I hate making decisions. And I'm right to do so, as the emerging body of evidence on decision fatigue makes clear. But sometimes you have to make a decision in situations where there's no obviously good choice: sometimes the differences between options are trivial, sometimes the differences are significant but the advantages and disadvantages are finely balanced, and sometimes you just don't have enough information to assess what those advantages and disadvantages are, but need to make a decision anyway so you can move on.
Some people advocate rolling a die or tossing a coin in this situation. These people are clearly less indecisive than me. Some people advocate tossing a coin, and if you catch yourself thinking "dammit, the other option would have let me do X" then you have discovered your hidden underlying preference and can go for that one. These people are also clearly less indecisive than me: I do that every time. Finely-balanced advantages and disadvantages; if there were no opportunity cost, there would be no decision to be made.
However, I have discovered a procedure that allows me to deal with many of these situations, and to do so quickly and with minimal stress. If you can't find a good argument for choosing one option over the others, look for a stupid reason instead. And do so in a consistent and general way, to minimise the mental effort required. The short version of my system is
- Pick the red one.
- If that doesn't work, pick the one with more cats.
- If that doesn't work, pick the one with more dogs.
- Give up.
The more detailed version is
- Eliminate all choices that are less than maximally red. Red, of course, is the Best Colour.
- If more than one choice remains, eliminate all choices which are less than maximally feline. More cats beat fewer cats, fluffy cats beat smooth cats, cute cats beat ugly cats, kittens beat adult cats.
- If more than one choice remains, eliminate all choices that are less than maximally canine, subject to the rules above with the obvious formal modification applied.
- If more than one choice remains, it is officially Too Hard and you are entitled to give up. Go to the pub and order the beer you haven't had before¹.
This may sound stupid, but inventing this procedure has had a noticeable positive effect on my life. It's quick to run through. It turns angsty and tiring vacillation into either a purely mechanical procedure, or a fun game of inventing reasons why abstract things are red, or catlike, or doglike. It works remarkably often: I can't remember when I last had to invoke Rule 4 (though it has had at least one notable success: see below). Hell, Rule 1 is enough most of the time. And, applied consistently over a long period, it causes my life to fill with things that are red, feline or canine, all of which make me happier.
Q: Which of these two equally cute and fluffy kittens should you pick to take home with you?
Obviously these advantages are not tied to the specific steps listed above. Feel free to substitute your own favourite colour or animals, or to come up with different steps entirely. But I do recommend inventing a procedure like this one if you also struggle to make decisions.
¹ If there is more than one beer available that you haven't had before, drink them all in left-to-right order.