Shane Dowling : The Freedom of Limits

Over the course of this blog I intend to show how limitations can in many ways bring positive changes in your life. While limitations can appear under various guises(vegetarianism, minimalism) etc there is a huge number of aspects in your life where you can benefit from limits, just without the grandiose terms behind them.


If you've ever attempted to meditate, you'll realise that the human mind is insane. It's cannot help but leap from one random thought to the next, like an irritated monkey in a cage. Seriously, just attempt to think about your breath for any extended period and you'll realise how helpless you are to it(unless you're trained of course). I recently watched a documentary by Adam Curtis called Century of the Self. If you haven't watched it, I'd highly recommend it. Essentially it's about the rise of the concept of the self and how corporations have sought to exploit it. I won't go into too much detail but the important parts for this post are that during post-WW2 America, corporations had a genuine fear that they would run out of consumers.

That, eventually everyone would have say a car and that would be it, no-one else needs a car, or a washing machine or a winter coat(These days it sounds laughable). In the 60s people began a new 'me-centric' way of behaving that both politicians and corporations had to adapt to. Politicians did so by pandering to the middle class and corporations by using market research, categorisation of consumers in lifestyles and overbearing choice(Appealing to our emotions through marketing/advertising came before this, but is still relevant).

As we all discovered we were very special 'inner directed' human beings, corporations realised pretty quickly that they could exploit our newly found desire by convincing people they could define themselves through spending. Think about this for a second, when you bought what you're wearing right now what sort of questions did you ask. Is this durable? Is it well made? Is the corporation an ethical entity? Will it survive the elements? Heck even 'Is this comfortable?' can even get overlooked. The point is we probably bought what we did as we had an emotional response to the garment in question. It had a cool design or looked good on me, etc.

These are all perfectly valid things to want from a garment, we gain emotional satisfaction by feeling like we made a unique choice. I'm not going to harp on about spending habits and I've shown how you can apply `limits to what you own `__ but it's good to keep in mind how we can gain an emotional pleasure(and it can be exploited) simply by making a choice and that building a good choice/limitation balance can be beneficial to your wellbeing.


As you go throughout your day try to discover where you might have undermined yourself through excessive choice, don't judge yourself just make a note of it. It might be a humungous todo list, or a wardrobe full of t-shirts you don't wear. What about a bookshelf full of books you couldn't string a sentence about, anything that hits you with a minor twang of guilt as you pass. Using the bookshelf as an example, why not just donate all the books and just start again, with a new limitation. 'I can't buy a new book till I've finished this one', and see if it fits or how about trying 'I can only buy a book 7 days after I initially wanted it', anything to keep the crazy monkey in your head from reaching for the credit card or the buy now button. Whilst I've focused heavily on spending limitations they may not be the case. Here's a list of some of the limitations I've enacted.

My 50 items goal generally keeps me from spending frivolously but that doesn't help with digital purchases. One laptop can contain hundreds of distractions/guilts. I just got tired of seeing 500+ unread items in google reader or 100+ podcast episodes I never got around to listening to. We find it so easy to make a pleasing decision to better ourselves but not to realise that it might be far more beneficial to us to undo the original decision.


I listen to all of my podcasts, I can read through my news-feeds incredibly quickly. I don't buy any old random app/book just because I can at the click of a button. Through limitations I can better evaluate what I truly want and as a result I value everything I have that much more. It's also made me value my own time more that whatever the source 'hey it may not actually be worth my valuable time'.


Try to re-evaluate your limitations when you find things piling up again, I can't stress this enough. I initially thought I could handle 20 news-feeds, not so much. So if you're still snowed under with say four podcasts, then try just one or maybe consider that you're not a podcast person. Try a new limit and see if the shoe fits and just keep at it, eventually you'll find the balance you're looking for and maybe figure out who you are a bit more.