Coping with Decision Fatigue


As each year comes to an end there is an innate tendency to reflect at the year that’s just about to say “Good Bye”.  Each “Good Bye” takes us to a flash back mode – feeling nostalgic of the good times, feeling the pinch for the things undone and unsaid. We then move on to the next year making promises to do and say things that matters to us. As humans we have always prayed and wished for abundance. But the fact remains that we are hardly in a position to deal with abundance. We are hardwired to handle scarcity and not abundance. Even our bodies are wired to store energy as fat to handle a future food scarcity.

Abundance hits us harder than scarcity does because we are naturally wired to react to scarcity.

Similar are challenges when we live with abundance of choices. We co-relate choices to freedom – the more the better. And that’s true – freedom does equate to making our own choices and being responsible for it. Our generation is  blessed with abundance of choices and information on our finger tips. Compared to the times of our older generation, recent times seems more enticing and none of us would want to go back to the good old days – when our parents always bought a shoe from “Bata”, picked one of the two toothpastes (Colgate or Forhans) or fell in love with someone from school, college or their  neighborhood. Compare this to our times –  buying a pair of shoes would mean, first deciding  what kind of shoes – formal, casual, running, walking, football, party, then choosing from the infinite brands, trends, scouting thru multitude of deals and reviews. Fulfilling our smallest need like “what to eat” or “where to eat” sometimes becomes an ordeal task. Big decisions like finding love now has boundless options – going to innumerable  parties, social networks, social media sites etc. Ideally our lives sound better and happier than the previous generation. There seems to be perceived abundance, but we hardly are able to settle on something quickly.

The economist and psychologist Herbert A. Simon was one of the first to precisely describe the relationship between information and attention and stated that a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention

Multiple windows kept open on the laptop, the smartphone screen filled with app icons, the never ending scrolls on social media, the notifications screaming for attention like a colic baby – all these are our new normal and it’s here to stay. We need to live with it and we can’t go back to buy “Bata” like our parents.  Accepting and understanding what this does to us is the first step towards handling this elephant in the room.

Does more choice bring more happiness? Not necessarily.  More than ten years have passed since the publication of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, a highly influential book written by the psychologist Barry Schwartz. Schwartz’s argument is Instead of increasing our sense of well-being, an abundance of choice is increasing our levels of anxiety, depression, and wasted time. As the number of choices increase and our attention spans decrease, the quality of decisiveness suffers or sometimes we just stay indecisive on matters that matter most to us – a state of decision paralysis.

Hick’s law supports the fact that the time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices.hickslaw

Decision making  in the times of Choice Overload

Psychology researchers have studied how people make decisions and concluded there are two basic styles of decision making – Maximizers and Satisficers. “Maximizers” like to take their time and weigh on a wide range of options, sometimes every possible one before making a choice. “Satisficers” on the other hand would rather be fast than thorough; they prefer to quickly choose the option that fills the minimum criteria or choice that’s good enough (the word “satisfice” blends “satisfy” and “suffice”).

With the entire information overload of our times, our generation tends to be more of maximizers than satisficers as compared to our earlier generation.  The research has shown that satisficers tend to be happier with their choices when compared to maximizers, who, even after spending all that time and energy on making the decision, are still more likely to end up regretting it.

Try to be a perfectionist about the smallest decision we make and we  are sure to have a nervous breakdown.

Try to be a perfectionist about the smallest decision we make and we  are sure to have a nervous breakdown. The best way to handle abundance of choices is to “maximize” decision making for the things that matter most. Everything else should be “satisficed” – a good enough option would work.   That’s what Mark Zuckerberg does when he decides to wear the same type of dress everyday. He mentions that he wants to limit the time he spends making “frivolous” decisions so he can concentrate on real work.  And that’s exactly the way forward for us living in the age of choice & information overload. We need to choose – what decisions need our genuine attention and focus and what decisions are okay to be satisficed.

As we bid “good bye” to this year, let’s wish for abundance in our attention to what matters most and the prudence not to divide our attention equally for everything around that craves for attention.

Here is SoulCafe wishing you a mindful New Year!

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