Beware This Overlooked Recipe for Anxiety - THINKERS Notebook

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Beware This Overlooked Recipe for Anxiety

Stop me if this has ever happened to you ...

You're at the end of a long day. Dinner has been eaten and the dishes have been done. Now you're ready to settle into the couch with your special someone to unwind with a show.

If you're in the middle of a series, your next step is easy. You pop Netflix on, the next episode fires up, and you drift away to the world of your show.

However, say you just finished a series. Now you have to choose what to start next.

Uh oh.

This should be a simple and fun process, right? Look at all the choices! How lucky we are to live in such a world of abundance!

But you and I both know that's not usually how it turns out.

You scroll. You see something interesting. You watch a trailer. You read a few descriptions. You pop open your phone to look at a few reviews. Time passes. One of you has to get up for a refill.

Fifteen minutes later, you have a bunch of interesting options ... but you haven't actually started watching anything yet. And now your window to actually fit a show in before bedtime is dwindling.

The pressure builds. 

There might even be a hint of bickering as you and your special someone struggle to agree on what to choose.

Your brief oasis of relaxation time has become filled with unnecessary anxiety. 

Don't blame yourself. To quote the famous Robin Williams line from Good Will Hunting: "It's not your fault."

What you've experienced is the overwhelm of too much choice.

In the words of one author, the tyranny of choice.

It is one of the severe ironies of modern society that more choice often leaves us a prisoner of indecision, while fewer choices can provide us with the bliss of unanxious commitment. 

While this is a very real phenomenon, we're not powerless to its force. But what do we do about it?

In this week's THINKERS Roundup, you'll find three resources that will help you identify and move beyond decision fatigue. 

It's an important skill and habit to develop.

The cat's out of the bag. Our overabundance of choice is not going anywhere. And while it can be stressful, the reality is that more choices is usually good if we can handle it.

I hope one of these three resources offers you a useful nugget to combat decision fatigue in your own life.

(By the way, if you're feeling any decision fatigue about which of the three links to click on and dive into first, let me suggest #1. It's a conversation with author Pete Davis about his book Dedicated: The Case for Commitment In an Age of Infinite Browsing. I just purchased it.)

Keep your options open is overrated

"I think there are three fears that stand in the way of people making commitments. One is a fear of regret—that if you commit to something, you’re going to wake up 20 years later and wish you had committed to something else. Another is a fear of missing out—that you won’t get to experience a lot of other fun things. And there is the fear of association—the worry that commitments will threaten your identity or sense of control because there’s a messiness to working with other people, and no institution is going to perfectly match the characteristics of our full, authentic self."

"But there are gifts on the other side of each of these three fears. On the other side of the fear of regret is that when you make a commitment, you feel a sense of purpose that comes from the commitment, not from finding the absolute perfect thing. On the other side of the fear of missing out is the ability to experience novelties that are deeper than the latest hot new thing, like mastering a craft or celebrating your child’s fifth birthday. And on the other side of the fear of association is that once you pass through the valley of uncertainty and discomfort that comes with community building, there is the deep comfort and security of being part of a group. It’s hard to make friends, but you want to wake up 10 years later and have friends."

Read: How to Stop Living in ‘Infinite Browsing Mode’ (The Atlantic)


It always comes back to the 80/20 rule

"Follow the 80/20 rule which states that 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of causes. In layman’s terms, that means 20 percent of your activities lead to 80 percent of your effectiveness. If you’re a homeowner, 20 percent of your possessions are associated with 80 percent of your activities. According to the National Association of Professional Organizers, we wear just 20 percent of our clothing. Perhaps it’d be prudent to donate or sell the rest."

Read: Overwhelmed By Too Many Choices? Here’s How To Simplify (


Reframe how you think about willpower

"Most people believe this, which might explain why past studies showed such strong decision fatigue effects — the participants probably were skewed toward believing in fatigue. But look closer and there is a smaller subset of the population that doesn’t believe willpower is so easily drained.

Instead, they believe in the power of momentum: once you get started with a tough project, it’s easier to keep going. Once you refuse one slice of cake, it’s easier to refuse it the next time. That is, they believe that willpower is like a muscle that strengthens when it is exercised, instead of quickly draining. As Dweck explains, 'In some cases, the people who believe that willpower is not so limited actually perform better after a taxing task.'"

Read: Stop Buying into “Decision Fatigue” (Peak Wellbeing)


Quote of the week

"The fact that some choice is good doesn’t necessarily mean that more choice is better.”  

-- Barry Schwartz
Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash