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The road not taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
—Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

Decision paralysis is officially a thing. Trust me. I read it on the internet.

Seriously, though, I read a lot of psychology books and articles these days, and I also conduct hands-on research on live human subjects. One subject, myself. I’ve always had decision paralysis but didn’t realise it was decision paralysis. I just thought I was a weirdo and that the nature of my weirdness was unique. Apparently, I am just as unique as everyone else—hence, not at all.

Decision paralysis is a crippling condition when you can’t decide. For me, it gets worse when my depression and/or anxiety get better—I mean, when they get the better of me, when they flourish and I therefore don’t. Deciding consumes a lot of mental energy. Also a lot of time. It’s usually pretty frustrating and doesn’t necessarily lead to a decision being made.

In a research experiment, it was found that the more choices you have, the less likely you are to choose something. Research subjects were offered two or three choices, and they picked one relatively easily. When they had a dozen or so choices, however, they more often ended up not choosing anything at all because the number of possibilities was too overwhelming. I so get it.

The other day I was with a friend and asked her to wait for me a minute while I get something at the chemist’s. I needed one thing, shampoo. When I located the shampoo shelf, I nearly fainted because there was an array of dozen variants from my preferred brand (the cheapest one). I clutched the shelf and slowly descended in a yogic squat to examine the options. It made my head spin. It took me forever to pick the blue one. My friend was exasperated. I objected that I wasn’t fucking horrible, as she suggested, but just had a case of decision paralysis. She wasn’t impressed.

One practical psychology book I read and was hugely impressed by proposes to limit decision paralysis with to-do-today lists. It’s a modified to-do list, except you only put on it what you have to do on a particular day. You should colour-code tasks which must be done, which may be done and which don’t have to be done. The tasks should be spread randomly all across the page. OK, now, WTF. I hate randomness, and I find it obvious that if it’s supposed to work, you have to write down your tasks in the order in which you want to do them.

I sometimes use the method, but not often, because I’m already super organised. I mean, I have a regular schedule for each day and I stick to it. When I can’t stick to it, I get extremely anxious. You can’t mess with your rituals when you’re OCD. I suspect I even unconsciously brush my teeth in a prescribed number of strokes in a given order.

Now that you know that decision paralysis is real, do you have it and if so, what do you do about it?

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Posted by Mara Eastern

I'm a sardonic blogger, snapper, scribbler and rhymer; a virtual space invader who indulges in cheerful negativism, morbid self-deprecation and bleak humour.

20 Comments

  1. Nope, no issues making decisions on my end. But I am OCD in some ways, mostly with apartment cleanliness and keeping my truck clean. There really are far too many choices at the store though! 💕

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    1. You’re lucky to be fast to decide! One wastes so much time deciding when one can’t decide. Being OCD about neatness or cleanliness is probably a good thing. I got that too.

      I can’t imagine what I’d do if I lived in the US. I saw a picture of a shelf with Oreos and there were dozens of kinds of them. I’d never be able to decide for one. Here they sell two kinds and I always buy both because I can’t pick one 😀

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      1. Good Lord Mara, there are far too many choices on so many products. I’ve always been quick to make decisions except for the really big decisions.

        Those need time to be well thought out.

        My little 750 square foot apartment is the perfect size for one person, there’s no second person yet. I keep mis looking clean. Vacc and dust once a week or so and all the other little things to do including laundry.

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        1. You made me laugh for a reason you wouldn’t expect: the American concept of living space is so different from the European one, at least where I live. Your flat would be considered pretty large and suitable for a family with children. I live in a flat a bit smaller than yours and it’s far too big for me. In the early years on my marriage, we lived in a 325 sq foot flat and fitted it quite reasonably… Thanks for the interesting insight!

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          1. Glad to help Mara! I’ve always found the size of some folks’ houses to be ridiculous. Why would they need a 5000 SF house?

            I’m into minimalism these days, if I don’t really need it, I sell it or donate it. My apartment, or Flat, is conservatively decorated, and always clean.

            Everything has it’s place.

            Sao your also divorced, ugh. Marriage bites. No more for me, and I’m only 56 years young!

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          2. Minimalism is my thing too. I’ve seen your new home decorations on Instagram and they’re looking very good! It’s great that you’re neat and organised. It’s my thing as well 😀

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  2. I can’t decide whether or not I like this particular post…..

    🙂

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    1. That’s ironic 😀 Hopefully my post didn’t bring you much trouble trying to decide…

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  3. Sometimes I take forever making big decisions. I often give myself a deadline and try to stick to it. When I do, I then have to not second guess myself. It can be a process!

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    1. Wow, giving yourself a deadline is a pretty good trick! I need to try it too. Taking your time makes sense when it’s a big decision, but you probably don’t need to spend half an hour deciding on which shampoo to buy.

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  4. The mind carries debris into itself. Some stumble through with the pretended innocence of a child, some sort it with lists. I make lists.

    The most important salvation is to know deep down it is all capable of being left undone. Just fail.

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    1. You said it very nicely, about the debris in one’s mind. Lists are awesome, I do a lot of lists, some mental, some written. But then sometimes I ignore them. It’s so important to allow yourself to be imperfect and to fail occasionally. I’m not very good at it.

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  5. I get most hung up about these things when I convince myself that the difference between one shampoo and the others is not only real but matters. Basically, they all get your hair clean. Grab one of the cheaper ones and get out, I tell myself.

    Which leaves me figuring out which ones are cheaper, given the varying sizes, but it does narrow it down, and I do get out.

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    1. Haha, that’s true, it’s the worst when you actually convince yourself that different kinds of shampoo have different effects. That’s how they’re marketed, but I don’t think it’s really the case. I love those shops that include on the price tag how much a liter/kilo of the product costs. It’s easy to compare the price with different products.

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  6. […] for telling a story. I’m not a great storyteller, that won’t do. I’m great at decision paralysis, which isn’t really great either because I devote more time to deciding than writing. After […]

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  7. Great Post! I don’t have it luckily but I think I have like a social version where I can’t come out with the right thing to say for the situation etc. I get anxious and just say a load of bullshit but at least I have a way of defending myself socially I guess. Is the book a good read? Who is the author? I am reading the psychology of ageing, not the best but some interesting stuff!

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    1. Thank you for your comment, I’m glad you found something you could relate to in the post! What you describe might be social anxiety, or not, I don’t want to label it, but I certainly have the same problem and I’m sure we’re not alone in this! The book is very good, I think, it’s End of Procrastination by Petr Ludwing – not just about procrastination. The psychology of ageing sounds interesting too, I might get down to it at some point…

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  8. I can so relate to decision paralysis when I go out to dinner and the menu is pages and pages long! I ask what everyone else is having first. Takes me ages to decide… too much choice. But that’s where it ends for me. To-do-today lists sound way too OCD’ish for me….

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    1. Exactly my case! The more options I have, the harder it is for me to decide and be happy with my decision. To-do-today lists are great when you’re juggling a lot of things at once. It helps to organise your day on paper and start working on the tasks with a clear mind.

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