Freedom paradox: Chained by options

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wears the same style shirt every day. Why? Because it saves him time and energy (Harding, 2014). Have you noticed that after shopping at a local neighborhood grocer, such as Trader Joe’s, walking into a supermarket, such as Safeway, feels overwhelming? It can take twice as long to get your shopping done, and for some reason, you feel exhausted afterward. Feeling tired is not about senescence or even the excessive square footage traversed in a supermarket, but can be explained simply by the excess of options. To select a toothpaste can have you staring at a shelf so long that you have spent 40 minutes more than you anticipated because you are now convinced that this new brand of toothpaste will make your teeth cleaner, whiter, and stronger but only if used with this toothbrush that is customized perfectly to suit the shape of your mouth, size of your molars, etc… So take a look at over here…

Consumers are now being told that everything can be perfectly customized if you do enough research and spend enough time reflecting on what exactly it is you want. And it is true! But at what cost? After a shopping experience like that, it’s no wonder why really busy people simplify and outsource their wardrobe decisions. Making every decision yourself is impossible. And attempting to do so means that other decisions may be made haphazardly with a cloud of post-errand-running exhaustion.

Decision fatigue is a thing. An article in the NY Times illustrated decision fatigue by looking at court decisions made early in the day versus later in the afternoon for similar cases (Tierney, 2011). The explanation was that after having to hear case after case loaded with important details and idiosyncrasies, those tried later in the day are susceptible to fatigue and impact the mood of decision-makers. Decision fatigue inevitably affects our judgment and ability to manage our work and personal lives (Halamka, 2011).

CIO of CareGroup Healthcare System John Halamka suggests that as the quantity of decisions increase, the quality decreases. Halamka advises leaders to reduce the scope of their authority and spread decision-making responsibilities to a wider net. Other suggestions include taking a “mental timeout” which can mean taking walks without distractions (i.e. cell phones) or meditation breaks. The extra time will allow your body to rest, especially if you’re under stress which can affect your cortisol levels, before getting pulled into the next task. Also, examine all the areas requiring decisions in your life and find a way to streamline the least important ones so that you can make room for more involved decisions, such as choosing the appropriate methodology for your dissertation, developing a strategy to sell your product, or having a meaningful conversation with a loved one. You may not wear the same shirt everyday but you can save yourself grief if you just buy the same brand of toothpaste.

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