I sat down to watch Netflix, flipping through the mountain of new content released into the digital wild at the end of each year. And as I jumped from one exciting documentary to the next, each picture seemed more enticing then the last, but which to choose?
After agonizing between a meaty biopic and an environmental docudrama, I settled on watching “Gossip Girl” yet again because I could not decide. And truth be told, deciding was just too difficult and neigh impossible, so I did what I always did.
Yes, this is a time in my life where choices are mounting: grad school or work, anthropology or not- anthropology, where to live, what my profession will be. The world has a million possibilities and I am freaking out.
It’s easy to choose between two meh options (do I want broccoli or brussel sprouts), but professors Sheena Iyengar (Columbia University) and Mark Lepper (Stanford University) observe, “as the attractiveness of alternatives rises, individuals experience conflict and as a result tend to defer decision, search for new alternatives, choose the default option, or simply opt not to choose.” In essence, the problem for most people isn’t deciding between two okay options or two decent options, but how to decide between two good options. Thus, in the
face of a million movies on Netflix, I choose to watch the one thing I’ve seen over and over again.
I comfort myself with the fact that these patterns affect even judges. In 2011, professors from Ben Gurion University and Columbia University studied the decision making of judges and found that judges’ favorable rulings declined from 65 percent at the start of a session to 0 percent by the end of a session. The reason is that the number of decisions played a role in how they decided. Researchers call the steady decline in decision quality “decision fatigue,” the result of too many decisions made in a short amount of time.
And while there are numerous “tricks” and “strategies” to making decisions, all of them deal with evaluating information and weighing outcomes. But given that researchers at the University of San Diego found in 2009 that the average American processes 34 gigabytes of data everyday, weighing information is becoming more and more tiresome.
I often think about the etymology of the word decide, the root -cide from “caedere” meaning to kill or cut. With that in mind, its easy to see why decisions are so horrifyingly difficult sometimes, why the big things can leave me quaking even in the wake of the little decisions. That’s okay though. At first I felt guilty for my inability to choose, but here’s the thing for many of us: it’s a time of transition, information overload and decisions. This is both exciting and terrifying.
I know that when I graduate and moveontowhereverImaybeIamin for new adventures. We all are. And if you feel like you’re suffering from decision fatigue, don’t feel guilty, I’m right there with you.