Linda Lewis Griffith

Overwhelmed by choice? Here’s how to make better decisions

Tori Strickland of Local Matters talks about how to make your grocery dollars stretch in the breads section at the Northland Kroger in Columbus, Ohio. With so many choices, supermarket shopping can be an overwhelming experience, retired San Luis Obispo therapist Linda Lewis Griffith says.
Tori Strickland of Local Matters talks about how to make your grocery dollars stretch in the breads section at the Northland Kroger in Columbus, Ohio. With so many choices, supermarket shopping can be an overwhelming experience, retired San Luis Obispo therapist Linda Lewis Griffith says. TNS

Have you looked at the milk section of the supermarket recently? At last count, there were 14 varieties of the white liquid vying for our shopping carts.

Besides the four usual fat-content options (whole milk, non-fat, 1 percent and 2 percent), there’s also organic, lactose-free, DHA, soy, rice and almond.

While I once approached the dairy case on auto pilot, casually grabbing a half gallon of organic, 1-percent to make my yogurt, I now have to stop and study the case — making sure I don’t bring home the wrong carton.

Of course, the dairy aisle isn’t the only place in the store that this is happening. Just count the varieties of shampoo, canned tomatoes, orange juice, dog food or diapers lining the grocery store shelves.

Now, I’m all for choices. But too many become a hindrance, not an asset.

You see, each choice eats up a tiny bit of our mental bandwidth.

Every time we have to decide between A, B or C, we expend attention and energy that could be used in other areas — not to mention the aggravation we feel when we start cooking and realize we got the wrong item. (“Grrrr … I didn’t mean to buy fire-roasted crushed tomatoes!”)

Most of the time, we’re able make those decisions without a problem. We hardly notice what we’re doing.

But if we’re hit with a barrage of yes-no situations, we suddenly feel overwhelmed. Stress levels soar. We may become angry at ourselves, our loved ones or the situation. Or perhaps we avoid making the decision altogether.

I remember a young bride bemoaning the fact that her wedding photographer had provided her with 800 photos of her big day and expected her to select her 50 favorites for her album. She had too many photos to wade through, so she procrastinated choosing any at all.

The ever-increasing number of choices is a first-world problem associated with cultural abundance.

Fickle consumers seek increasingly novel items and have pocketbooks that allow them to be persnickety. In response, retailers concoct newer ways to entice us to spend.

If, on the other hand, resources were in short supply, we’d be happy to get anything. We wouldn’t hold out for the latest iteration of everyday products.

Some folks make the problem even worse by perseverating about every little decision.

Yes, it’s wise to do research. But collecting too much creates brain freeze. Paralysis sets in. We need to reboot our psychic systems before going any further.

Fortunately, we can cut through the endless choices and minimize the stress they inflict on us.

Here’s how:

Ask an expert. Check with your vet for a recommendation of the healthiest cat food, or ask your barber about the best shampoo. You’ll get the best input without any stress.

Stay focused. Don’t get waylaid by pondering every option. Get what you want and be done with it.

Break decision-making into manageable pieces. Make one or two decisions at a time, and put others off until later. This helps you organize your thoughts and prevents the task from seeming insurmountable.

Immediately clear away the chaff. Some choices are obvious. Make those first so you feel like you’re gaining ground.

Decide what you have to decide. Identify which topic needs debating so you know where to put your mental efforts.

Don’t overthink. Gather relevant information, then select what you think is best. You can always change your mind if you realize you’ve made a mistake.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a retired marriage, family and child therapist who lives in San Luis Obispo. Reach her at lindalewisgriffith@sbcglobal.net.
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