Constraints Make Life Better

The constraints that we find ourselves bound by are quite beneficial to us because they cause us to solve problems efficiently.

We often feel that the limitations that we encounter in life are frustrating because they seem to be an obstacle to getting what we want. But even though our limited money, time, energy, social network, or knowledge, appears to be a problem, we should embrace these apparent shortcomings as our baseline. There are three ways that constraints help us:

  1. Constraints give us a fenced-in area within which to play
  2. Constraints can limit our thinking to provide us with a laser focus on the problem
  3. Constraints can clarify our values and what we are willing to sacrifice for

Constraints give us a fenced-in area within which to play.

If you recognized and embrace the constraints that you have, you have a built-in area within which you know that you can operate. I am not talking about limiting yourself to only what you ‘think’ you can do. You have to be honest about what your limitations are in life and work within it. I will never be in the NFL as a football player. My constraint right now is my age. I simply would not be able to be fit enough to play at that level. It doesn’t mean that I couldn’t aspire to be part of a football team as a coach, trainer, or even waterboy. If I chose that path, I would have to make a lot of sacrifices with my family life. (To get the training, be part of the games, make the work sacrifices to even get near a team, etc.) When I take into account what it would take, it wouldn’t be worth it for me to aspire to be part of an NFL team. (Being part of an NFL team is only an example, it’s not something I aspire to.) Knowing my the limitations, and knowing the work, I can make decisions about my life.

Constraints can limit our thinking to provide us with a laser focus on the problem

We often fight against constraints and try to change them. It is good for us to test the apparent constraints to see if they are true limitations or just self-imposed barriers. Once we know what our restrictions are, even if they are self-imposed, we can use the defined playing field to focus ourselves. Instead of saying, ‘I can’t . . . . ‘ do something to fix the problem? The question changes to, ‘Given the current situation, how do I… .’ fix the problem? Embracing the constraints means that we focus on fixing the problem within the current framework that we have. Don’t expect additional resources; don’t expect anything to change. If the world stays the same as it is today, what would we do to move forward? This gives us focus.

Constraints can clarify our values and what we are willing to sacrifice for

Every year people give up something for the season of Lent. Lent is the five weeks leading up to Easter. In this practice, the act of giving something up helps people focus on what is important to them in the Easter season. Some examples of things that people sacrifice are coffee, chocolate or social media. When you impose a limitation on yourself, you figure out what is necessary to yourself. A Lenten restriction means that every time you think of this regular habit, you are reminded of something else. Mark Manson writes, “A person is defined by what they are willing to struggle for.” The act of giving something up for the sake of Lent, a partner (business or otherwise), society, your children, or a stranger, tells a clear story about what you are willing to sacrifice for. Self-imposed constraints can be the way that you move forward to change the world.

Constraints make life better. Even though bumping into a wall of limitation can seem frustrating, it can be liberating. With the restrictions in our life we can know that we have the right solution, and are focusing on what we value most.