Constraint Of Thought: How To Make A Plan And Stick To It
Do you ever feel like you’re exhausted from spending the day making decisions? Whether you’re going to exercise in the morning, do your meditation, thought work, movement, what you’ll eat, what you’ll wear. Do you feel like you don’t trust yourself to get things done that you’ll say you’ll get done because you’re so busy doing everything else for everyone else? My love, I’ve been there a thousand times myself and none of these scenarios lead you to being in a cute place. The remedy, my darling, is simple. Constraint of thought.
Deciding what you’ll do for you ahead of time, committing and not giving yourself the space to go back on your promises to you from a place of allowing, not restricting.
This simple practice has been life-changing for me and it’s helped me so much with my personal life and in building my business.
So constraint of thought simply means reducing the number of choices that you make and reducing the number of thoughts that you decide you’ll engage with, versus letting roll on through your consciousness, mucking up your day.
Instead, you decide ahead of time using your gorgeous and brilliant prefrontal cortex to decide for you on your own terms what you will think and what you will do.
Understanding that you can make choices whether you use constraint of thought or not, and you do it all day, versus the alternative which is waiting until you’re wicked overwhelmed by choosing between one of 473 options every five to 10 minutes in our modern life.
And when you make that decision, not to plan things ahead, not to decide what you’re going to think and do ahead of time, you’re pretty much waiting for your lizard brain to get in your way and to keep you from making the decisions you actually want to make, which are the ones you would make in a calm moment.
When you are not in that calm moment and you let your brain start spinning and spinning and you get overwhelmed, that is when the lizard brain will pop up and make a mess of it all.
And if you don’t already trust yourself, if you don’t feel safe with yourself, within yourself, this process of constraining your thoughts is a great way to practice to build that trust in yourself in combination with the perfectionist thought fantasy busting minimum baseline.
My beauty, you get to choose to build trust with yourself on the daily and to learn to be honest and real with yourself that you have agency in most of life’s situations and circumstances to make a choice. And you’re making a choice when you choose restriction, indecision, overwhelm, or when you choose self-loving allowance and constraint.
That’s why we’re talking about constraint of thought after talking about restriction and allowance because it’s completely human to have urges and that there’s nothing wrong with that.
Without that framework, your brain is likely to tell you that constraint is stupid and mean and that you are a free spirit who wants to feel free.
Or your brain will feel so overly restricted that you’ll be prone to rebel and to throw all that gorgeous constraint of thought thinking right out the window if you aren’t allowing yourself to be a human with impulses and urges. I mean, who amongst us has not felt that overwhelm of having too many choices?
The overwhelm of being at the salad bar, or when you’re thinking about your business, your career, your relationship, on and on.
Your brain offers you all sorts of pros and cons for any decision, which can send you into analysis paralysis in a major way as you wrestle with all the possible scenarios rolling around in your head.
My brain, just like yours, used to be a pro at this kind of overthinking. And it was, as one might imagine, overwhelming. Overthinking leads to overwhelm. These days, by lovingly constraining my thoughts, choices, and actions, I don’t let myself get overwhelmed when picking a shampoo because I know what I’m choosing.
I’ve constrained my thinking there. Same with my business. It behooves me to narrow my focus so I can provide excellence and support tailored to the folks I serve.
I focus on codependency and perfectionism and people pleasing because I’m a pro at all of that.
I use constraint of thought — I know who you are, I know who I am, and I talk to you to share the lessons that I know we need to hear. That’s constraint of thought.
I don’t check my email, my Instagram, my texts, nothing pings at all while I’m preparing an episode for you because that’s not what I’m doing in that moment.
I’m focused and efficient, and I don’t introduce a ton of new inputs and decisions into my mind when I want to do one thing and do it well. I don’t decide every morning if I’m going to exercise. It’s just what I’ve decided to do.
So I don’t spend my morning debating, negotiating, questioning, contemplating. I just get up and step right into stretchy workout pants and away we go. I have decided that I don’t take other people’s thoughts, choices, behaviors personally because I have constrained my thoughts to not do that, to not make things about me that aren’t.
I can hear you thinking that all this constraint of thought will make you into a robot who just sticks to some super strict schedule and doesn’t feel the flow of creative energy.
And it’s just the opposite because, and you guessed it, science.
So nerd alert. Columbia University psychologist and creativity science expert, Dr. Patricia Stokes conducted a study in 1993 in which a group of rats with whom she was working were only allowed to press the bar that provided them with tasty snacks treats with their right paw.
With a little time at task, not only did they adapt to that constraint, these wonderful little rats who are very, very smart, developed more creative ways to push the bar than the other rats in a separate cage, who could do it however they wanted with no constraints.
What this shows us is what nerds call little C creativity, which means the creativity needed to solve practical problems using your resources in new ways, which to me is just so fantastic and opens up this new way of seeing ourselves as super-duper creative and able to be so much more adaptable and resilient than we ever could have imagined.
So, not unlike our genius rat friends, the goal here in using constraint of thought is to focus your energy, your brain, to reduce in-the-moment decision making, to bring in more ease, more creative problem solving, more gentleness.
Because let’s be real, the decisions we make from overwhelm are not always the most self-loving or loving towards others.
And the goal is not to make you feel wild amounts of FOMO, the old fear of missing out. Because when you constrain your thoughts, you’re not constraining your life. You’re not limiting yourself.
Honestly, quite the opposite.
By not giving my brain the space to ramble around about the things that don’t matter at all, I have so much more free emotional and energetic time for the things that do.
