My brain and I have a special relationship. Of course we’ve been together a long time so we have grown close. We know each other well.
My brain and I are in a constant state of arguing. We fight over every decision that needs making. Trying to decide what to have for dinner can end in an all-out brawl.
You see, my brain is the spoiled, over-fed American. I have inundated it with information, images and options with the thought that having complete information would allow me to make better decisions.
In truth, it has hindered my ability to make decisions. When faced with a choice, my brain displays all the information I have gathered and causes my decision-making muscle to become incapacitated.
Alvin Toffler, an American writer and futurist, coined the term “overchoice” in his book Future Shock (1970). He was describing a world in which there was too much choice to make optimal, satisfying decisions.
That seems counter-intuitive. With the availability of information, it would follow that decision-making would be enhanced by access to information. My brain doesn’t work that way. If anything, too many choices give my brain too much to think about.
Consider a trip to the grocery store and a stroll down the cereal aisle. Have you every wished there were just a few more choices there? Probably not. Chances are you may have become frozen by indecision because there were too many brightly colored boxes vying for your attention.
Because of our need to identify and categorize things to conquer them, there is even a word to describe the study of what happens when I battle with my brain. It’s called metacognition and it means thinking about one’s own thinking processes.
Because we can research a decision to death and have access to volumes of information about our subject, I actually believe it may make us less content, less happy.
Let me tell you about a recent battle my brain and I had about the purchase of a new computer. I researched the topic to death, reading specification and reviews into the wee hours of the night. When I settled on a product (note the use of the word “settle”) I eagerly anticipated getting it and using it to its full capacity. When it became a reality, I was disappointed because I felt I was going to have to settle for something that was good enough, but maybe not the best. The abundance of information bumping around in my brain would not allow me to be pleased with my choice because it may not have been the best choice. In this instance and in many others, my brain’s capacity to retain and analyze did not lead to my happiness, but indeed contributed to some discontent.
At the other end of the response of discontent is paralysis. How many people do you know who have a choice to make who never seem to get around to making it? Certainly they have analyzed the decision from all angles and considered all the possibilities, but in this instance, the abundance of information causes complete paralysis. Perhaps the person feel that whatever decision they make will be less than perfect so the solution is to make no decision.
The not too distant past was referred to as the “information age” and it held the promise of helping us be happier and healthier, more educated and wealthier. Was it all hype?
Do you battle with your brain? Consider these steps to help you manage:
- Limit your options in some fashion. For example, if you are researching a topic, only allow yourself to check out 5 books from the library, or 5 of the best websites on the topic.
- Rarely in life, as a consumer in any event, do we have or attain the best. What is you aim for “good enough”? If your chosen computer does what you want it to, don’t lament not having purchased a sleeker model. You have what you need.
- Give decisions a time limit, and stick to it! If you are considering a trip, tell your brain you will make a decision by the end of February. After that, it’s time for your brain to change the channel.
- Neither your life nor your consumer choices will ever be perfect. Consider the blessing of what you have and rejoice!