The Case for School Uniforms: Distractions, Decisions and Fatigue
I spent my elementary years in a private school, followed by four years in a Catholic School. Knee-length plaid pleated skirts were the staple. I always assumed that the reason for uniforms was that it makes us look pretentious, privileged and put-together. This was reinforced by the fact that my school’s welcome sign boasted school of “excellence in education for gifted and talented children”. Well-manicured students make the school look better.
Whether there is some truth to this reasoning, I do not know. I will admit however that my rather negative opinion was a bit biased due to my experience with an elementary school that I was not particularly fond of.
Looking back, I do see other reasons for enforcing the use of school uniforms. They instill a sense of equality among students, thus helping to mitigate the opportunity for “cliques” to form. The “skirt must be longer than your fingertips” rule help to enforce modesty in dress. Intruders would stick out like a sore thumb, helping with safety and security.
Perhaps, another reason has to do with attention spans and the ability to make decisions. As a teen, deciding what color, style and brand of clothes to wear seems to be the most paramount of decisions. Perhaps, not having to make that decision every day preserved some of my very limited attention span, so that I could re-direct my decision-making ability on more important things like my education.
Google an image of the late Steve Jobs and I can guarantee that I can tell you what he is wearing in that first image. In fact, I can guarantee that I can tell you what he is wearing in maybe 90 percent of those images: a black turtleneck, blue jeans and New Balance Sneakers. Why is this? Now it wasn’t the uniform of Apple. Although some may think his decision to wear the same clothing everyday has to do with some sort of personal branding, a larger reason has to do with something called “decision fatigue”.
Take a second and think of how many decisions you stress over each day. Everything from the mundane decisions (what to pack for lunch and which $5 expresso drink to purchase); to the work decisions (how do I tell my co-worker they are not pulling their weight); to the moral decisions (I want to tell off this driver who cut me off, but I know that I shouldn’t, but I want to so maybe I will). By the time that texting driver cuts you off at 6pm, your decision-making threshold has probably been lowered and you are more likely to roll down your window and throw them the bird.
Steve Jobs realized that there are a finite number of decisions that one can make in a day before the decision-making ability begins to diminish. This is called “decision fatigue”. By removing one relatively unimportant decision in his daily routine, Jobs prolonged his patience and focus to make better decisions on things that actually matter.
The Quickest Way to Beat Decision Fatigue – Simplify
What do you give your time and emotion to? The small “stuff” or the larger “stuff” that bring true value to you and those around you? Spending your mental energy on inconsequential decisions are nothing more than distractions that negatively impact your ability to think clearly, create, and accomplish. They consume time and deviate your attention away from what is more important. Take a minute to again consider some of these decisions that you stress over daily, and honestly evaluate the importance in your life.
Do I want a Nespresso this morning or a slow brewed cup of Joe?
Should I wear my Merrel or Salomon hiking boots?
Do I want Himalayan pink salt or table salt on my fries?
Should I drive the convertible or the Wrangler today?
These may seem like mundane decisions, but they are still tasks that require mental energy and lead to decision fatigue. The key is to simplify.
Scott and I talk a lot about downsizing and minimalism, but there is more to it than just a lifestyle change. By reducing the value we place on the quantity and brand name of goods we possess, we are removing ourselves from distractions and trivial decisions.
When you don’t have as many things, you have fewer options and those every day decisions become much easier. The less you have, the fewer decisions you have to make, and the greater your stores of energy to produce something greater and grander.
The Case for School Uniforms
Perhaps private schools did me a favor by completing that task for me. I never once stressed over what outfit would make me look the coolest, because wearing my own clothes was never an option. Instead of waking up early every morning to deal with that trivial question, I was able to sleep in for an extra 20 minutes and maintain better concentration during class.
As a side note, I did manage to win the senior superlative of “Best dressed”. Tell me how that worked when every single kid wore the same outfit every day.