Multiple Choice Gone Mad

Fill in the blank. Short answer. Essay. True/False. These terms probably bring back memories of high school and/or college. Depending on the type of student, the memories could be ones you’d rather forget or of well-earned victory. Personally, I disliked fill in the blank tests. Short answer tests were tolerable. But I excelled at essay tests and term papers. The longer the writing required, the better. I’ve just always been comfortable around the written word.

But by far, multiple choice tests were the ones I hated the most. Something about having several choices, usually 4, and often only slightly different from one another. To make matters worse, sometimes the directions indicated to choose “the best answer” and stated that more than one answer might be correct with only one being “the best.” This always frustrated me because I thought answers should be straight forward: either you know it or you don’t, and not laced with trickery. This belief system definitely showed itself in my teaching style during my 5-year stint as a college instructor.

As progress continually speeds up our world, life seems more and more like one big multiple choice test gone mad. Choices in every area of life abound. Just walk through your local supermarket to get an idea of the seemingly endless choices for just about every item. Pick one, say toilet paper. Multiple-sized packages. Varying prices. Which one is the best deal and of good quality? All will work, but some are definitely better choices that others. Usually, the best choice isn’t clear until, well… you know when the quality of this particular choice becomes obvious.

As I consider how we are barraged with choices in every area of life, I realized that not mentioning electronics and specifically cell phones would leave a gaping hole in this discussion. I mean, are there so many cell phone options and plans just to make a person frustrated enough to just give up and make a choice just so the confusion will end? Is there some marketing plan to force people into something they don’t want just to make a decision and get the latest and greatest? Cell phone and technology options certainly provide terrific examples of multiple choice gone mad.

In the January 2012 edition of O magazine, Dr. Oz points out a very startling but maybe not all that surprising fact about decision making. He said that “the more decisions we make in a day, the more likely we are to make bad decisions – because deciding wears us down. You start making decisions in the morning, and by the middle of the afternoon, you’re running on fumes.” Sound familiar to anyone?

So what’s the answer? Well, the wrong answer would be to fuel the brain with things like carbohydrates and caffeine and to keep making decision after decision as they multiple before our very eyes. Why?  Because, as Dr. Oz indicates, this creates a vicious cycle of unhealthy cravings and eventually we reach burnout. (Though, there are benefits to caffeine in moderation. See Let’s Have Coffee for a discussion on the benefits of coffee.) So, the best answer would then logically be to reduce the number of decisions we make. But is this even humanly possible?

We will address this possibility – or non-possibility as the case may be – next Friday. For now, please participate in the discussion, and your answer may be included in next week’s post. Share this article with friends (see share button below this post), and encourage them to participate too.  You can also check out my Facebook page and comment and share from there as well. The more input received, the better able we will be to find helpful answers to this question, answers that will help us find victory in this struggle.

DISCUSSION: How can we reduce the number of decisions we need to make daily? Is this even humanly possible? What tips do you have for making this happen?

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20 thoughts on “Multiple Choice Gone Mad

  1. I don't have tips, but I need tips! I hate making decisions – it's the perfectionist in me. I always want to make the perfect decision, and since that's not possible, I put it off as long as possible. I'll look forward to your post!

    • As a perfectionist as well, I definitely think that point of view needs addressed as we look at how to become better decision makers. I'm glad you brought that up to remind me to include it.

  2. It's possible to reduce the decisions you have to make. Why waste your decisions on trivial things? You can eliminate possibilities beforehand and you have more decision making ability for later in the day.

    For example, you can get rid of clothes or instead of deciding what to wear every day, lay out your clothes the night before (or all of them at once) and you eliminated wardrobe decisions. Same thing with meals and snacks make up a meal plan (and prep healthy snacks) beforehand. Often it's easier for me to make simple decisions grouped together instead of repeatedly making the same decision throughout the week.

    We can also make our decisions less complex by being an "optimizer" instead of a "maximzer." Optimizers make a decision based on minimum requirements and a maximizers compare all the options to find the best. It's harder to choose the best vs which one meets your basic needs. The optimizer's decision is less complex than the maximizer's, leaving her more decision making ability than the maximizer.

