I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin’s work. Ive read both The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, and the really wonderful part about these books is that they point out simple changes that can have a meaningful impact on one’s quality of life. However, it’s important to note that just because a thing is simple, it is not necessarily easy. What a particular happiness-boosting strategy might lack in complexity, it often compensates for in its difficulty to implement.
One such strategy is breaking the false choice narrative. As soon as I read about this concept, I immediately recognized the ways in which it applies to me. As Gretchen Rubin explains it, the false choice is a sort of decision-making “trap” in which we limit ourselves to a few, cut-and-dry possibilities instead of surveying a wide variety of options. In this way, the false choice is comforting–it reduces the amount of mental bandwidth we need in order to size up a situation and make a decision. On the other hand, it severely limits our creativity and often makes us feel powerless to the few options we are considering.
Furthermore, whenever the false choice is at play, the options we’re considering are often directly opposing and/or mutually exclusive. That’s the real danger of the false choice, in my opinion–it creates a subtle narrative in one’s mind, in which the only viable options live at the extremes of the spectrum. With this narrative, we subconsciously view life’s choices in an either/or fashion without creatively constructing more nuanced possibilities.
Am I losing you with the vague generalities of this description? I think I lost myself, to be honest! So let me give an example. Ever since I graduated from college and began working in corporate America, I knew I wanted to do something meaningful with my non-working hours. I was sick of even the thought of coming home every night and watching Netflix until it was time to go to bed, then rinsing and repeating every single day. However, I was even more afraid of what I might have to sacrifice in order to spend my spare time on a more meaningful, likely more time- and energy-intensive pursuit.
A large part of me believed that if I started doing more in my free time, I would feel even more exhausted during my working hours than I already did (thanks to obligatory daily workouts and a diet that wasn’t ideal for my body–more on that here). But I was also well aware that my lack of action was creating anxiety and impending despair about the true quality of my life. Essentially, I was forming habits and beliefs around the concept that my job was the best use of all of my energy, and that I had nothing to contribute to the world in my off-hours. I was attaching my identity to my professional self without giving myself permission to explore my other interests and hobbies, afraid that if I channeled energy toward those things, I’d have less to give to my career.
Even today, I still struggle with this particular false choice narrative, just with a new spin. Now that I am living with the boyfriend, I constantly fear that my ever-changing schedule of blogging/working/exercising/doing social things will disrupt the daily rhythm of his life. And I am weirdly terrified to rock the boat in that way. But that’s the underlying issue with this false choice narrative–the real options here aren’t to either 1) make drastic changes or 2) make no changes at all. In reality, there are a multitude of ways that I can iterate and test out new daily schedules/routines that each involve minor tweaks. I don’t have to collectively say eff it to blogging, just so that I can wake up/come home from work/work out/go to sleep all at the same time as usual. I can do some blogging in the morning, hit the gym over lunch time, and maybe even stay up a little bit late. That’s a much more creative, flexible situation that will allow me to grow in the ways that I need to grow, in order to become the person I feel compelled to become.
That’s the most deathly facet of the false choice, in my opinion–that it ultimately inhibits us from growing and evolving, from holistically assessing our lives and developing creative solutions to get what we want and need. With this in mind, how am I fighting back against the urge to indulge the simplicity of the false choice? I am choosing to exert just slightly more brainpower when assessing the options in front of me. I am choosing to consider not just the black-and-white possibilities, but also the shades of gray. After all, this is my one and only life, and it deserves to be crafted and molded with intention and care.
Do you find yourself employing the false choice? Do you experience the false choice narrative when making decisions? In what ways is that narrative limiting your possibilities and holding you back from what you really want?