Decision-making is an inescapable part of life, whether for regular people going about their daily business or for the leader of a country. And yet, having to make an important decision – or any decision at all – has the potential to throw us off balance, mess up our chi and drive us to some serious distraction. The topic has made people lose enough sleep to motivate the publishing of hundreds of articles on the subject: the art of decision-making; how to make the best decision for you; how not to make the wrong one. However, for all our personal freedom, and our freedom to decide, we as a generation are not necessarily feeling any happier, nor more satisfied.
In his 2004 publication “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less“, American psychologist Barry Schwartz explores how our hyper-connected world and broadened awareness of possible choices has cultivated a fear of missing out, only serving to exacerbate how stressful decision-making can be, as well as causing “analysis paralysis.” In fact, this phenomenon has exploded onto social media as the catchy abbreviation and hashtag #FOMO. In his book, Schwartz cites a 2000 study by Iyengar and Lepper in which an experiment saw one group of shoppers presented with six samples of jam to try, and a second group with 24 samples. Even though both groups had all 24 jams available to them for purchase, 30% of customers who sampled a small number of jams actually bought a jar, whereas only 3% of customers presented with the larger assortment did so. The conclusion of the study: having more choice can be profoundly “demotivating.”
Making a decision nowadays with the universe literally at our typing fingertips has undoubtedly multiplied our possible choices, and by association, our potential to be indecisive. To cut down time spent twiddling thumbs, we have often been encouraged to adhere to age-old adages such as rely on your gut instinct and be true to yourself, but this advice can end up leading to more questions than solutions: after all, who or what is your “self” and how exactly do you find it?
Since every decision is as unique as the person making it, it is almost impossible to offer blanket advice that leads to the “right” decision. Instead, experience teaches the benefits of adopting extremely simple practices that fit seamlessly into our everyday lives. And while they don’t offer us a hard and fast route to the “right” choice, they do foster the right mind-set to make confident decisions.
Cultivate Wellbeing Wherever You Are
Cultivating a sense of wellbeing goes beyond perfecting bioorganic habits when it comes to eating and loving (and praying too, if one is so inclined). Speaking of which, the heroine of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” may have become last decade’s icon for DIY happiness. We are personally skeptical whether joyous moments are only to be found in high-flung, high-risk adventures such as hers. Travelling to beautiful places can certainly bring its fair share of joy, but it tends to be conditioned to the stop where you are standing, and ultimately doesn’t necessarily last.
So the first pointer is this: no matter how tempting it is to run away from the world’s noise, variety and distractions, don’t. Attempting to do so is no more useful than trying to sweep the proverbial river back from its own banks, or rejecting the very air we breathe. Instead of escaping your present environment to find fulfilment elsewhere, try to hone skills and coping mechanisms to co-exist with the brouhaha that daily life brings. Doing this over time can not only help you make the most of every moment, wherever the location, no matter who you’re with, but also offers a sense of balance that prepares you for making decisions with a significant degree of clarity.
Train Your Mind with Games
A smart way to keep yourself sharp and ready to make decisions is to embrace a new perspective of familiar things. We’ve all played games at some point, from cards, to chess, to TV quizzes and video games – but have you ever thought of making these games work for you?
Immersive strategy games that are made up of easily acquired skills can offer new opportunities to practice good mental health as well as have a positive impact in other areas of your life by association. The concept here is: if you find yourself unable to make decisions in life, the more games you play, the easier it will get. That is the case because the more you play games like chess, backgammon or poker, the more hours of practice you are effectively putting into decision making.
Nowadays, companies like Chessacademy have invested in new approaches to learning mind sports, making new players’ introduction to chess easy and interactive. In terms of poker, PokerStars recently created the Periodic Table of Poker, a handy visual aid for newbies to get used to concepts and decision-making in the popular card game. These accessible mind sports teach you how make effective decisions under pressure, but disguise them as a side product of your enjoyment. All of which serves to help you make decisions at work, at home and on the go.
Hunt for Heroes
Although in today’s media-saturated world, the term “heroes” has become synonymous with very visible “celebrities,” the Greek origin of the word referred to any individual who, in the face of great difficulty, acted in an extraordinary way, enough to incite the admiration of others. To put it bluntly, “heroes” are undercover decision-making experts and an example to live and learn by!
Finding your hero is the tricky part. Perhaps you will find him or her in a teacher, parent or friend but it does not have to be someone you know, or even someone living. Professor Scott LaBarge from Santa Clara University, California recounts a heart-warming story of how reading Henry-David Thoreau’s “Walden” changed his life. An extraordinary amount can be achieved by simply focusing on what moves and inspires you personally. By association, making inspired decisions can only lead to great and important things.
Use the Jumbotron!
Sometimes don’t you wish you could have the freedom to make totally crazy decisions? If you’ve ever had this impulse and immediately stifled it for fear of wasting your and other people’s time, not so fast! An extremely simple way to test out a decision is to imagine it written across a Jumbotron at an extremely crowded stadium. This is the acid test: if the words illuminated on the big screen serve to inspire and motivate you, think more seriously about making that decision into a reality.
It’s quite amazing when you think that people back in my grandparents’ day had so much less choice: as young adults, their decisions may have included finding a spouse and a job but not that much after that. Today, in a world where we are spoilt for choice, the widened scope of possibility has meant that people don’t just want a partner, but the right partner, not a job but the right one. In short, we are compelled to believe every choice we make should lead to perfection – but this adds an unnecessary layer of pressure to our already hectic lives. We challenge you instead to tweak or introduce a few daily habits, feel stronger and calmer, and with this outlook make decisions that take you places that exceed all expectation.
All photos from Pixabay – CC0 Public Domain
Guest Author Bio
Rachel M. Wenders
Rachel M. Wenders is a blogger and adventure-seeker with a fondness for life’s biggest (and toughest) questions. Raised in Maryland, schooled at Yale and now living in sunny California.