A personal decision plus thousands of choices make up countless reasons why making decisions is sometimes so difficult for us. Question for the brain: Why do you make it so difficult for us? We are looking for something the seems abstract, the details of which often remain blurry, and once we are clear about what we want, compatibility with reality often gets in the way. What do we want? XY or YX! How do we want it? Fast, good, cheap? Then you may select only a few parts.
The “too many choices” effect
It’s 2019, and the Western world lives in abundance; we lack for nothing. We are faced with the rather pleasant problem of “the bigger the choice, the more difficult the decision.” We are not confronted with decisions that determine our survival, but rather with answering what’s for lunch—currywurst with fries or spaghetti bolognese? Does the new cart need a turbocharger? Do I want a sunroom or a chic sauna house? Cinema? Do I have to go out for dinner today or just a quick check-in at the next trendy bar? These are the bigger and smaller decisions we make every day.
That’s the crux of the matter. Brain researchers explain that those harder decision questions demand more from our brains. Since we have countless other options besides currywurst and spaghetti bolognese—like the fried rice with chicken, the caesar salad, the gyrus cinguli—the limbic system part of our brain, which is responsible for the solving conflict situations and predicting risk, is taxed every day. The idea is simple: the soft mass up there has limited storage capacity, and the more complex the selection becomes, the more error-prone the decision-making process becomes.
Future decisions: These are the really heavy crushers
We make about 20,000 decisions a day. Many of them are completely second nature, and the subconscious provides us with the assistance we urgently need. Otherwise, every day would be a single chain of conscious decisions that would ultimately prevent us from implementing them. Further decision-making helpers are our mood, our environment, and our appetite. Well, sometimes the currywurst-spaghetti-bolognese question, fortunately, clears itself up. I just need it now!
So let’s get to the really big crushers: The decisions that will have a lasting impact on our future. First of all, we have to note that future decisions are absolutely not in the future. They happen here and now, every second. With our thoughts and actions, we permanently lay the foundation for our future decisions and those that will have a lasting influence on our lives.
But that is also the dilemma: We have the reins in our hands, and now we have to make up our minds. But we often don’t see the outcome and benefit until later. Our social structures don’t always make it easy for us. We are faced with deciding what kind of education and work we choose for our entire life just one day after we had to ask if we could go to the toilet.
It is so important to give yourself a little more time before making big decisions. In doing so, we should try to look at the big picture and to block out all distractions. An important, almost brutally logical fact about decisions, which can help us with big decisions, is that there are alternatives. If you can’t decide, you need another smart choice in order to better weigh the existing option or to be able to make an alternative decision. Heads up! At best don’t get into the currywurst-spaghetti-bolognese fiasco. Of course, having many options on the table is good, but once these are available, you should carefully sort through them until you find the right decision. Since it concerns lasting decisions, these usually don’t have to be made daily. What luck!
Kids show us how to do it
The banality of our decisions is brought to light by the youngest among us. Greta Thunberg and children from all over the world show us which decisions really count. The courageous Swedish climate activist has decided to do all she can for all of us and invites us to make the most important decision of our time: the sustainable use of our environment. A decision that must be made and to which there is actually only one answer.
A decision that entails a chain of decisions whose answers are also perfectly clear. It is the decision to be able to continue making decisions. At this point, more than ever, today is tomorrow!