Decide Once: The Benefits of Having a “Go-To”

According to Barry Schwartz, I’m a maximizer. This means I tend to over-deliberate on decisions – large and small – and, if that wasn’t bad enough, then spend excessive time regretting decisions once they’ve been made, all in an effort to make sure I have in fact made the absolute best decision possible. Yep, gotta raise my hand on this one.

While some of these tendencies are hard-wired, one way to combat a maximizing mindset (which can be both exhausting and paralyzing) is to reduce the number of decisions that have to be made. 

Research suggests adult willpower – needed to resist negative behaviours, like overindulging in food or alcohol, or to persist in positive behaviors, like getting enough sleep or exercising regularly – declines over the day. Similarly, our ability to quickly and effectively make decisions can be heavily influenced by the sheer volume of decisions we have faced. 

But how to reduce decision fatigue? For some regular decisions, how about deciding only once. 

Content with your shampoo? Buy the same brand every time. Does the whole family love waffles? Make them a Friday night staple. Does a particular style of jeans always fit better than all the rest? Pay the premium and get the pair that look and feel great (and that you’ll actually wear).

I overheard someone bemoaning the stressors of hosting a dinner party: the biggest pain point – what to serve. Find a menu that has a reasonable chance of satisfying a range of pallets and isn’t too much work to prepare. Then, simply prepare this over and over (maybe not to same guests, though they’re unlikely to remember or care). Based on years of feedback I now make either homemade Chicken Noodle Soup (for families with kids) or Chicken Mango Curry (adults only, something about the word curry seems to send shivers down children’s spines), crispy cornbread or biscuits in a cast iron pan, and fresh caramelized cinnamon coffee cake with ice cream. Delicious and done.

Last Christmas, instead of agonizing over the perfect gift for female teachers and friends, I bought them all the same thing – a boutique candle that had an intriguing wooden wick (that crackled as it burned) and smelled like a cinnamon pancake slathered in brown butter and maple syrup. Yes please! One decision, much reward. Could I have deliberated, Leslie Knope style, to ensure each person got the “perfect” gift? Sure, but a “perfect” gift is elusive and impossible to quantify. Instead, I decided once, saved hours of time spent considering, shopping, comparing prices…and found a great option that was more than good enough and moved on with life.

Go ahead. Try it. 

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