Absolutely, yes. No. Maybe.

I am not a person who makes decisions easily.  Having made some pretty bad choices in the past, it is often paralyzing to make them now.  All the things that are recommended, such as weighing your options, writing a “pro” and “con” list and my personal favorite sleep on it (I love sleeping) all wind up coming up short.  So I procrastinate, delay, hand-wring, whine and occassionally brood.  Then I wind up making the worst decision of all:  doing nothing.  Sometimes choices are just so overwhelming, particularly when it comes to kids.  Because then it’s not just your life you are screwing up.  If I make the wrong choice in a school for example, well then they could wind up being bullied, under-achieve, take up smoking, get in with the wrong crowd, etc.  See where I am going?  No good can come from this type of logic.  Let’s face it, when you make a big decision, you roll the dice.  And no Kenny Rogers, I am not a gambler.

So what to do?  I enlisted the help of the internet!  As it turns out, I am not alone.  In the most recent issue of O magazine, Martha Beck wrote about indecision.  Her advice felt true and honest:  “make a choice, any choice.  If you are still miserable, you can choose again.”  I also feel completely reassured when she says, “When you trade indecision for choice, you will be rewarded with either success or education, guaranteed.”  Brilliant.  Now if only I could trust myself to make a choice and let the chips fall where they may.  But my monkey brain is still too busy corrupting my calm and zen decision-making ability with cataclysmic “what-if’s.”  Back to the internet…

Then there is the gentlemanly approach of Baba Shiv, a professor at Stanford University.  Shiv says in situations which are extremely stressful, such as illness, it’s a great idea to give up the driver’s seat.  For him, when his wife was sick with cancer, he stayed away from Google and WebMD and simply let his well respected physician and health care team make the decisions.  That way, he was free from guilt and he and his wife were able to concentrate on her recovery.  His theory is, well, if you are not the driver, you can sit back and be the passenger for awhile.  You don’t always have to be in charge.  You don’t have to wonder what would happen if you had chosen the other thing, relax, it’s been chosen for you.  Even smaller decisions are smoothed when you ask a friend to help you choose (Okay, so that’s what happens when I say, “Go ask your father!”).

We have been raised in a Western society that tells us that we should have more choices, that a free and democratic society is exemplified in the approximately 100,00 choices you have at your local Wal-Mart  (Not endorsing Wal-Mart here, I never go there).  But in his 2004 book “The Paradox of Choice,”  author and psychologist Barry Schwartz points out that the limitless choices we have tend more to promote paralysis than liberation.  Have you ever gone to one of those human resources meetings where they say you have 742 retirement plans to choose from or you could choose the default?  I always chose the default.  The idea of sifting through all of that information was so daunting, and my faith in my choice so weak, that I chose to have someone else choose for me.   Schwartz says that as our choices increase, so do our expectations.  Even when a good result happens from our choice, we still wonder, “yes these jeans are fabulous, but would my ass have looked better in the other ones?”  We sometimes anticipate the regret, before we even choose anything!   Like when we think about going back to work, then imagine the pained looks on our childrens’ faces when we are leaving, the messy house that awaits when we get home, the inability to squeeze in exercise and then *click* we put the thought out of our heads.  What if we instead thought about the paycheck, the respect, the equality, the goddamn glory of 9 to 5!  Not for nothing but, your brain doesn’t tend to go there.

Did you know that the average American makes about 70 choices per day?  That’s alot, according to Sheena Iyengar, who has spent years studying the “art of choosing” and is on faculty at Columbia Business School.  Her point is, we just have too many choices these days, people!  She refers to this phenomena as the “choice overload problem.”   (Otherwise known as WTF?).  We are generally just not neurologically able to manage too many choices.  Her recommendation to businesses is to limit the amount of choices that we the consumers have.  To that end, we will find it easier to navigate the many options at our disposal.  And everyone will win in the end.  We should also get better at categorizing and simplifying our choices.  So for those of you who have to choose a college or high school or pre-school for that matter, get out there.  Visit the place, talk to people.  Putting the choices into categories such as “close to home,” “lowest cost” or “best teacher ratio” is a good place to start.  For me, the choices might boil down to “least scary” or “coolest.”  But that’s just me.

Indecision seems to be in the water lately in my suburban community.  Decisions, decisions.  Which school is best for my daughter?  Is a job change needed?  Is my mother okay living by herself?  Can dad still drive, or do we need to take his license?  Do we need to sell our house?  As for me, when I make a decision, I feel relief wash over me.  Just to be able to know where I’m headed.  And I will continue to try to quiet the voice that asks if I would have been better off making the other choice instead…

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2 comments on “Absolutely, yes. No. Maybe.

  1. I’ve always been a terrible decision maker, however, in the past few years the majority of choices I have made have led to disaster. With my most recent low, getting fired, I now get severe panic attacks when faced with even basic decisions. Do you want an apple? My blood pressure rises. Anything real? Full on anxiety attack…. not trusting yourself, it really can be debilitating

    • suburbotypes says:

      Totally get it. I find that age has helped me with this and I trust myself now more than I ever have. I am 43, don’t know how old you are, but just your blog title makes me think you’ve got some faith in yourself-audacious…

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