On the rare occasion that I go out to dinner, I already know what I'm going to order from almost any given restaurant. It’s not because I'm a picky eater or afraid of trying new things (although, I won’t completely set those excuses aside), but because there are so few dishes on the menu that I'm able to eat without a moral and gastrointestinal dilemma.
But set me loose in a place like Red Curry Vegan Kitchen or Phoenix’s Green New American Vegetarian and Dark Hall Coffee, and I could ponder the menu for hours, weighing the pros and cons of each delectable and thoughtfully crafted recipe.
In many aspects of our lives, we may find ourselves faced with a dizzying list of options, leaving us too paralyzed to determine which choice is the right one.
Albert Einstein called it option paralysis. But why waste brain power on unimportant decisions? In order to save his decision-making for only the most crucial obstacles in his life, he opted to wear the same outfit every day, as did Steve Jobs. No need to make a fashion statement when there are things like the theory of relativity and streamlined technologies to be developed.
This idea was also explored in The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, a book by American psychologist Barry Schwartz published in 2004. In it, Schwartz argues our happiness suffers when we’re given too many options, expanding on ideas psychologist Herbert A. Simon introduced in the 1950s. There are essentially two types of people when it comes to decision-making: maximizers and satisficers. The maximizer must know that every decision they come to is the best one possible. This requires a daunting analysis of every conceived outcome, whereas the satisficer refuses to get bogged down by the possibility of something better.
It can still be difficult to come to a conclusion despite being aware of this. The decision we find ourselves debating could be on something as trivial as what show to watch on any number of streaming platforms, or what can of beans to purchase from the grocery store. Then again, the decision could be as impactful as choosing what direction to take in life. As teenagers, we’re expected to settle on a career that can support us financially and emotionally for the rest of our lives, or at least until the far-off finish line of retirement.
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Of course, there will also be decisions that seem like a no-brainer. Don’t poke a sleeping Iranian bear, leading it to retaliate against innocent people who just happen to be in the line of fire. If you have the time and resources, help other communities. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Some find peace in relinquishing their autonomy to a higher power. Others turn to kink, putting their full trust in a dominant partner and submitting to them in agreed upon scenarios.
In season two of BBC’s Fleabag, the titular character finds herself lusting after—and falling in love with—a Catholic priest who has dedicated his heart, body and soul to God. While Fleabag’s life is no longer the dumpster fire it was in the first season, there’s still an underlying sadness and discontent with the path on which she’s found herself. In a moment of desperation, she enters the confessional booth to talk through her doubts with the priest during one of their after-hours drinking sessions.
“I want someone to tell me what to wear every morning. I want someone to tell me what to eat. What to like, what to hate, what to rage about. What to listen to, what band to like. What to buy tickets for. What to joke about, what not to joke about. I want someone to tell me what to believe in. Who to vote for and who to love and how to tell them” she says, succumbing to tears. “I think I just want someone to tell me how to live my life, Father, because so far I think I've been getting it wrong.”
We start life with a blank slate. Our parents and other caretakers lay down a well-intentioned foundation and pass on as many of their life lessons as possible. We just have to choose what to do with all the pieces we gather along the way. Simple as that.