Instead of finding myself in the middle of a workday wondering what my work focus is and feeling like infinity things are equally important and urgent and needing of my time and energy, I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing and when because I chose it for me. Wrote it down, put it on my calendar and committed to it for me.
So I don’t ever find myself on a Wednesday afternoon saying, “Wait, what am I supposed to be doing?”
Constraint of thought has helped me to short-circuit that whole waste of time and energy.
I simply look at my calendar and I know what’s what. It’s 4:30 on a Wednesday, I should be recording a podcast, for example.
And I don’t let my brain do anything else at 4:30 on a Wednesday for example, because that’s the time when I calendared record a podcast.
I used to feel like I was always behind and stressed and overwhelmed, and I didn’t realize that I could just decide I was going to give myself focus time and that I could commit to it.
I recognize now that my beautiful human mind can’t handle working on eight things at the literal same time, once again, because science. And when I’m half thinking about a ton of things, I’m producing half-assed results for myself because duh, that makes sense.
Give yourself a small portion of your brain and you’ll get a proportional result. Focus your full mind for one hour a day or whatever your minimum baseline is for it, and you’ll create a result for yourself beyond anything you could have imagined by allowing your brain to really focus.
And that is the core of constraint. It’s about clearing away all the gunk so you can truly allow yourself to be your most focused, creative, abundant self, and it feels amazing.
And yes, it’s another thing to do the practice, that daily practice of coming to believe that you yourself are trustworthy. I’m not saying easy or simple, but it is both, but it is time at task. And so for me, a big part of that has been not second guessing myself by changing the calendar just because. And it does that thing that I’m so dedicated to, which is it helps me to continue to build that trust.
One of the things that comes up a lot for us humans with codependent, perfectionist, and people-pleasing thought habits is that we spend our lives focused on making sure everyone else is okay, everyone else is pleased with us and approving of us. We contort ourselves to attempt to meet those goals, which is just exhausting because it leads to a lot of second-guessing ourselves and making a lot of decisions multiple times because we:
- Don’t trust ourselves.
- Trust everyone’s opinion more than our own.
- Are so focused on other people and their whims.
Constraint of thought really helps to reduce that decision fatigue.
It also helps me in boundary setting, which is a kind of constraint of thought really. And when I set a boundary, I trust myself to uphold it because I’ve shown myself that I can stick to the plan that I created for myself, which for me, starts with the smaller things and becomes about the bigger.
Me first, you second, with love is a type of constraint of thought.
This process of recognizing that you even can do this, can actively decide for the next day, the next month, the next year, my focus is x, y, z, for the next three years. This whole concept of really pausing to look at my life and plan it was actually mind-blowing for me because I was so skilled at putting everyone else and their wants and needs for my life first.
It was a huge shift to recognize that I could pause, put my focus on me, and work towards a goal for myself that didn’t include anyone else’s approval or input. Seriously mind-bending kind of thing.
If you’re thinking of constraining anything as a restriction or a limitation, you’re not going to stick to it.
If you think of it as a chance to live more expansively by reducing stress and overwhelm and time spent ruminating, then your brain is much more likely to give you the chance to work it out.
So I’ll invite you to start with something tiny.
A five or 10-minute period of the day where you want to be focused on something that nourishes you and only you.
Another technique I love is to think about the area of your life where things are the most frustrating, annoying, messy. Perhaps your business, your finances, your relationships, boundaries, calendaring, whatever it is. And you can set some loving, gentle constraints for yourself. Start with one. Write it down, write them down, and commit to it the way we do with our minimum baseline. Make it small and doable.
Frustration and overwhelm live on when we’re not really clear what our goals are and where we’re going. And so commonly, our brains, because of their negativity bias are like, I see all the problems, but we don’t stop to think of the solutions.
Give yourself some time, think of those solutions, the goals, even if you don’t know the actual solution for whatever problem you have, you can start to brainstorm some ways you could move forward.
So make a plan and stick to it.
If your brain is used to feeling restriction and rebellion, sticking to your plan may feel like that and that’s okay. You get to remind yourself that it’s not a restriction at all. You made this decision for you with love and care. Let yourself have the freakout to feel the discomfort of your brain trying to buffer against the constraint. Totally fine.
And when I feel that, that’s when I turn to myself and say, “Hi brain, you’re upset. I see you. You want to distract us, and I love you for that because you think you’re protecting yourself, but you’re not. Adult me and prefrontal cortex, we got this. But thank you inner children, thank you lizard brain, I’ll take it from here. As you were, my darlings.”
Then I let the adult part of me just frankly take over. Remember my commitment to me that I’ve minimum baselined.
I just go ahead and do it because I matter enough to me and this matters to me, to have this kind of constraint of thought.
And if that doesn’t work, one of the things I do when I’m working towards a goal and my brain starts to distract me is to move out of that restrictive thinking once again and to use one of three choices.
- Do what I plan to do, stick to my commitment.
- Do thought work on why I don’t want to do that specific thing.
- Or stare at a blank wall.
And it may sound mean to be like, okay, you have to stare at a wall, but what I’m doing is reducing that dopamine hit that we give ourselves when we feel, oh, this is challenging, I don’t want to do this.
And part of doing this is knowing that my perfectionist mind historically loves to worry, future forecast, get into analysis paralysis, and it’s actually unkind to me to let my brain do that, so I don’t. Three options. Constraint of thought.
It does take some internal vigilance from me, a lot of being my own watcher, which is being aware.