The American life, believe it or not, has its trials. We may not have to face famine or live in fear of mortar shells, but our quality of life is compromised in subtle ways. One example is overabundance, something we all easily fall victim to if we aren't prepared.
Too Many Options
Here is an adapted excerpt from a book written by psychologist Daniel J. Levitin, The Organized Mind. Levitin describes an encounter with his student Ioana at the college bookstore, where he found her looking clearly distraught.
"It can be really terrible living in America," Ioana complained.
"Compared to Soviet Romania?!" Levitin asked.
"Yes," she responded. "In Romania, we had three kinds of pens. And when there was a shortage, there were no pens at all. But here? Fifty varieties! One hour I am here reading labels."
The Brain's Decision-Making Network Doesn't Prioritize
Felt tip or ink? Gel or erasable? Ballpoint or rollerball? How are we supposed to choose? And why do we have to? This choice overload isn't just costing us time. Our precious resources are being wasted on trivial decisions.
Neuroscience explains that the decision-making network in our brain doesn't prioritize. This means that since every day we are confronted with so much information to choose between, we have no energy left to deal with the important decisions.
Author and coach Dan Johnston, owner of Dreams Around the World, agrees. "I have found it is not only the amount of decisions we make, but how long we ponder them. Every open loop is draining your finite resources, so by the time you get to new decisions, it's natural that you feel utterly indecisive."
We're All Afraid of Regret
That's right. Sometimes even just choosing an ice cream flavor can become an emotionally fraught deliberation, and though it may seem silly, it ultimately stems from a sense of fear. What if you don't like the chocolate? What if your vanilla is good, but turns less appetizing compared to that guy's peanut butter praline razzle?
Worst case scenario, you'll waste a few bucks on a bad cone. But is that such a terrible risk? In the scheme of things, there are very few things we'll actually regret looking back at.
Here are five ways to learn to differentiate between major and minor decisions. Save the fear of regret for when you need it, and then use it to help you make the smartest possible choice.
1. It's Okay to "Satisfice"
A simple solution is to 'satisfice'; suffice with what satisfies you. Pick up the first package of pens, scan the label, and if it looks good enough, then buy it.
Happy people are those who are happy with what they have, not those who have more. So, you may not have the best type of pen out there, but if you feel satisfied, then that's enough. Voila! You've averted a decision-making struggle.
2. Narrow Your Options
Shoe shopping online? Use those filters. Set your price range, shoe size, and preferred style. Then you won't be presented with seventy pages to scroll through, and you'll find what you need quickly, without getting distracted. Even if you need more than one type of item, you should still use the filters and shop with one focus at a time. It's faster (and easier on your brain) to sort through sneakers and boots separately.
3. Ask Others For Their Opinions
Consult with a professional, such as an interior designer, if you're having trouble picking out a room color. Of course, don't be dependent. Do your own research. But once you've narrowed down your options you can take it to a trusted friend or someone with experience in that area, and then go along with whatever they suggest.
4. Set Time Limits
Johnston is a proponent of setting time limits. "If you have unlimited time to decide, you will use it to mull over every possible option. Limiting yourself forces quick and decisive thinking."
Make yourself an appropriate time limit for making the necessary decision. If you're just choosing a drink, two to five minutes is enough. If you're house-hunting on a summer home, then close on your best option by, say, April.
5. Use Your Past as a Guideline
Author and psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig recommends taking a look at your previous decisions. "When we have a lot of choices, it can increase the anxiety and noise in our head. It's not uncommon to be confused about which direction to take -- what's right or what's wrong. So it may be helpful to focus on decisions you've made in the past, and use that as a guideline to help you out."
So keep all the above in mind, and you'll be equipped and confident to make faster decisions. Good luck!
**Liba Rimler contributed to this article.