Decision paralysis and searching for paradise

Monday morning. A day off for some pastors; certainly for this one.* And a good opportunity to grab coffee or lunch with my wife. The conversation goes like this:

Lovely wife: “Where d’you wanna go?”

Me: “I dunno, where do you wanna go?”

Lovely wife: “How about McGovern's, we've got a discount voucher for there.”**

Me: “Dunno never eaten there, let me check what people say.” Gets out phone… “Reviews don’t say a lot, is there anywhere else”

Lovely wife: “What about Puddleglum’s?”

Me: “Nah, doesn’t inspire me”

Lovely wife: “What do you feel like?”

Me: “I feel like something tasty, but not spicy—not expensive either, but not fast food.”

20 minutes pass while I poke around on Facebook and Tripadvisor .

Meanwhile, lovely wife is losing the will to live, never mind the will to go out for lunch.

Lovely wife: “Are you finding anything there?”

Me: “Nah, nothing grabs me.”

Lovely wife: “Why don’t we get in the car and just head down town?” (Slipping McGovern’s voucher in her bag, just in case)

Another 5 minutes pass as I scroll through reviews, muttering, “Where, where, where?”

Then came the grand denouement, the moment of blinding revelation:

Lovely wife: “Look, It doesn’t have to be perfection. I’m not looking for a place that gives me lasting joy and happiness. Just a bite of lunch would be nice…”

And so began our methodology of just going somewhere, anywhere really. And enjoying it without wondering what other people might be enjoying at that moment in a restaurant or coffee shop two doors down, and worried that we haven’t made the absolute best choice for our Monday morning coffee or lunch.

Do you find that? It might not be eating establishments or coffee shops—it might be ink cartridges, or toothpaste, or underpants, or… Reviews have to be read, options assessed, and then eventually a decision can be made.

Reviews are helpful, especially for one-off purchases, but I wonder if the review/opinion web-culture has bred in us an inability to make choices without checking to see if we are making the absolute best choice?

Two things coalesce to produce this sort of moment.

Decision Paralysis—that inability to decide because we are now confronted with a wealth of choice and information overload.

Paradise Expectations—the unrelenting pressure, increased by the need to perform on social media, to have your best life now, and for every moment to be the best that that moment could be.

No longer is it enough to nip out for a coffee, but it has to be the best coffee, either so we can post about it, or review it. And because we have so much information on the choices we feel the pressure to make the best choice in any given moment. It isn’t even enough to have found the best eatery in the area via Tripadvisor, once we are there and confronted by the menu, we stick our heads in our phones again wondering what others recommended! All in case we miss out on ‘your best moment ever’ on a wet Monday at 12.45pm. Often we end up disappointed because our expectations of the moment were too high.

And all this choice and information, often rather than enabling us to make better choices, leaves us with a fear of missing out (FOMO). Or perhaps a FOMP (fear of missing perfection), or even FOMSMP (fear of missing social-media perfection).

I wonder how many of us are sucked into this decision paralysis? I see it with children and young people. Maybe they pick it up from us, as we trail past one restaurant after another, saying, well this one isn’t rated as high as one five blocks along. And then we wonder that they find it hard to decide which cake to pick for fear that the other option might actually be better, unable to really enjoy what they pick because the ‘cake not taken’ is niggling at them, what if…?

I wonder how much of this is a consequence of living in a world where we have lost the perspective of eternity. The truth that our best life isn’t meant to be now frees us from hanging all our happiness on seeking heaven on earth.

Whereas for a world without eternity this is your only chance to get the best you can. Compounded by the power of social media, there is a trickle-down effect to our attitude to coffee shops and ‘must see’ places, and a host of other things. We get to play ‘God’ since we have, via the web, the appearance of omniscience, knowing all possible options and therefore able to pick the best. And so we are under pressure to do just that.

So how do we avoid decision paralysis and actually enjoy the life God has given us? Get on with it! Reduce the information overload, just pick an option, go and enjoy it for what it is, and for whom you are with. Every moment doesn’t have to be crafted because the Christian has an eternity of moments awaiting that will be perfect. Make your choices and love living under God’s providence.

And we need to do this, not just so that we can enjoy life, but so that we teach our children not to hang their happiness on having their best life now. It isn’t the macro-moments that teach that, but the micro-moments of everyday life.


PS: We ended up in McGovern's, had a lovely meal and enjoyed each other’s company.

*Pastor’s wives will notice the inequality of the juxtaposition between ‘day off’ and ‘Monday morning’. Pastors won’t.

**Names changed to protect the best from discovery!

Mark Loughridge

Mark Loughridge

Mark pastors 2 churches in the Republic of Ireland. He is married with three daughters. Before entering the ministry he studied architecture. He enjoys open water swimming, design, and watching rugby.

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