  3. I think my first idea is to make sure the decisions you are making are your decisions. You should not take or accept making decisions for other people such as employees. Part of their growth as a worker is making decisions so don't do it for them or let them push it up to you. Likewise with a child or spouse.

    Certainly as Melissa said we should not spend much effort on decisions that are not critical either. It does not matter in the long run if I go this way or that way to work as long as I arrive. Make a choice and move on.

    I would also suggest getting help when appropriate. Your example about cell phones; I would research online to see what people who know alot more than me about cell phones have to say and at some point decide to trust their suggestions.

    I also try to not make a decision until it is needed to do so. It keeps me from continually going back and forth about the decision if I wait until the decision is needed. I think at that time you take all available information and make the best decision possible and move on. Trust that you have done your best and not look back.

    Lastly I would try to take emotion out of the decisions. Letting emotion play a part often impairs a decision and certainly exacts a cost when we are wrestling with it. We will make better decisions if we can push emotion aside and decide on the best information we have to make it.

    • That is a really terrific point, to make sure you are not taking on decisions that others should be making. I need to get better at that as a parent for sure. All of your other points are very valid too, especially about taking emotion out of the decision. Too often, we let emotion make our decisions. Emotions are great gauges, but we shouldn't let them drive the car. Thank you for your ideas. Definitely very useful as I look to give advice on decision making.

  4. I don't think that we should necessarily be limiting the decisions we make. But I do think we can do two things. (I've been reading a little about this, as I find it fascinating as well)
    1. Understand that multiple decisions wear you down. So if possible, schedule your important decisions wisely. Also, be aware that if you're dieting, etc. that your willpower will be lower during this period. Be aware of this and ready to fight.
    2. Work on making positive habits. Once a decision gets to be a habit, it takes less of our mental resources. It doesn't drain us.

    • Do you think people are having to make too many decisions? Just curious as to why you don't think we should necessarily limit the number of decisions we make. Certainly relevant for Friday's post if you have time to elaborate. Your two points are terrific too and ones to definitely include in the discussion. Thanks, as always, for your insight.

  5. Well, maybe it's a knee-jerk reaction. But it seems to me that limiting decisions means limiting ambition, risk, drive, or accomplishment. My concern would be that a fear of decisions would leave us to avoid things – similar to procrastination or a fear of failure.
    I'm thinking that rather than avoiding decisions, the better approach would be to embrace the fact of making decisions and to strive to be better at making them.
    I might be wrong, but that's just my gut reaction 🙂

    • To some extent, I think that is true. But, I also know from my experience with simplifying my life, that having fewer areas in which to make decisions helps me to make better quality decisions in the areas that matter most to me. Now, I'm not sure that equates to less decisions overall, but I feel like the quality of my decisions and the progress with regard to ambition, risk, drive and accomplishment increases when I have less on which to focus. I'm not talking about avoiding decisions, and perhaps that's a point I need to be sure to make clear in Friday's post, but I am talking about making more focused decisions. I really appreciate you helping me think this out. I really am not totally sure on this myself yet.

  6. What you're seeing here is the difference between personality types. In the Myers-Briggs personality trait system, you have P's and J's. The P is for perceiver, and the J is for Judgers. The J's make a decision, and then live with the consequences. The P's want to make the perfect decision, so they delay the process until they have all the information. They don't want to be limited, and keep all their options open. I'm a J. Not all my decisions are going to be great, but they will be consistent with my values. That is the part I think you're talking about when you say you want to make focused decisions. You need to define what your values are, so that your decisions are consistent with them. As a J, I know that to free up my time for other things, I try to systematize the mundane stuff as much as possible. That means I'm not going to see every rainbow that God creates, because I'll be working my system. I can live with that. But my philosophy is that "the deal of a life-time comes around 1000 times per week." So the rainbow I miss today will come around again and again. When I have time or desire, I'll catch it on the go-around. If I die before then, I'm still at peace with the decisions I've made.

    • Very good points about personalities. They definitely do impact how we make decisions as well as how many decisions we can handle making. Your point about decisions being consistent with values is good too. Regardless of how we make decisions, I think they must be consistent with our values. Thank you for your input. It has added yet another dimension to my research on making decisions.

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