The Life Enhancing Power Of Restrictions

How Setting Restrictions Can Help You Reduce Decision Fatigue, Unleash Creativity, Develop New Habits, And So Much More

What’s With All These Restrictions Man?!?

So often we complain about how we can’t or aren’t allowed to do something or we moan about the things we’re “not allowed” to have. But, what if, restrictions weren’t always the enemy?

A few years ago I read a blog article titled “Restrictions will set you free”. It was a clever little post written by the brilliant Derek Sivers. I recently picked up one of his books and there it was again. In it he uses the example of writing a piece of music with a set of restrictions to inspire creativity.  

He opens with 

Someone says, “Write me a piece of music. Anything. No restrictions. Go!”

You’re stumped. It’s the blank page syndrome.

Instead, someone says, “Write me a piece of music using only a flute, ukulele, and this toy piano. You can only use the notes D, E, and B. It has to start quiet, get louder, then end quietly. Go!”

Aha! Now that’s an inspiring challenge!

The point he’s making, and we’ll use his own words “Whenever you’re feeling uninspired or unmotivated, use creative restrictions to set you free.”

I don’t know about you, but if you’re anything like me, this was a useful little insight. And, it got me thinking about how and why this is. Which then led me to thinking about what other ways could using restrictions benefit us? And, what are some strategies we can use to facilitate these benefits?

Let’s Start With The Why

People often think they want options. 

However, options aren’t always a good thing when it comes to getting things done.

Making a decision gets more difficult when there are more options on the table.

How many times have you stared at a blank word document and felt utterly stuck? Or felt indecisive trying to pick what restaurant to eat at for dinner? Or felt overwhelmed trying to choose a new heath regiment and trying to decide which expert to listen to? This is the paradox of choice. When given an infinite amount of options rather than feeling freer we often feel paralyzed, rather than feeling happier we often feel dissatisfied.

But, when we restrict ourselves or create restrictions, it becomes much easier to choose and to actually get something done. 

For instance, and in honor of this post, I’ve restricted myself to only using 5 examples to get my point across. What this has done is force me to become more resourceful and more creative. 

Let’s begin

Want To Eat Healthier?

 Restrict your fridge and cabinets to only healthy foods and eliminate junk food out of your house. Now when you open your fridge, instead of being overwhelmed with choices and being seduced by that piece of chocolate cake (or insert your guilty food pleasure), your options are limited to only healthy options.

Want To Develop A New Habit?

Force yourself to start small. Try utilizing author James clear’s ‘2 minute rule’. Obviously you’ll want to spend more time on your habit but by restricting yourself initially to only doing 2 minutes, or one rep, or one page, or whatever, you’ll not only start ingraining the routine but more importantly start proving to yourself that you are the type of person that does this new habit. You’re reinforcing an identity that is associated with this new behavior and that’s when habits really stick!

Want To Get Better At A Skill?

Restrict yourself to only working on one facet of it at a time. “Chunk’ things down to smaller parts and work on those pieces one at a time. Want to become a better marketer? Rather than working on marketing as a whole, restrict yourself to only focusing on Social Media marketing for a few weeks. Want to get better at basketball?

Don’t just go out and play pick up every day. Take a week and restrict yourself to only working on your jumpshot. By breaking things down into chunks and restricting yourself to only work on one aspect at a time you make your practice more deliberate and focused.

Check out Daniel Coyle’s “The Talent Code” or Josh Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning” for more on this. You can also check out Josh talking a bit about this on this episode of “The Tim Ferris Show”.

Want To Be More Present And Focused?

Restrict your phone and other distractions from your current environment. Consciously engineer and create restrictions in your environment so that anything that could be a distraction is made harder to access, unavailable, out of view, or eliminated. This allows you to remain locked in and immersed in the moment. Whether that moment is quality time with somebody important or working on a creative project.

Want To Make Better Use Of Your Time And Be More Productive?

Set Hard time restrictions on the allotted time you give yourself to work every day.  By giving yourself hard cut off times and deadlines you’re forced to be much more intentional with your time. You bring a higher level of consciousness to the time you do have which forces you to look at and cut out everything that isn’t absolutely necessary and important. When you do this you end up being more productive because you’re only focusing on what matters and ignoring the rest.


So there we have it. 5 ways that setting restrictions can benefit you. In no way is this list exhaustive but rather a little sampler that hopefully can spark some new imaginative ways for you to utilize restrictions in your own life to your benefit.

What restriction strategies come to mind for you?

Where in your life could creating some restrictions benefit you?

How can you incorporate more restrictions into your life?