The Trouble With Options

As I write this, I have three other blog posts in the works that are now being tabled until further notice. I have approximately five books I’ve just started, two beverages beside me (allowing me to caffeinate and hydrate in tandem) and seven Netflix series I’m in the middle of (one for every mood). I’m currently trying to decide whether the sound of ocean waves or falling rain is better at drowning out the rest of the world while I write. It turns out nature provides millions of relaxing ambient sounds, and they’re all available on Spotify. But maybe YouTube’s selection would be even better…

I don’t know about you, but I have a metric shit ton of shit swirling around my mind at any given moment. I’m the type of person to spring up at 3:00 a.m. and frantically write down any of it that seems worth remembering. I end up with a lot of lists. Lists of different options. There’s the hobby list — full of things I want to try “someday,” the grocery list, the blog topic list, the reading list, the “adulting” list (bills, chores, dismal stuff) and countless others. I really love making lists. In the moment, it makes me feel like I’m freeing up valuable space in my mind while pretending I’m some highly organized and productive superhuman. Sometimes I even add tasks I’ve already completed to these lists, just so I can cross them off. I still get that quick serotonin hit, but in those instances, it feels more like the Splenda version than a real sugar high (what is it that’s so magical about crossing things off of a list?). Of course, inevitably, the time comes to actually “do the thing.” One of the many things on one of the many lists. But first, I need to pick one. Oh no.

I start with “drawing,” which is on my creative-hobby list. But wait…I’m terrible at drawing. I don’t want to sit through the part where my art looks like it was scribbled by some wild animal lacking opposable thumbs. As I cringe at my work, I notice that my brain has already moved on to the “adulting” list. I’m right back on my phone again to pay my bills, but my (still-opposable) thumb is on autopilot, and it collides with the Instagram app instead. The next thing I know, an hour has been wasted comparing my life to everyone else’s. On envying Sarah’s new home purchase, Karen’s engagement announcement and Brittany’s weight loss transformation. Hold up – I didn’t think I even wanted a house or fiancé anytime soon? Plus, I was feeling pretty comfortable with my body ten minutes ago. But somehow, I ended up with three new lists.

I think “option overload” and comparison go hand-in-hand. Comparison deserves a blog post of its own, so I won’t say too much about it now other than that it is entirely entangled with my own inability to follow through with all of the items on my list. For some people, this very entanglement is a driving force — a source of inspiration, if you will: “My friend Brittany can do it, and so will I! I am going to “do the thing” for real this time and cross it off that damned list!” For people like me, it has more of a paralyzing effect: “I’ll never do it as well as Brittany, so I may as well choose something else.” And repeat.

The “10,000 Hour-Rule,” first mentioned by K. Anders Ericsson and made popular by Malcolm Gladwell, suggests that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. I can’t seem to get through ten minutes of something without my brain hopping to the next “to-do,” because maybe that will be the thing I’m great at, the thing I like the best, the most lucrative thing (etc.). I’m not great at math, but it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll get anywhere close to 10,000 hours of anything under my belt when I can’t even decide where to begin. I have hundreds of metaphorical hands in hundreds of metaphorical cookie jars, eager to try each flavor. What I should be doing instead is learning to bake my own chocolate chip variety, rather than nibbling a tiny corner of every ginger snap and snickerdoodle along the way. And the only way to learn is to do

So I’ve decided on baking chocolate chip cookies. Great! That’s a start. But then comes this thing I call “research paralysis.” I spend hours on Pinterest seeking the ideal recipe, watch countless YouTube videos on baking techniques and even listen to a podcast episode called, “Chocolate Chip-Chat.” Look at that! I’m officially an expert in the art of baking without ever “doing” a thing. Wrong. I recognize that this pattern is another way for me to avoid that crummy (pun-intended) feeling of being absolutely terrible at something when I first start out.

Getting lost in a sea of endless options has led to a horrible inability for me to be in the “here and now,” because there are just so many other places I could be. All of these options have a way of ensuring that I’m never really anywhere. I can’t live in the future of possibilities and “what-ifs,” and I can’t live Brittany’s life either, but by continuing to perseverate about both I’ve been missing out on the present moment all together. And what a shame that is. My life would be very different if I took my time and learned the recipe, kneaded the dough and snuck a few bites along the way (because let’s be real, the dough is even better than the cookie). Maybe I would enjoy the moment if I could embrace the chaos of the messy kitchen and flour-coated fingers rather than allowing them to pull me into dread-filled thoughts of failure.

We’re all bombarded with so many options these days — there are so many decisions to make — but the only way to make any of them count is to dive in, headfirst, one pool at a time. Maybe I’ll learn how to swim later, but I already know I can float. That’s the first step. Float first, swim later. Because I’ve realized that the people who are drowning are the ones on dry land, still making those lists. The people who drown are the ones who never jump at all.

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