The Paralysis of Choice

This weekend, John and I were talking about having too many options or too much variety. Try creating a baby registry and you’ll know what we mean!

I’m easily overwhelmed by choices. My brain shuts off and I often give up, simply leaving the store or closing the webpage – I have real problems with shopping cart abandonment. I’m sure part of this is personality but I also think part of this stems from my childhood. Growing up in a small town in Germany meant that variety and options were limited whether it was groceries, clothes, paper goods or restaurants. Sometimes this was hard but most of the time this restriction didn’t bother us much. With limited choices, you make quicker decisions!

John doesn’t have shopping cart abandonment issues. Where I get tired and discouraged, he thrives on scouting and researching his options to the max (although even he has admitted to being daunted by the sheer overload of information you can find about strollers, carseats, cribs etc). Variety and options are really the name of the game for most of us in North America. With so much information available, John can spend days combing the internet to find out what essential features are required for the best quality, and then hunt for the best prices.

From these brief descriptions, you might realize that we tend to have some issues when we shop together. I just want to go get that one thing I need and avoid dealing with all the other items. John, on the other hand, usually “just wants to make sure” we’re getting the best deal, which means looking at everything before deciding.

If you’ve been wondering where this is leading, here’s the answer: These two shopping styles can also be two ways we approach calling. I think our differences highlight some of the same issues we run into as we contemplate the idea of calling in our lives. In North America, most people have the freedom to choose what to do with their lives compared to ages in the past where your path was set for you by your parent’s profession, social status and income. While we wouldn’t want to go back to having no choice about what we do in our lives, these days we’ve swung to the other extreme. We’re told we can be anything we want to be and this can actually become a burden that keeps us from moving forward.

Some of us have no idea where to start because it seems like there are too many options or paths we could take. It seems like so much work to even start figuring it out. We end up paralyzed and stay where we are, simply because we’re too overwhelmed. Then, when we do make a decision, we worry about whether we really had all the information we needed or if we should have kept researching.

On the other hand, many of us actually end up “wasting time” exploring all our options in detail. We research and read reviews, make pro/con lists, and have to walk around the whole store before we settle on something, even though it may be the very item we picked up when we initially walked in. We’re so busy comparing all the options and features that we get paralyzed in a place of just trying on different callings instead of committing to a path.

Which one do you relate to most: shying away from considering your options at all or spending too much time researching each one without committing?

On Friday, I want to talk about more about how choice and calling interact. Have a great week!

2 thoughts on “The Paralysis of Choice

  1. I can totally relate to this shopping scenario!
    When it comes to calling, I think I avoid considering the options. I feel a variety of things: intimidation, because of the overwhelming variety of options apparently available; frustration and disillusionment, because even with a college degree and charming personality, it seems to be much more difficult to actually take advantage of these options than society and media suggest; and inadequacy, when I compare myself to coworkers, friends, former co-students, who are already “doing great things” while I feel “stuck in normalcy.”
    Under typical circumstances, I enjoy using the Internet for research and comparison shopping. But when I type in anything related to what feels like “calling” in my life, I am instantly overstimulated, flooded. The options are paralyzing sometimes.
    I guess being aware of this paralyzing effect is a helpful first step in overcoming it. But after awareness, what next?

    • Great comment Anna! You’ve set me up perfectly for Friday’s blog post with your extremely articulate analysis of your own experience. Thanks!!

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