Too much choice makes me unhappy and tired

At the risk of sounding like decadent, capitalist Westerner scum for the next 700 words or so, the one downside to having extensive free time away from work is having to decide what to do with it.

With family responsibilities fulfilled and a fairly hefty haul of wonderful Christmas presents to show for it, I’ve spent the last day or so at home with some time on my hands…and a little bit of anxiety that it’s difficult to choose what to do with it.

My New Year’s Resolution for 2016 worked like a charm. When I’ve wanted to create, I have created. And when I haven’t wanted to, I haven’t made myself feel bad about it. So the solution appeared to be…stop creating. My SoundCloud page has prospered, but my blog has suffered tremendously for it – but I’m really okay with that because it seemed that I wasn’t up for being so wordy after all.

I’ve read almost 20 books in 2016 – more than I have for many, many years. Two weeks swinging from a honeymoon hammock will do that for you. And when I look back on the sheer disaster of a year that was 2016 in all other aspects of life, I’ll look back on it with some considerable happiness myself, having done a marry in July.

But when my wife departs for a shift at work shortly, I’ll have an entire afternoon stretching ahead of me, and feel paralysed by choice.

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I know, I know. Decadent Westerner, with no dependents and a Netflix subscription – not to mention social network feeds full of smiling kids, whose parents I see at work or on a much-needed night out, who would kill me for that password and/or two hours to themselves to watch something.

But the struggle is real.

The paradox of choice

Paradoxically, it’s precisely because we’ve never had it so good, us decadent capitalist scum, that we sometimes feel ‘spoilt for choice’. Try this when you’re deciding what to spend your Christmas gift vouchers on: just choose something. You can’t, can you?

As a kid it was much easier, because the gifts I got for Christmas were usually something I’d had my eye on since May. And the vouchers were much more quickly spent – and followed with many a round of ‘are you sures’ from Mam and Dad – because it will often have been the first thing I seized upon in the shop.

Barry Schwartz calls it ‘the paradox of choice’, and finds that you can have too much of a good thing. Faced with a sample table of either six jams or 24, 30% of those given only six to try would go on to buy one of them, compared to 3% given a choice of 24.

It can be so bad that you’ll defer from any decision at all just to stay away from the overwhelming feeling of choice paralysis. Whatever it is you’re sitting watching, even if you don’t like it, turning off the TV entirely doesn’t seem like an option when there’s no clear-cut alternative to spending your time.

As a kid, my choice is blinkered; this shiny thing or that one? As a grown-ass man (who doesn’t feel anything like one at the best of times), the blinkers are off and I’m left wondering how best to spend the commodity I’ve got all too much of today: time.

I thought that maybe just describing my feelings and checking that such a thing exists would be enough. But Schwartz has given me more food for thought: setting a goal.

Set your goals

Find out what it is you want, and what the easiest way to achieve that is. I wanted to moan about something, and my wife’s gone out. Short of calling a friend and talking their ear off (one who isn’t back at work), blogging about it seems to have done the trick.

But when I close my laptop and stand up, what next? My goal for the day is: be entertained. Well, my PS4 just blinked. I could go back and put another ungodly amount of hours into Stardew Valley as I did yesterday. And then there’s that book about Bowie I got for Christmas oh god it’s happening again.

Setting a goal, analysing the simplest route towards it, the one that will expend the least amount of time, energy and stress, and working towards it. That’s a start. Polishing off the rest of my selection box? Aye, why not.

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