How to Avoid Stress – My Mini-Epiphany

Would you dare buy a stress cupcake without reading all the reviews first?

On Monday afternoon, I had this mini-epiphany on how to avoid stress. It’s so simple it’s almost idiotic.

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I was sitting with my mom in a café, savoring my truffle-flavoured ice cream and watching how two tired middle-aged women tried to choose something to eat and drink. Because they went meticulously through all the options, making the decision took them almost five minutes.

I could read (well, guess) what was going through their minds, because I am them. I am a maximizer, who, according to this Wikipedia article:

….is like a perfectionist, someone who needs to be assured that their every purchase or decision was the best that could be made. The way a maximizer knows for certain is to consider all the alternatives they can imagine. This creates a psychologically daunting task, which can become even more daunting as the number of options increases.

I am a maximizer of course.

I’ve probably spent months of my precious time on Earth trying to get the most out of every situation (and kicking myself mentally if my decision later appears to be have been wrong). When I chose my ice cream, I semi-consciously tried to make the best possible choice with regard to several factors – my personal taste preferences, price, novelty vs. avoiding disappointment, wanting to appear a savvy shopper etc.

The problem and the irony of making choices is that most of our daily choices won’t matter one way or another. We are constantly faced with a lot of pseudo choices. Pepsodent or Colgate? Do you really think there’s a difference?

Making some choices automatic is a good way to avoid stress in life.

I know many smart parents who make their and their kids lives easier simply by restricting available choices. You want ice cream? They ask their children whether they prefer strawberry over chocolate. They don’t ask their 4-year old to choose between vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, mint, fudge, banana, chocolate chip, blueberry, coconut, salty licorice and so on.

I mulled over this for a bit and concluded I could easily create a set of default choices for most everyday situations and lead a life of less stress.

Case in point. Later that day I got frustrated because I couldn’t find my favorite brand of raw almonds in a grocery store. I spent minutes angrily strolling the aisles, like marching around the store would magically make my favorite brand of almonds appear. (It didn’t. Must’ve been sending negative anti-almond vibes to the Universe.)

Later in the evening I devised a new “choice hierarchy” re raw almonds. It goes like this:

Want raw almonds? If so then

  • Go Get Sallinen Almonds
    • If No Sallinen Almonds available (?!)
      • Then check if Meira Almonds available
        • If Meira Almonds not available, take the cheapest brand

(I could’ve made it prettier and more logical, but I decided to satisfy instead.)

Furthermore, in case my almonds are a bit dry, I decided that from now on, I’ll stop dwelling on it and soak my almonds overnight.

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My stress-avoidance insight doesn’t tell you how to avoid stress in every possible situation – so it’s not really the best possible choice. 🙂

P.S. Did you know that satisfiers are happier than maximizers?

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Comments

  1. I guess I’m not a maximizer, although I can totally relate to the idea that too many choices can make us crazy!! My oldest stepson is someone who has a hard time making a decision. We joke with him that he needs a spreadsheet to make even the simplest of decisions…but then again, the world needs people like this!

    • Satu says:

      Well, I guess world could have a use for people like me/them. 🙂 But when I get older, I’d rather be happier.

  2. Marion says:

    Hi Satu! Have you read the book, How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer? One chapter of the book is about having too many choices which makes us less satisfied. And, further, we can also second-guess decisions later. After reading that book, I decided to make a decision and be happier with it. Most decisions are over thought anyway. As my middle daughter tells me, I need to make quicker decisions and not think so hard on things that don’t really matter that much. I try to do that as well as an over-thinker can. 😀

    🙂 Marion

    • Satu says:

      Hi Marion!

      I haven’t read Lehrer’s book, but I know of it. It might get on my reading list… I try to tell myself to “fail faster” , because endlessly mulling over something takes so much time.

  3. Aimee says:

    Making choices amongst the abundance in our stores was a challenge when I returned home from Mozambique. Life in a third world country often provided no more than two options. I learned to live with what was available. Inevitably when I returned home I went overboard. I often find it difficult to make a decision about a product I am buying online because I am bombarded with reviews that are hard to ignore. For example it has taken me over a year to finally purchase a set of wireless headphones. I finally settled on a brand after a friend bought some and gave them the thumbs up.

    It’s funny that you bring up the ice cream choices. When we go to those places that have 50 different kinds of soft serve I simply ask my son what color he wants. It’s usually yellow. I then order what I know he will enjoy which is usually lemon. I have yet to disappoint!

    • Satu says:

      Hi Aimee! I think that parents of small children learn things or they just go crazy. 🙂

      It’s interesting what you say about your experience after you came back from Mozambique. I wonder if people who come from third world countries have similar difficulties?

      In June I wanted to buy something from a grocery store I don’t usually have. I ended up not getting anything because when I went to the store and saw all the brands I simply coudn’t decide what I would have. Very frustrating experience!

  4. Oh Satu, I hadn’t heard of a maximzer before. I am SO a maximizer – especially with food!

    I can imagine that satisfiers are happier cos they aren’t always second-guessing themselves and wondering if they made the right decision to get THE MOST out of a situation.

    Sometimes I prefer no choice at all and then I”m not hamstrung about possibly making the wrong decision!

    Deb

    • Satu says:

      Hi Deb! – love your new avatar! – 🙂

      I guess I could live with the maximizing thing if it was just about buying stuff, but it’s more of a problem in other areas of life. 🙁

  5. Gary says:

    Hey,

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    I once had a boss that procrastinated over the most basic of choices. It just seemed like he could not escape the never ending if I do this then that happens and if I do that then this happens but if I do something totally different will something better happen?

    Personally, I have training as a financial analyst, Emergency Operations Center manager, fire fighter and an air traffic controller and that means that I absorb information and analyse choices very quickly. The training has also taught me to quickly act on the best choice (given the situation) and the discipline to not second guess the choice that I have made.

    I hope you are having an AWESOME making the best choices day! 🙂

    smiles, 🙂

    I other words, I simply don’t spend an unreasonable amount of time in making a choice.

  6. Satu says:

    Hi Gary!

    That’s a very impressive list of jobs where you need to make decisions fast. I wonder if you were drawn to those jobs because you already were a good decision maker. If you weren’t you must’ve learned it pretty thoroughtly!

    It must’ve been a pain to work for that boss! 😉 I was in a position once where I had to make decisions and lead an “operation”. I think I did an ok job, but I was more stressed out because I thought I should be “perfect”

  7. Jane says:

    I am totally a maximizer!!! In a world with so many choices available, it is easy to get caught up in all the coolest features … I like how to break it down to just 2 choices, so much easier!! I am so indecisive about so many things, and I don’t want to make the wrong choice that I might regret later. Sometimes it is easier just not to think about it too much!!!

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