Why Having Too Many Options Can Sometimes Paralyze You
You can feel your eyes darting between the options laid out in front of you. Your brain aches from repeatedly assessing and evaluating the pros and cons of each, and now you wish that you could just walk away from making a decision at all. You’re frozen, unable to move a muscle, unable to think of anything else. Time feels like it has stopped around you, but in reality, the seconds on the clock are ticking away…
Every person walking the path of life will inevitably have to make choices. Humans make hundreds of decisions every day. Even minor things like deciding whether to listen to music in the car on the way to work requires some cognitive effort. The burden on our cognitive systems for larger problems or seemingly ‘life-or-death’ situations, such as choosing a university or career, is much more immense. This is especially so with the myriad of options available in the world. When you have too many options to choose from, it can be tempting to rigorously weigh out all of your options or refrain from making a choice at all. However, this would stop you from progressing in life, as you would always be stuck in the same circumstances. Why does this occur? How can we manage it?
Here are some reasons why having too many options metaphorically ‘paralyses’ you:
1. Fear of missed opportunities
Humans are self-interested creatures. It seems apparent that we would want to choose what would be best and most ideal for us, following our own beliefs and values. When you face various options to choose from, identifying and evaluating the advantages and drawbacks are difficult. This is especially so when there is more than one option that sounds worthwhile to pursue. You don’t want to risk missing out on any opportunities.
This idea could lead to a buildup of stress and tension, especially if the duration between when you are informed of the need to choose and the deadline stretches out over a long period. When humans are faced with complex challenges, we tend to procrastinate and put them off. This is how you get stuck and ‘paralysed’. Even worse, procrastinating could lead to last-minute decisions or avoiding making choices altogether.
2. Anxiety caused by uncertainty
In Behavioural Economics, I learned about the ‘familiarity heuristic’ concept, which suggests that people tend to have internal bias, making similar and familiar decisions to reduce the cognitive effort needed to choose. This is why humans prefer guaranteed and certain things, especially if it is in their favour. However, constantly choosing the same option can mean you are trapped in a perpetual monotonous cycle. Think of those movies where the main character is stuck in a time loop. Nothing new happens, and things can get boring very quickly.
Making decisions about the future are typically filled with uncertainty – there is no guaranteed security in life. This is the opposite end of having many ‘worthwhile’ options to choose from. You feel as though nothing is ‘safe’. Being unsure can cause some people to avoid making decisions to move forward, and there could be detrimental side-effects on their mental health.
So, how do you cope and deal with having too many options? Here are some suggestions:
1. Narrow down your wants and needs by being specific
As a student, there are so many universities worldwide, so how do I choose? My process of making this tough decision considers the constraints and requirements needed to fulfil my personal satisfaction. Take time to think carefully about what you absolutely need and want to have. For example, I was confident that I would like to pursue my further education in the UK. Therefore, that created a requirement for my options, so I narrowed down the endless list of international universities to only universities in the UK. This reduces your burden of choosing between so many options.
However, this is still a lot of options, so I did some independent research, utilising the wealth of online resources available online. Learning more about the topic you are making a decision on can give you more insight into the pros and cons. Sometimes online resources can seem rather ‘sugarcoated’, so another helpful tip is to talk to people who have experienced the opportunity you are looking at – try to ask for brutally honest opinions so that you don’t get the wrong idea about something.
Once you have obtained all of the relevant information needed, never underestimate the power of trusting your gut instincts because, intuitively, you know yourself best. Take your close friends and family’s opinions into consideration if you need a second pair of eyes. Ensure that others’ opinions do not compromise your personal wants and needs.
2. Find the middle ground
You shouldn’t confine yourself to having to choose between two solid options. My suggestion is for you to find the middle ground. From my university choice example, I had to decide whether to pursue Economics or Journalism at university level, because I enjoyed studying behavioural economics, but I also loved to write. I decided to choose Economics. Why? Although I had to sacrifice doing a Journalism degree, I realised that I could always write as a side hustle or during my free time, just like I am doing as I type out this article.
I recall being introduced to the power of ‘and’ instead of ‘or’. In some cases, you can do multiple things at once, if you’re up for it! The power of ‘and’ may not apply to some situations, so an additional suggestion I have is to think about whether you could save an option for ‘later’ – make the most of the time that you have!
3. Sometimes, uncertainty is inevitable – take a risk!
I have a friend who relies on a spinning wheel to make decisions – she would search up a spinning wheel generator online and list out the options she is choosing between. Then, she hopes for the best as she clicks the button to make the spinner turn. I admire how open she is to ‘randomness’, and I believe that this is a moral that we can take away from this little story. Remind yourself that one ‘wrong’ decision will likely not be the ‘end all’. Nobody can guarantee their security in anything. There will always be pros and cons for every option that exists.
So, if you are really stuck, keep an open mind and take a leap of faith. Just choose something and roll with it! It will undoubtedly be scary, but you may discover new things about yourself through taking risks, such as your likes and dislikes. Even better, you may find that by making this one ‘random’ choice, there are better opportunities than you imagined!
Sharing is caring!
Once you have gone through an experience, be sure to share your experiences with others. This will assure others that they are not the only ones facing the difficulty of choosing from so many options!