Too Many Options

There is a psychological phenomena called “option fatigue” which results from the over-abundant alternatives and options we face, especially in the West. There is an excess of choice. Sometimes what looks like a personal problem is actually situational or environmental problem. What looks like lack of motivation (laziness) turns out to be fatigue (exhaustion).

We know someone who’s child is doing the HSC this year. It’s the end of year 12 – the final exams – and our educational system (and her teachers) keeps saying how important the ATAR is (it’s a score that ranks university entrance). Except this sweet child (like many her age) hasn’t really figured out what she wants to be when she grows up. She hasn’t settled on anything, but we’re all pretty sure it isn’t university. She’s clever, don’t get me wrong, but she’s not academically motivated.

The issue she is actually having is not a lack of motivation. It’s actually having too many alternatives, too many options. This is a situational problem, not a personal problem. I’ve felt that way walking into a supermarket. One aisle full of cereal alternatives. Another aisle full of chips, crisps and soy alternatives. It makes the mind feel numb.

When you are not absolutely clear on what you want (as most of us are) you languish with indifference. The parents of this high schooler need to engage the process of breaking option fatigue, and the resulting procrastination. It is relatively simple. Narrow things down. Don’t try to solve the world, just find the very next step. The mind needs to focus on one thing, one option: You don’t need to have it all worked out, you just need to choose what to do next.

Here’s how that conversation goes… Ask, “What comes after the HSC…?” Well I think I’ll take a year off. “Great, progress. Then what comes first after that…?” Travelling. I want to see the world! “Great, more progress, and what particular part of the world do you want to see first?” The UK, and maybe Europe. See that wasn’t so hard now was it. We’re underway. “So let’s make a believable plan for you to buy a ticket to England next year. What do you think that involves?” Well getting a job, and saving. Woo Hoo!