Advice From the Trenches

Decision Paralysis: What’s one reader to do with all her options?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I wanted to change my internet/TV/phone service plan, because I was paying a lot for a bundle considering I usually watch mostly Netflix or Hulu. My current plan includes at least 40 of the network and cable channels, and all I ever watch is the news. But when I decided to look into my options with my current provider plus a few others, all I got was a pounding headache – there are SO many choices out there now that just listening to them all, I wanted to give up. I still haven’t done anything. 

This happens to me a lot – I get so concerned about finding the BEST price, because there are so many different stores with different prices and sales – then there’s that one free tax weekend they have every year that I try to plan around. The thing is, if I go online, there’s unbelievable deals, but can I trust them? Or will I find a better deal later in the day AFTER I bought the thing?

Is this an obsessive compulsive disorder of some kind? Or does everyone find it hard to move when there’s too many choices?             

– Wanda Waxalot

Dr. B says: 

No it isn’t OCD; it’s normal. Studies show that the more choices we have, the more anxiety we have. That’s one reason we create institutions and traditions – they simultaneously limit our choices and create a sense of security. 

On the other hand, if we limit choices to the extent that there’s no free will, people become depressed. The key is in flexible limitations. For example: Your cable company offers these fixed plans but when you call, it’s: “just for YOU, today, if you sign up now, you also get…” Feeling like we got a bargain or won something makes us happy and gives us the sense we are special. We feel like you beat them at the game. Marketing has this scheme nailed down.  

The best option is to first examine and try to understand what your actual real need is, and then try to match that. Ignore the noise and don’t give in to the pressures and expectations of others. That is a skill that has to be learned and practiced, because it is not taught in our culture. Counseling can help if you can’t find a place or setting to master it in. 

C says: We all have our crosses to bear, Wanda. Your unlimited entertainment choices are giving you a headache … and in other parts of the world, people are living in conditions where their most important decision is limited to: “Do I try to make my home in this empty shipping container, or build one out of this tarp I found in the garbage?”

We live in a privileged society. What that means is that we waste an extraordinary amount of time fretting over crap that really doesn’t make that much of a difference – oh, no, you paid $8 a month more for your bundle than your thrifty friend did! So freakin’ what? You’ll live. Your kids won’t have to work after school in order to help the family make rent. Your village won’t be attacked in the middle of the night by psychotic militants who burn the place to the ground. You’re out $8 a month until you change plans again. Live with it.

It is very normal for Americans to worry about status, bargain hunting, the condition of their lawns and their sparkling white teeth. Do you know what scathingly few of us seem to worry about at all? Our own sense of decency and compassion, the unnecessary deaths of our most vulnerable population, and whether other people get what they need as long as we get ours. 

I don’t mean to be unkind, Wanda, but geez! Stop looking for someone to give your chronic indecision a cool medical name, and just get a grip. 

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