Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices you have to make in a given day? If so, you are not alone: the phenomenon is so prevalent in today’s hectic times that it has been given its own name, decision fatigue, as well as its own magazine.
With this in mind, for this month of my mussar inititaive, I focused on the concept of simplicity. From a Jewish perspective, we can think about developing our halacha, Jewish law, as an exercise in simplicity. In trying to best answer the question of how best to live our lives, or how God wants us to live our lives, depending on how you look at it, hundreds of years of debates about the intricacies and nuances of Jewish law have been simplified into a set of rules and traditions.
We can take the same approach in our own lives, creating rules, habits, and routines to simplify our choices, from the spiritually inclined to the mundane. During this month, I found myself turning to my own rules. I happened to be contacted by an ex about meeting up when he moves back to the area. And in the moment that I got that email, there was a part of me that wanted to pursue that. But then I recalled my rule, that I do not keep in touch with exes who habitually lie, and I restrained myself. And the next day, when I was no longer as caught up in nostalgia, I was glad that I’d followed my rule.
When I recently wrote about self-care, I also mentioned a number of other rules that people adhere to for simplifying their lives, like meal schedules or uniforms. Aside from my ex-avoidance, my major simplification effort this month was related to breakfast. Over many years, I have struggled with finding a breakfast option that was simple to prepare, that would keep me full until lunch time, and that I would actually want to eat every morning. Getting serious about this pursuit, I surveyed friends about their breakfast choices and started by writing a list and thinking about whether each potential option met my criteria. The winner: bananas with Nutella. Bananas are easy, cheap, and come in their own wrapper, and paired with Nutella, they provide enough sustenance and deliciousness to keep me coming back.
The same simplification ideas also apply to communication. If you’ve ever texted with someone for two hours trying to decide where to go for lunch, you know what I’m talking about. And there is absolutely no good reason that I’ve found for why such a small decision should take so much back and forth and should drag on for so long. But what I have started to recognize is that the more complicated the conversation, the more complicated the relationship with the person on the other end. Could simplifying our communications also simplify our relationships?
But I mention all this with the usual grain of salt, that by pursuing the simple, we may lose out on the richness of the complicated. For example, when we blindly follow rules, we are subject to the biases of the people who made those rules, with whom we may not agree, and as result, we may find our options and perspectives unnecessarily limited. The same goes for writing off complicated people or ideas, from which the world becomes a less vibrant and interesting place.
I believe the trade-off between the simple and the complicated is like a lot of tradeoffs I’ve examined in this series. There are a lot of parts of our lives that are determined by forces out of our control, but for those that are within our control, our choices are real, but the consequences of those choices are also real. We make choices that can build or break relationships, uplift people or break them down, or simply keep us full until lunchtime or not.
If you’ve been following this series, I hope that it has provided a different perspective on the choices we make, the consequences they have, and the effects on ourselves and the people in our lives.