Some decisions we take in a blink of an eye. Others feel like they are the most important ones we have faced so far.
This article is about the moments in our lives when we find ourselves on a crossroad and we struggle to make a choice about which direction to go next.
I will share with you how I cope with choice anxiety. It’s not that I have mastered this skill already and I don’t expect that I ever will. But who knows maybe the following tips might help you the next time you are faced with a tough decision.
Feel free to add anything that works for you. I learn from you as much as you do from me.
Ready? Here we go!
Limit your options
When I need to make an important decision I tend to make my life even more difficult than it already is. I feel like I need to explore all possible options. However, doing so results in me becoming even more confused and overwhelmed. Luckily my husband is much more efficient when it comes to making decisions.
Last year we had to choose a daycare for our daughter. Yeah, in the Netherlands you need to do so before you even know whether your baby will be a boy or a girl. Otherwise you risk that there won’t be an available spot for your kid when the time comes.
My husband and I made a short list of the three day care centers near our apartment and scheduled visits at those places. The first one we visited didn’t have available spots for 2019. The second one we didn’t like. The third was a complete match – we liked it the most and there was no problem with the availability.
Such a pleasant process for quite an important decision. Especially when I compare it with the way I buy shoes, for example.
I don’t buy shoes very often and when I need new shoes it used to take me a lot of time and energy to do so. If I would go to the store, I would get so distracted that I will return home with a lot more merchandise than shoes. That’s why I go online. There are two websites that I buy my clothes and shoes from. So far so good.
The problem begins when I actually start viewing all possible shoes each of these two sites offers. After seeing the 50th pair I lose confidence that I will ever make a choice.
Knowing how miserable I feel at the end of this process, the next time I need to buy shoes I either limit my options – view as less possible pairs or limit my time.
I remind myself that I should simply go for the pair that seems good enough. Then I just buy it and I stop checking out other options. No matter how strong the temptation might be.
It has taken me a lot of time and practice to optimize this process. I have figured out for myself that the more time I take to search and think about it, the more difficult it becomes to make a choice.
Apparently I am not the only one. Research shows that the more options we are given, the more difficult it becomes to make a choice.
In his book The Paradox of Choice, the American psychologist and professor of social theory Barry Schwartz cites a study where researchers set up two displays of jams at a gourmet food store for customers to try samples. The participants were given a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar. In one display there were six jams, in the other 24. The result: 30% of people exposed to the smaller selection bought a jam, but only 3% of those exposed to the larger selection did. But even if we do make a choice, Schwartz argues, “we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from”.
Weighing pros and cons
No matter how trivial this technique might sound, it still remains useful. Instead of going through the same points over and over again in your head put them on a piece of paper. It’s amazing how much clearer the big picture becomes when you look at it from above.
What I do is simply plotting the choices I have in the rows of a Google sheet and the pros and cons of each choice in the columns.
“Take your sweet time”
One of the most zen yoga teachers I know, Kremena Yordanova, used the expression “take your sweet time” in her podcast with Candice Wu. I love the expression and I couldn’t not use it in this paragraph.
Sometimes no matter how hard you try to apply the first three points, all you need is time.
I received a very precious book by my dear friend Ilona “The things you can see only when you slow down. How to be calm in a busy world.” by author Haemin Sunim. The book is full of wisdom but the following quote in particular resonated with me immediately:
When the first three tips don’t lead me to an answer, I go out and get distracted. Whether it is doing yoga or going to the beach, when I stop thinking about my dilemma, the answer surfaces without any effort.
What’s in it for you?
This article is a reminder that we don’t always need to stay within our comfort zone. Even though it might be the most rational choice.
Although we might struggle when we need to make a tough decision, it is exactly these moments that define who we are or who we will become.