Life

Tailoring Your Life by Choice

It’s easy to dismiss the idea of “lifestyle design” as a recent fad, the unholy godchild of the “get rich quick” schemes and self-help. “How to Dress Like a Man” “How to Brew Coffee Like a Real Woman” “How to Program with your Inner Child” – there seems to be a positively schizophrenic aspect to some of these kinds of guides. One of the biggest problems with many of these is what I think of as the “One True Way” approach. That is to say, you have someone who has managed to “succeeded” in designing their life, and therefore they are going to show you the steps to design your own life.

I mentioned that one of the reasons I enjoyed Nora Dunn’s book  was that she didn’t present it in that way. Instead, she said “Ok, I did this thing. And if you want to do it, you probably can – but better.” And then not only did she highlight her own lessons learned but then goes on to show many other examples of how people have done it.

Why is this valuable? Why can’t we just find one way to do things, and do it, and let that be enough? Are we all so unable to focus and be happy with what we’ve got that we just keep trying out new things because we can’t settle? As I mentioned last week, to some extent we are built that way. We are just designed to mess with our lives. It’s spawned the entire industry of “lifestyle design”, with both good and bad elements (I try to stay in the former cadre).

Choosing Your Wardrobe

To some extent I like to think of lifestyle design with a clothing metaphor.

  • You can certainly let someone else pick out your clothes.
  • Sometimes hand-me-downs fit; sometimes they don’t.
  • When you wear something long enough, it begins to “feel” normal and comfortable.
  • Some people like to change outfits a lot; some prefer to wear the same thing.
  • Nothing feels quite as good as something that was tailored specifically for you.
  • Not everyone cares about every piece of clothing they wear.

There are certainly more analogies, but I’d like to focus on the last one, because it’s the analogy that can liberate and make our lives happier. While I know it’s possible that you agonize over every piece of clothing you chose to wear today, I’m betting that there’s at least something that you just grabbed and threw on. Maybe it’s your socks. Perhaps you just thought “I need a t-shirt!” and grabbed the one on the top of the stack. Whatever it was, that one was good enough. You didn’t think about it.

Until now. Until I brought it up. Now you’re thinking about it. Hopefully it’s not stressing you out, but it might be if I started talking about all the better socks you could get. Sock Dreams is a real place, after all! And you’re settling for just those you have on? Honestly, they cause 33% more strain to your back, and these other pair wick the sweat away from your soles (a leading cause of hali-toe-sis) 13% faster than cotton or blends!

And thus internet commerce is born…

That’s the problem with lifestyle design. You can get far too caught up in the details, in the marginalia, and you forget that you only put on socks so that you could put on shoes so you could go out for a walk. When you started the day, that piece of clothing that you didn’t think about was just fine. It was good enough, and you didn’t give it attention because it didn’t need attending. You could focus on more important choices, like coffee.

Good-Enough Design

As it turns out, the more people focus on “good enough” – as opposed to “the best” – the happier they are. Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choicehas this to say:

We found that people who are satisficers are generally more optimistic, happier, and less regretful than people who are maximizers. We did a study of college seniors looking for jobs and found that maximizers got better jobs but felt worse about the jobs they got than satisficers did. People who score as maximizers score as borderline clinically depressed.

What is a “satisfier”? Someone who can identify when something is close enough. There’s a lot more on the subject around the interwebs – I particularly liked the Barking Up the Wrong Tree article – but here’s a quick test to see if you need to work on your satisficing skills: when you’re going to park in a lot, do you drive around for a while, hoping to find the closest spot, praying to the Parking Gods the whole way? Or do you just park in the first open spot, knowing that a little extra walking is good for you and that you drove there for a reason but that reason is probably not to drive around the parking lot?

It’s a simple little adjustment, but it’s a good idea to think about: maybe put a little more satisficing into your day, and save the maximizing for things that really matter.

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