Life is full of decisions and difficult choices, and the ensuing evaluation process can be a numbing experience even when the options you are facing are positive. I remember when I had three amazing job interviews that would require relocation to three different cities. Naturally, I agonized for days, vacillating between the compelling opportunities. Each had their unique pros & cons but would charter my career on divergent paths and dramatically impact my lifestyle due to geography.
And that’s just wrestling with three choice. Ever see a kid at Baskin-Robbins trying to choose from among 31 flavors of ice-cream? Even on the TV show The Bachelor suffers paring down the 25 beauties to propose his ultimate red rose to one lucky bachelorette. Poor guy, the mental anguish he displays for all of us to bear witness played out on reality TV is both riveting and haunting (dripping with sarcasm).
Conventional wisdom would suggest having choices is optimal because it means you have the ability to control the direction of your life and therefore positively impact your happiness. But the paradox is unlimited choice can produce genuine suffering, as the more decisions we have to make causes anxiety due to the less certainty we seem to have. When faced with multiple choices that have significant consequences like which stocks to invest in, which career to pursue or even which person to marry, many people relentlessly search for the best option to the point of obsession. They spend a great deal of time and energy on choices that will never satisfy them as a debilitating form of analysis paralysis creeps in. Overthink, overanalyze, overwhelm. If and when they ultimately commit to a choice, they subsequently dwell on looking in hindsight at the options they did not select and feelings of regret take hold. If that same person had only one option, he’d be more likely to make the best of any situation that presented itself – good or bad – and simply focus prospectively.
Of course, juggling multiple choices and doing the necessary due diligence is a great position to be in. Explore all your possibilities in a methodical manner. But once you finalized your research and made your decision, own it! Because as soon as you start second guessing your choice after the fact, you’re guaranteeing a negative process that will adversely impact your happiness. It’s a slippery slope. Remind yourself you made an informed decision and accept your new reality by being present and focusing all your energy on that choice. Easier said than done, but critical to your mental health. Conversely, the next time you find yourself bemoaning the lack of options available to you in life, take comfort in the simplicity. Paper or plastic at the supermarket is a wonderfully easy binary choice. The simpler choices can spare you from potentially painful analysis paralysis!