As the festivities begin and the cheery Christmas songs play out loud in the stores and cafes, all around is confusion and worry as people try desperately to make tricky choices.

What to buy, who to buy for, what to cook/eat/drink, who to invite, which invitations to accept or turn down? It can feel like endless decisions when the pressure around us says ‘consume, spend, buy’.

Added to the frenetic pace of this season is the pressure we create for ourselves – that every choice we make must be the ‘right’ one. Trying to find a gift that would change the life of your 15 year old nephew can take up an enormous amount of thinking space in your brain – and time in shops or browsing the internet. Logically we know it’s not really that important – he probably would prefer the cash anyway – but we keep thinking and looking.

On a wider life scale, I recently came across the acronym FOBO – fear of better options. Researching the pressures that face the millennial generation, the Harvard Innovation Centre who have identified the problem of too much choice/too many options causing anguish amongst younger people. The study talks about the persistent anxiety about what ‘might have been’.

How can that be? Surely choice must be a good thing? Well some choice is good – we all like to feel that we have some control. But if we create too many options and keep looking for more (FOBO) our brains become unfocused. Add to this the pressure to make the right or the perfect choice – and indecision/procrastination can take over.

Whether it’s your nephew’s present or your next career move, it can be really useful to narrow your options rather than to keep widening them. Of course, with big life decisions it’s good to know what’s out there, to research and be aware of possibilities – to think expansively. And when you want to move forward and decide, it’s vital to have a strategy to narrow down and be focused.

An excellent TED talk from Sheena Iyengar ‘The Art of Choosing’ gives some excellent tips:

  1. Stop seeking all possibilities – be aware of overwhelm and too much choice. Look for and create ‘enough’ options rather than endlessly creating more.
  2. Identify what you want the outcome to be – spend time to reflect on what you want (rather than what’s possible). When you are clear what you want, you’re much more likely to find it
  3. When you’ve identified what’s important, pick the options that will meet your criteria – and run with them rather than continue to question them.

And once you’ve made a decision, be aware of Obsessive Comparison Disorder (an idea put forward by blogger Paul Angone who has good advice for millennials). Be confident in your choice and avoid comparison with others.

So buy those pyjamas or that computer game for your nephew, or take that course or promotion.

Let the other options go and have a great Christmas!

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