It's no secret that we're a country full of consumption, consumerism and lots of options. My dad escaped communist Hungary and moved to North America in the 1960s for this dream -- the dream to provide for his family and give them great opportunities ... and let's face it, lots of stuff.
Going to the grocery store the other day and spending 10 minutes debating whether or not I should buy whole wheat, whole grain, 10 grain or 12 grain bread reminded me of a scene in the 1980s hit movie "Moscow on the Hudson" in which Robin Williams' character, a refugee from Soviet Russia, faints in the grocery store aisle trying to decide which coffee to buy among the glut of choices. I recalled the scene last Tuesday when I realized I had almost missed an appointment because of my thorough bread analysis (I even considered spelt bread. Spelt!)
Barry Schwartz touches on this theme of More is Less in his bestseller The Paradox of Choice. (Ironically, I simultaneously read his book with three others since I didn't want to confine myself to one genre). Turns out, more choices may not lead to more happiness and rarely leads to more clarity. Too many choices can actually make us stagnant.
I used to be a great indecision maker. Present me with a few options, and I would freeze and ask for more time (or more choices). It's not that none of the options excited me -- it's that too many did. I loved the great American culture that encouraged me to super-size! I applied the same logic to my relationships, my career and my lifestyle. I'm a free-spirit and I rarely wanted to be confined to just a few options.
It never occurred to me that if I couldn't decide between two things, sometimes the answer was neither. I never realized that answers would more readily come when I stayed present and quieted the noise. So -- I piled more stuff on my plate, convincing myself that more would bring more clarity.
For those of you who also approach life as a fabulous buffet full of unlimited experiences, you may understand the dilemma. I have a serious case of what my friend Tyler calls WIMO ("What if I miss out?) The irony is that piling on more stuff and having access to too many options eventually makes me feel ... well ... where was I again? Oh, distracted. I eventually lose sight of what I really want.
I've interviewed hundreds of singles in New York City who admit to having a case of WIMO, saying that it's tough to pick one partner when there are so many wonderful choices. One guy I know always asks "Can I do better?" and polls his friends for the answer. (As a side note, I've always thought that if you have to conduct market research on the person you are dating, he or she is probably not your match). A woman I know talks about "trading up" when meeting men, as if they're part of an NFL draft.
The not-so-shocking reality is that there will always be someone richer, better looking and more accomplished around the corner. This is New York, after all. The single New Yorkers I have spoken to who embrace WIMO have become perpetually "commitment-phobic" because of their fear of missing out or making the wrong decision.
In the past, when I haven't been able to make a decision about a job, a city or a relationship, I used to wish I could look into a crystal ball and get the answer or the direction I should take. But life does not work that way. We are not given the answer before we take action. And even when taking action seems overwhelming and impossible, it is almost always better than the anticipation of taking the action.
I'm not always successful, but I'm actively trying to be conscious of the decisions I have to make, whether it's as simple as buying bread or as complicated as navigating relationships. I am no longer a passive participant in the scenarios of my life and I no longer enjoy sitting on the fence in order to buy more time (or more options). Let's face it -- most the time, sitting on the fence is less comfortable than jumping off of it and landing on one side.
This year I made a decision to make decisions. Imagine that! We bought a place (because, really, there will be better places if we searched through 400 more listings but I'd like my Sundays back) and I have consciously tried to simplify. I say "no" more than ever and I have a very easy litmus test when it comes to choosing a place, a plan or a thing -- in fact, it's the same strategy I suggest that singles use to determine if they should see someone again: Does it feel right? Do I want to do that?
When you ask the ever-excited WIMO voice to take a break and you quiet the noise of all of the endless options, it is quite refreshing. Turns out MORE doesn't often lead to more clarity. It's quite simple, really.