Getting Unstuck, Part II: Too Many Choices


(This is Part II of a three-part article)
In Part I: Fear On Ice we talked about:

  • Conflicting desires to change and to stay the same. 
  • Fears of real, and even imagined threats that make us freeze up, and leave us spinning our wheels, going nowhere.
  • Strong fear and traumatic events that leave a lasting impression on us.
  • The connection between being stuck and feeling that we have no choices.

I showed you a simple exercise that helps you to break through that feeling of being stuck, and find possibility, and action, again.

But what if your problem seems completely different?
What if you have too many choices?

Have you ever gone shopping for an item without any preference beforehand, and found 5, 10, or 20 choices?  Did you feel stuck for a time while you tried to figure out a reason or excuse to pick a particular one?  Maybe you finally just grabbed one so you wouldn’t waste any more time making the “perfect choice”.

This is a phenomenon called “cognitive dissonance”.  If you have too many roughly equal choices, and you tell yourself that you have to decide between them, you feel pulled in all directions, and you freeze up. Your brain gets slightly overloaded.

For many people this just creates a momentary fog in their mind, before they snap out of it, and find a significant difference, or just go for any one of the choices.

Do you or a family member or a friend suffer from “analysis paralysis”?
That’s where every decision, including every purchase has to be researched and analyzed to death, all in the name of the “perfect choice.”
I suffered from this in the past, and while I’m rarely frozen because of it any more, I still err too much on the side of analysis.

The Perfect Choice 

When you find someone caught up in over-analysis, you’ll find a strong desire to make the perfect choice, to be perfect, and to be always right.  You’ll find a deep fear of making a mistake, and making the wrong choice.

It’s the fear of making a mistake that gives us an obsession with making that “perfect choice.”  Today’s society in general, and school in particular is focused on mistakes.  We’re rewarded for perfection, and penalized for making mistakes.

It’s true that there’s an advantage to getting something right the first time.
But inevitably everyone makes mistakes, and it’s a lot more common to make mistakes, than to be perfect. The skill of facing up to mistakes, and persisting until we get it right is a far more attainable skill than being perfect.  What a different world it would be if students were encouraged to go back and improve their knowledge of a subject if they weren’t satisfied with their initial performance! 

Speak to entrepreneurs who are extraordinarily successful in business.  Most of them have had significant failures in the past.  Their failures taught them lessons that led to their successes. 

There’s another real downside to looking for perfection.  If you always have to be perfect, you’re not going to take many risks.  You’ll stick with safe situations where you’re sure you can perform to your “high standards”.  If none of your choices seem “sure things”, you’ll be afraid to choose any. 

Do you want to settle for being perfectly mediocre, rather than aiming for imperfect excellence?  Here’s a great measuring stick: If you’re not failing periodically, you’re not taking enough risks, and you’re not exploring the full range of your potential.

Two Attitudes Toward Perfection

After I’ve been  bad-mouthing perfection, you’re probably confused.  Maybe being obsessed with  perfection is a problem, but  aren’t we all seeking to be so much  more than we are? 

How do you think about your personal  growth? Do you want to develop yourself because you love exploring your potential, and want to see that potential come to life?

Or, do you want to develop yourself because you feel that you’re not good enough as you are?  If only you could get to “perfection”, then you could feel  good about yourself.  And at that  point you could stop growing, and relax forever,  just as you are.

The way  I’ve  phrased it is extreme, but I’m trying to make a point.  There is a voice in us which is looking to find perfection, and then stop. 
It may be harsh, but the only way to stop growing is to die.

Sure, it sounds exhausting to be always trying to grow.
But it’s not like that. We grow and rest as we move through life’s challenges, and we celebrate successes.  Life isn’t a vertical climb up a rock face, with no place to rest.  It’s more like a spiral path around the mountain heading steadily upward.

So what do we do when we feel surrounded by choices and we don’t know which one to choose?

Exercise:

  1. Prepare in advance for life’s choices by exploring what’s most important to you, and setting some broad goals that move you in the right direction.  You don’t have to plan every little detail, but you want to get clear what’s really important to you, what gets you excited, and some key area of your life that you’d like to develop.
  2. When you’re in a situation where you have to choose:
    • Remind yourself what’s important to you, and where you’re going.   Ask yourself: “Which choices will get me closer to my passions, dreams, and goals, and which will leave me going nowhere?”
    • If the choice doesn’t seem relevant to your goals at all, and it’s not exhausting your time, energy, or money that you need for other things, quickly make a choice.  Tell yourself that this choice doesn’t matter much. Train yourself to just make a quick choice in these situations.
    • After your quick choice, your thoughts will circle around your choice. You’ll keep wondering for a while if you made the best choice. You’ll start accusing yourself of being an idiot, or of being reckless.
    • When your thoughts and feeling start running around in a useless circle like this, use one of the “circle breaker” exercises that I’ve suggested to weaken this circle. (See the exercise in Getting Stuck, Part I: Fear on Ice.)
    • Remind yourself of what’s important to you in your life. Review some of your most passionate goals and fill yourself with some of the wonderful feelings that accompany those goals.
  3. Review your choices every couple of days, to remind yourself which choices led you toward your goals and made you stronger, and which choices took you nowhere and made you weaker.

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