Does it feel like a lack of options or resources is holding you back from unleashing your ideas, or from dedicating yourself to doing your best work? Often what can get in the way of creative productivity isn't a lack of options, it's actually the opposite: having an excess of options available to you.
This fact tends to mask itself as not having access to opportunities, and you believe. Why? Because you're often the culprit at the heart of the problem. Given too many options, you're likely to be fumble when trying to make a decision on which one to use in order to move your ideas forward.
Consider the fact that, thanks to the Internet, it's now easier than ever before in history to learn new skills, to buy cheaper tools or supplies, and to access information previously reserved for only the most elite among us. Now, anyone today can publish and market a best-selling book, 3D print parts or entire products and turn that into a business, or collaborate with experienced professionals via email or social networks.
Yet, knowing you have access to those resources isn't enough to do anything with them.
Having so many resources and options available at your finger tips can feel debilitating; given access to seemingly endless resources, you're driven by the desire to pick the perfect--or as close to right--one, which postpones the decision making process and can leave you feeling frozen in your tracks.
Given the option to solve any of your largest problems right now with a quick Google search, do you know what you'd search for? Despite evidence that somebody, somewhere, has likely taken strides on resolving whatever it is you want to do, and documented it on the Internet, why is it so difficult to find that information? Being unable to find an answer is the same paralysis you're likely to face when sitting down at a fancy restaurant and being confronted with 30 options for lunch: how do you decide where to even start?
This is the Paradox of Choice. As author and psychotherapist Esther Perel reminds us in a recent tweet:
"We live with the Paradox of Choice. We have infinite choice, yet we want to eliminate the uncertainty of choice by finding the perfect one."
There is a way around the debilitating paradox of choice, and it comes in many forms. At the core of how to move forward: simplification through exploration. Here are three ways to do it.
1. Write down a list
Author and creativity expert Scott Berkun explains how writing a simple list can clear-up anxiety around options we may not even be aware of. Berkun writes:
"Writing things down is powerful. When thoughts are written down you can move them around, compare them, combine them, or divide them as your thinking progresses. If you're working with others, lists force you to come up with a common language to describe tasks..."
Listing out exactly what your work entails, how you'd ideally solve it, and what actionable steps you can take to move forward, turns your decision from an ambiguous and overwhelming concept into something you can see, manipulate, and control.
2. Give yourself time to just breathe
Research from Columbia University Medical Center has shown that giving yourself time to delay a decision greatly improves your ability to make it. As researchers explain:
"Decision making isn't always easy, and sometimes we make errors on seemingly trivial tasks, especially if multiple sources of information compete for our attention... Postponing the onset of the decision process by as little as 50 to 100 milliseconds enables the brain to focus attention on the most relevant information and block out irrelevant distractors."
Taking a few minutes to ponder what work need to get done and how you might do it, then giving yourself a minute or two to just breathe, may help improve your ability to decide on an option on how to move forward.
3. Come up with just three options, then outsource the decision
Three is a powerful number when it comes to change because it gives us options without overwhelming us. If one option turns out to not be ideal, we'll still feel empowered because the other two options represent each other side of the scale. To offset the debilitating feelings that can often come from having access to so many resources, deciding on three options on how to start, then passing off the decision on which one to take, can be a remarkably effective way forward.
Come up with three options then ask a close friend, a peer, or a manager, for help deciding which one to take.
The options available to you today are almost limitless, that doesn't mean you have to be frozen in your path to turn ideas into reality. Creating a list, taking time to breathe, and minimizing possible ways forward are all effective ways to overcome the paradox of choice and get us back to doing our best work.