Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why Little Decisions Matter

I'm the kind of person who needs to know what I want out of life. I need goals, dreams, a direction. I need to know what I want my big picture to be. For a few years in my twenties, I didn't have that. I knew I wanted to be married to my husband and stay close to my family, but other than that, I felt stuck. It was a terrible feeling and I resolved that I would never again allow myself to feel lost. In general, once I have my big picture, I'm good at making big decisions. If they fit in with my goals and dreams, they're a yes. If they don't, they're a no. Sometimes it takes a little while to work out (see 5 Things to Do When Making a Big Decision) but in the end, I'm happy with the result.

I am not, however, good at making little decisions. If I go to a bookstore, I get overwhelmed by all the things I want to read and sometimes leave without buying anything. If someone says, "What kind of takeout do you want for dinner? I'll get whatever you want," I instantly feel paralyzed. (Incidentally, this kind of thing happens a lot, because my husband and my dad both spoil me.) I need my choices narrowed down before I can make a decision.

Though it doesn't happen often, the converse is also true: I can't make a decision if there are too few options. I've been having trouble deciding what to wear recently because, though I can now fit into all my pre-maternity pants (YAY!), most of my shirts are stretched out from wearing them over my pregnant belly last spring. So I end up repeating a lot of outfits, which doesn't matter much to Edwin, but it bothers me.

Unfortunately for me, while choosing a takeout place or an outfit doesn't seem to matter much in the scheme of things, spending time on the little decisions does have a cost. If I spend ten minutes a day thinking about what to wear, that's ten minutes that I'm not thinking about the topic for my next blog post. I could start writing a post in my head that will be recorded online forever, and works toward my overall goal of being a professional writer, but instead I'm worrying about which pair of shoes to wear. It is rumored that Albert Einstein wore the same thing every day. If it meant he had more headspace to devote to E=mc2, I think that was the right choice.

So what's the solution? I need to find the right number of choices for things I do on a daily basis, and a system for making less typical choices. In terms of meals, 2-3 possible things to eat makes me feel like I have variety but doesn't take long to think about. In terms of exercise, I do most workouts on certain days of the week, with some variations for weather, so that doesn't take much headspace either. In terms of clothing, I guess I need to buy more shirts.

For less typical choices, the strategy gets trickier. Do I limit myself right off the bat? My sister and I used to use a system for choosing a movie to watch. One of us would pick 4 or 5, and the other would narrow it down to the final choice. That worked well for a group decision. When it's just me, I can try to pick a category and narrow it down from there. That used to work on regular library trips: Choosing Books.

What kinds of decisions are you best at? Are you spending the right amount of time on the little decisions, or are you letting them take over your time to think, dream and plan toward what you really want out of life?

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