I admit it – sometimes I have a problem choosing. For instance, sometimes I sit down to watch some TV and all too often I end up scrolling through channel listings, program guides and movie descriptions more than I watch actual programs. Even when I pick a program, I frequently jump back to the choices feeling there must be something better!
Similar choice paralysis occurs when I’m selecting music to listen to or I get on the Internet – again spending more time sampling potential options than immersing myself into any one selection. Another way this inability to decide shows up is in my buying and reading books. I love to read – and I read a lot – but I certainly buy more books than I could ever read.
It’s easy for me to also get stuck when I’m planning out my day. For example, this morning when I was contemplating how I was going to spend my time – a day with really no commitments – I immediately generated a list of things to do that were way more than any human could do in 24 hours. There are always so many experiences I wish to taste and so many tasks I want to accomplish that I can end up frustrated even when I make a choice. I can be doing one wonderful thing while regretting I’m not doing all the other potential things I could have chosen. Can you relate?
Now even though I admit I have this occasional strange tendency to get stuck in the process of collapsing the infinite potential choices down to one actual manifested selection, I know I’m not alone in this inclination. It’s been well documented that most humans have what psychologists call “analysis paralysis”. When presented just a few options, humans can do a good job of picking one. When presented with too many options, we freeze up trying to select. Have you ever lost time in a modern supermarket just staring at the variety of foods? Most likely you are experiencing this paralysis.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice says that although humans value autonomy and freedom of choice, when given too much consumer choice we can actually experience psychological stress. The question then becomes –what can we do to avoid this stress and to fully enjoy our freedoms? Below are three tips on thriving with our selections in this world of infinite abundance.
Tip one – focus on the beauty of the infinite variety!
Where is your focus? Are you being overwhelmed by choice or feeling lucky to have so many options? Where we put our attention is what we grow in our lives. If we see infinite choices as a curse, we will be cursed. If we see infinite choices as a blessing, we will be blessed.
Case in point – when I was a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, we lived in a hilly area south of town. There were only four TV stations in the area and a couple of them we could not receive very clearly even with our rooftop antenna. I watched many programs through “snow” and “ghosts”. My viewing choices were slim. Eventually, our area was one of the first wired for a new concept called cable TV and we immediately signed on. It felt so wonderful to finally not only be able to see our four stations clearly, the cable system also had a couple of extra channels – one being an independent Atlanta station which later became TBS. I can still recall the joy I felt when these new options became available. That’s the joy I want to kindle now when I’m presented with hundreds of alternatives! Having these choices is so much more life enhancing than not having them. The more I can keep that in mind, the more its gifts will manifest in my life.
Tip two – develop a personal strategy for choosing that works for you!
There’s lots of advice out there on how to make choices. You have to find the one that works best for you – and then use it. My strategies include a mixture of rational thinking and intuitive feeling. My rational side typically weighs pros and cons of various options. My intuitive side touches into my feelings – considering which option is drawing me to it even if I can’t voice a logical reason. Each situation which calls for me to choose one option or another can lead to my varying which approach – thinking or feeling – is given more weight in that moment.
Recently I wrote about the recent book Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s an entertaining and very practical volume backed by a lot of scientific studies and gives you a lot of tips you can use in your personal decision-making strategy. Here’s a link to their website within my other article with a summary of their book. I recommend it.
Above I also mentioned Barry Schwartz and his book. Here’s a link to an interesting TED talk done by Schwartz outlining his ideas. Another good resource is this Wikipedia article on decision-making. And, with a little bit of online research will find you even more ideas on how to choose – just don’t get stuck in the plethora of information out there for you on the topic—that would be ironic!
The bottom line is that you’ve got to have a strategy for dealing with those moments when you start to feel you are getting overwhelmed. Use your strategy – make your choice – then move on!
Tip three – fully immerse yourself in the joy of the choice you make!
Let go of the desire to second guess yourself on the selection you made. All too often we begin criticizing what we did choose and wishing we had gone another route. We spend so much time and energy complaining about the path we went and yearning to be on another that we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to fully enjoy the option in front of us. That’s not to say that we can’t make a mistake and learn from it for the future – but even in our “wrong choices” there are gifts waiting to be experienced. If we begin focusing on the choice we made as a real gift to be enjoyed deeply, then that thing in front of us will magically change into that gift. As Wayne Dyer says, “if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” The choice we made can be a real benefit to our life experience, but we have to look at it from that perspective rather than wishing it were something else.
So today as I sat with all of the infinite variety of things that I could do, I allowed joy to fill my heart as I moved through the experiences I selected. It was an act of love to spend time writing this article. I hope it is helpful to others. The picture accompanying the article is of my chocolate lab, Harmony, enjoying our walk around Crown Hill Lake. I know from the look on her face and how it makes me feel that taking that stroll was one of the best choices I could make today. I am certainly thriving with this choice– I hope you are thriving with yours. Love and blessings.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!