What You’ll Learn Today:
- Why you’re more tired after an hour of shopping at Macy’s than going for an hour-long hike
- The 5-step process for making decisions
Decisions, decisions, decisions. When you were a child, you made about 3000 decisions per day (Should I hit my brother? Should I cry to avoid putting on my shoes? I wonder if they’ll notice if I take that last French fry?). As you might expect, those decisions ramped into overdrive as you hit adulthood when you make an estimated 35,000 decisions a day (Is this the right guy for me? Should I take that job? I wonder if they’ll notice if I take that last French fry? Do these pants make my butt look big?).
With all those decisions, is it any wonder that sometimes you just get overwhelmed and can’t make a decision?
The researchers believe that when there’s a bigger array of choices, people translate that as having to put in more work and people don’t want to do that. So, instead of putting in that extra effort, people decide not to decide and, in these cases, don’t buy the product.
Even with all this “evidence,” there have also been studies showing that lots of choices are not the problem and that it’s the actually the circumstances and complexity that make the difference. In his Financial Times article, author Tim Harford points out that Starbucks has 87,000 drink combinations and their business continues to boom.
So, what’s the deal? Are choices the issue or is it complexity? Here’s what I think: It’s a combination. I think it all comes down to emotional bandwidth. Meaning, how much do you have and how much do you have left today? I would say that if you’re feeling “at the edge” already, having lots of choices sucks. If it’s the end of a long day, and you’ve got nothing left in the tank, then lots of choices feel overwhelming and exhausting. But there are other times when all those choices feel awesome.
When you’re faced with too many decisions or with any complex decision and your emotional bandwidth is low, you get overwhelmed and you end up making “no decisions” more often. This goes one of two ways. The first is that some of you get into analysis paralysis where you get stuck analyzing a situation or options over and over but, ultimately, don’t make any decision. The second is that you make no decision by using some form of avoidance or distraction such as video games, social media, food, alcohol or drugs. Regardless of whether you get into analysis paralysis or just complete avoidance, all roads lead to Rome and you end up making no decision (which, of course, is a decision).
As decision points come up in your relationship you consistently end up being the one making no decisions. You end up in a pattern where your partner is habitually “making all the decisions” or “taking all the initiative” while you seem passive and stuck. This creates resentment on both sides of the coin. You’re sick of being bossed around and “controlled” and your partner is sick of “doing all the heavy lifting.”
So, how do you get out of this unhealthy cycle? Based on the research, I’ve come up with this deceptively simple (although not always easy), five–step process to move you from stuck to decided:
- Question: Think to yourself: Am I practicing due diligence or am I stuck in analysis paralysis? Due diligence is a good thing. It means you’re checking things out and making sure you understand your options and possible outcomes or consequences. But analysis paralysis sucks. Be real with yourself and think of your options and make a list of up to ten options that are possible in this situation.
- Pick Your Top 3: Now pick the top three choices (if there are only two, then that’s great – the less the better). For each choice, make a pros/cons list (yes, in writing). Take a hard look and see what seems like the best or healthiest option given what you’ve written.
- Choose a Date. Next, you’re going to pick a time and/or exact date, when you’ll make your decision, no matter what. Yes, something better might come along later. Yes, it might be the wrong decision. It doesn’t matter. Just choose. Right or wrong, set a specific time when you’ll make your choice. I highly recommend actually putting this in your schedule on the date/time you selected so you can’t “forget.” I also recommend doing it as early in the day as possible. This is known as “Eat the Frog.” Basically, you’re doing the hardest thing first so it gets done and you don’t have all day to talk yourself out of it.
- Decide. The date is set and now you have to decide what you’re going to do for real! What action(s) are you going to take to put the plan or decision into motion? This is like a muscle. The more you do it, the better and less scary this all gets. It takes practice to feel good about making decisions.
- One Action: In reality, until you take action, you haven’t truly made a decision. Now you need to take one step, no matter how small, to manifest this decision. The action needs to take place on the date/time that you identified in Step Three. Be like a Nike ad and “just do it.” Stop thinking and do.
No matter what, remember that in the end, it’s better to go down (even in flames) with a decision you made than to let your decisions get made for you.
Resources and Links:
Read the blog post here
Here are some links to research I mentioned in this episode:
Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook
The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz
Is the Paradox of Choice Not so Paradoxical After All?
More Isn’t Always Better
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