anything. You can't fail if you don't start.
One thing I've learned in running a small business is that *everything* is a decision, including doing nothing. Making decisions is hard, and risky. But not making them is, too.
It helps to think of decision-making as a muscle that can be trained. Sometimes the stakes are high, and sometimes they're low. But getting into the habit of making decisions is a conscious practice, not so different from daily meditation. You know with certainty you're going to have to make dozens of decisions tomorrow, and the next day, and forever really. Making decisions consciously means you are owning the fact that you can't avoid making decisions. You're entering into reality more fully. And if you stop spreading your attention, and stop thinking of all the hypothetical options you might have instead, you surrender all your fantasies, and what you get instead is a commitment to imperfect action in reality, right now.
To keep our options open, we hang back from life. We somehow think we'll be happier that way. But the truth is that people are generally much happier when they close other options down.
Do you have something on your plate that you've been fearing or delaying? Do you know in your heart that you need to quit your job? Is there someone with whom you need to have a difficult conversation you really shouldn't put off any longer? Doing so may well be liberating, since you'll be forced down a path with no other options. And it's true with minor things too; what you fear is often not nearly as bad as you think it is, once you've taken a concrete step to face it head-on. Simply putting a stake in the ground can free up all kinds of unexpected energy.
Living your life like this brings you closer to the actual reality you're in. As you develop this habit of willingly making decisions and turning off your options, you may find yourself more energized and motivated.
The experience of being in conscious contact with reality as it actually is can be a key to the freedom you seek.