Nov 8, 2021

3 min read

Getting Prolific, Day 26: Constraints Equal Freedom

What arbitrary rules have you made up for yourself?

There are two main dog parks in our neighborhood.

The first one has dozens of sprawling acres of green space, old trees and rolling meadows. There are hundreds of dogs running around at full speed, playing with their owners and each other. It looks and feels like what our parents used to say doggie heaven was like.

The other dog park is tucked along the edge of a playground. It’s a fraction of the size of the first one. Maybe one acre in total. There are never more than ten dogs around, there are gates and fences enclosing the perimeter, and there’s a gravel floor instead of grass.

Which park would you rather take your dog to?

When we first got our dog, the obvious choice was the larger space. More space, more dogs, more community, what’s not to like?

But we quickly learned that such an environment can be overwhelming for new pups that are still in training. Turns out, the sheer volume of humans and animals makes it stressful for dogs as well as owners. You never know which pooches or people are friendly.

What’s more, with no boundaries in such a huge park, it’s easy to lose track of each other.

After a few weeks of playing in the big leagues, we switched over to the smaller park. And it was instantly better. Our dog was never more than a few dozen yards away from us. There were only a handful of animals to monitor at one time. It was easier to connect with owners to share stories and tips. Plus we never had to worry about any of the dogs chasing a squirrel into the forest and getting lost.

This morning we took our dog to that small park, and it occurred to me why it was so much better.

Constraints. Restricting conditions that enable freedom and control.

Constraints are a gift because they give you something to lean against. In a dog park, that’s literally true with the fence, and in other areas of life, the same principle applies.

Too much freedom hurts rather than helps. Constraints create forcing functions that save time, increase speed, reduce decision fatigue, create firm boundaries, and frankly, make life less of an uphill battle. Constraints are at the core of a flourishing life.

Funny thing is, constraints are often presented as negative from the outside looking in. We live in a culture that fetishizes freedom and infinite choice, and so, people may notice your restricting conditions and label you as neurotic, obsessive compulsive or eccentric.

But that’s simply not true. It’s more like you’re discerning, cognitively relaxed and fulfilled. If you’re someone who is hyper intentional about what project you work on, what relationships you maintain, what media you consume, what substances you ingest, that doesn’t make you an ascetic. You simply have a deep understanding of who you are and what’s meaningful to your life.

These constraints may just be a bunch of arbitrary rules you’ve made up for yourself, but that doesn’t make them any less effective in creating a fulfilling life.

Ultimately, whether it’s at the dog park or on the field of life, having a fence is relaxing and liberating. It means you don’t have to think as much.

The fence is the constraint that creates a gravitational field that draws good things into it.

Don’t let people shame you for introducing them into your life.

Discipline equals freedom. Infinite choice equals stress.

Where could you set stronger boundaries to give yourself greater independence?

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