Having emphasised in the previous post the influence of choice on our lives – the unconscious nature of so many of our daily choices, and the need for awareness in order to make better ones – it can also be very helpful to have no choice at all. More specifically, it can be helpful to give yourself no choice. Having no option but to pursue a certain course of action means there is no internal dialogue; no time or energy wasted flipping between need and desire (‘I should but I don’t want to!’). You have to do it, so you get on with it.
I notice it most with my daily exercises. I’m closing in on four years without missing a day. In the past, before this run started, I used to give myself days off. After a few consecutive days I would reward myself with a rest day. One rest day effortlessly became two, after which it became ever more difficult to get back into the routine. I tried for years to establish a daily practice, and it was only when I gave myself no choice that I was able to make it this far.
But how did I manage to give myself no choice? The answer is simple. I counted the number of successive days. I even noted them down on a chart (which itself is an unbelievably effective motivational tool). Very quickly – after, say, ten days – a strong desire arises to ensure there is no blank square on the chart, or to avoid having to start counting again from one, when you could be on eleven. These days, there is never any doubt about whether I will do my exercises. There is no internal debate or dialogue. I know I’m going to do them, it’s just a question of when.
This blog post is also the product of a no-choice arrangement I have with myself. My commitment is to write four posts each month, and I am posting this close to midnight on the final day of what has been a busy and disrupted few weeks. The first full month of parenthood, together with this week’s house move have made it difficult for me to focus on my quota, but I have given myself no choice, so here I am finishing this post minutes before the deadline.
No-choice is making a commitment and closing off all exit routes. It’s taking a decision and sticking to it whatever the mind may say. At first glance it seems restrictive, but it isn’t. It’s liberating, and helps to boost creativity in the same way limits and boundaries seem able to ignite the imagination of any artist.