“A good plan, violently executed right now, is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.” – George Patton
To live in the 21st century, almost by definition, is to have a multitude of choices about virtually everything. We start our day with hundreds of choices about the most basic of human needs. What kind of toothbrush and toothpaste to use, thousands of breakfast choices, clothing choices, ways to get to our jobs, and on, and on, and on. We grow up having to make so many decisions and choices that many people inadvertently learn to overthink things. We often overanalyze, overthink, and overcomplicate our lives as a result of this expectation that there is a perfect choice to be made. The result is a life that is overcomplicated, indecisive, and often disillusioned.
While choice is good, giving life variety and excitement, do we really need that many choices? The simple act of going to a supermarket to purchase food can be paralyzing at times. Walk into any modern food store and observe the number of choices you have for the most basic of items. For example, something as simple as a loaf of bread could be complicated by the 50+ choices you have on the shelves in front of you. A simple bar soap leads to a similar amount of choices. While most people don’t agonize too much over which ones to buy, being creatures of habit we tend to gravitate towards those that we have already tried, this illustrates the possible confusion and overanalyzing that has become a part of modern life. Think about it. How many channels do you have on your television? How many sources of information do you have at your fingertips? How many food choices, coffee choices, entertainment choices, and choices of jobs, partners, and living situations do you have? It can get overwhelming at times.
The result of all these choices becomes what is frequently referred to as analysis paralysis, a pattern of over analyzing and overthinking a situation so that an action or decision is not acted upon, in effect paralyzing the outcome. The decision becomes overcomplicated because the person gets bogged down in the details, other options and choices, and what has become known as “what if” thinking. What if it doesn’t work? What if it’s different than it’s supposed to be? What if I have made the wrong choice? What if I’m choosing this over a better option? In many cases this hesitation leads to an opportunity lost due to an option not being chosen at the appropriate time. Doubt, fear, and hesitation allows what may have been a golden opportunity to slip away.
Living in the information age gives us literally millions of choices for things that were far more simple as recently as a decade ago. Browse for an item on any of the online marketplaces for something simple, but don’t buy it immediately. For the next few weeks you will be inundated with pop-ups for that item from hundreds of other online marketplaces trying to entice you to buy that product from them at a better price, with better quality, and free shipping. You are literally stalked by a marketing strategy that capitalizes on the human tendency towards over analyzing. Many who browse the Internet for goods, services, or relationships are frozen, waiting for the perfect item, perfect price, or perfect partner, afraid to make a choice now because of fear of missing out on a perfect situation that may materialize later.
Behavioral scientists have studied variations of analysis paralysis and come up with a number of ways that this phenomenon occurs. Here are some of them:
⦁ Hick’s Law. This describes the situation where the number of choices a person has available to them correlates to the time that it takes a person to make a decision. Put simply, too many choices leads to slower decision-making and thinking, resulting in an opportunity lost due to the passage of too much time.
⦁ Decision Fatigue. This describes the deterioration in the quality of decisions made over a period of time where numerous decisions have been made. For example, studies show that judges in court rooms make less favorable decisions as the day goes on. They are more lenient and considerate in the morning and more abrupt and make less favorable decisions later in the day. As an individual mentally or physically fatigues, they make ill thought out decisions simply to be done with it.
⦁ Impulse Buying. Supermarkets know that people in checkout lines will frequently make quick decisions at the last minute about items that they don’t need or even want. Marketing strategists take advantage of their customer’s mental state, low blood sugar, and boredom while waiting in checkout lines by the candy rack and those crazy headlines on newspapers such as the National Inquirer or the Globe. How many times have you grabbed something on the way out of the store, thrown it on the counter and impulsively bought it at the last minute?
How a person makes decisions is a complicated matter, influenced by personality, upbringing, previous experiences, and opportunity. Making choices is a basic human freedom that we all enjoy as a result of being thinking mammals. Unlike other mammals, we can’t merely go with our basic instincts and genetic determinism. However, unlike other mammals, we may be spending and inordinate amount of time worrying about if we will make or have made the right decision. We all have the ability to adjust, adapt, and modify most decisions that we make. To be flexible in our thinking, we need to be willing to take risks and be less than perfect. Sometimes “good enough” can turn out to be far better than you ever expected.
“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.” – Kurt Vonnegut
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