Constantly Overwhelmed? Adrenaline Drag? 6 Steps to Making Easier Choices.

The double edged sword of today’s society is that we have so much to choose from but we have so much to choose from. It can be overwhelming; Even selecting something as “simple” as peanut butter can end up being a 5 minute dilemma in the middle of the grocery isle. Hmmm. Extra chunky, chunky or smooth? Jif, Skippy, Peter Pan or store brand? Natural (are there really fake peanuts out there?), low sugar, low sodium? Extra-large container or individual travel size? And then there is the intended audience;my son likes the smooth stuff, I like the extra chunky and my husband doesn’t care.   And just to really mix it up, what if this is for a Thai recipe that calls for organic peanut butter? Maybe I should just buy one of each and head home before even thinking about jelly. I think we often actually do this, let ourselves feel defeated and default to the simplest solution. Feeling overwhelmed?

This is just one decision in a multitude of thousands that takes place in a grocery story every day. It can create or tap into feeling overwhelmed.

Think of all the marketing and/or product development professionals engage in trying to come up with a new candy bar, car or vacation destination to catch your attention.   It’s almost like they get paid to overwhelm you because, I guess, they do!

It’s their job to somehow convince you to “Try Me! Try Me!” In Barry Schwartz’s book, Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, he breaks folks down into two groups, Maximizers (a perfectionist who wants to look at every available option to make sure they make the absolute best choice) and Satisficers (people who will settle on something that meets a certain threshold). There is a quiz available to decide which way you lean with the following link by Nick Reese. Most of us probably already know which way you lean. But Schwartz claims that the Maximizers have a lot more anxiety and the Satisficers have less anxiety and perhaps are a bit happier and less overwhelmed.

So how do you step back from being overwhelmed and make decisions for quickly and painlessly? Here are some ideas:

1. Limit. Limit the decisions that you have to make. President Obama only has gray and blue suits. He’s not standing (I imagine) staring in his closet trying to figure out what he’s going to wear. I have five pairs of black slacks. I eat the same breakfast every week day. If you can limit the amount of choices, you save some gray matter for the more important decisions. If it’s not critical or life altering, eliminate the decision.

2. Criteria. Understand your criteria before making a decision. I’ve used this when coaching clients. Write down four or five criteria and then across the top of the page put the various options. So let’s take my decision for where to run my first marathon. Look at the criteria and options below with a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) for each criterion:

Richmond Rock’n Roll Raleigh Disney World
Flat                2                    1                10
Fun                8                    7                10
First timer friendly                7                    8                10
Travel                5                    9                  1
Total                22                  25                  31

So based on my criteria, you can see what my decision was. You can do this with anything but because it takes a little bit of time, only use it on more important decisions. Set up your criteria.

4. Restrict Options. Whenever possible restrict the options you have. So if you want to decide which restaurant to go to, limit it by driving distance or type of cuisine or cost. I now realize why I would drive my family nuts by throwing out ten different restaurant option – sushi? pizza? steak? seafood? fast food? BBQ? Chinese? Peruvian? My children would roll their eyes and groan. If I had said, “Sushi or Pizza?”; everyone would have been so much happier. So when you can, restrict the options you are considering to reduce anxiety for everyone involved.

5. Let Go. Let go of perfection. I can assure you that your neighbors will never know that you spent 3 days of intense research to decide on the lawnmower you bought.   Agonizing over big ticket items can eventually cause regret. If perfection is the measuring stick you’re never going to get there, ever, really. The more features you research, the more regret you will have after the fact. If you let go and make a quick decision, the time is not vested, you’re not aware that you could have gotten three bells and whistles that you didn’t consider. Sometimes the less you know; the better. Let go.

6. Hangry. Don’t make decision (if you can help it) when hangry (hungry and angry).   My daughter can read my hangry radar instantly. “Mommy, are you hungry?” Grab a snack. When I am hungry, I am on edge, impulsive and not at my best. If you are a little sleep deprived, hungry, on edge from a meeting that didn’t go so well;wait to make a more weighty decision and never, ever, go to the grocery store hungry. You will buy half the candy and snack aisle – what’s wrong with a 2 pound bag of Peanut M&M’s and Junior Mints?   Your willpower and decision making power is limited so make sure you aren’t hangry.

There are things that need some research. College, careers, cars, health, homes and significant others come to mind. There may be more but some of these steps can work to reduce the options or at least reduce the “Buyer’s Remorse” that Maximizers tend to go through. Relax. Be clear on your criteria and limit the options. Escape the State of being Overwhelmed.

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