Why making a decision can be so hard

Choices! Every day we have to make them. Over the last few decades the number of choices we have had to make has increased dramatically. And it can feel exhausting. The short 5 minute video below humorously and helpfully explains this:

This issue of overwhelming choices has been exponentially increasing to have a dramatic impact on our often already busy and over-streteched lives.

It was back in the 1990s that perhaps Peter Drucker first predicated this decision fatigue when he wrote:

“In a few hundred years, when the history of the our time is written from a long term perspective, it is likely that the most important event those historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is the unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time – literally – substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.”

Drucker was right when he said we as a society have been totally unprepared for this dramatic shift, particularly in the industrialised world.
What he is saying is that the biggest change in society that has crept up on us is the huge array of choices in modern life. Those choices range from what cereal am I going to have in the morning (according to Wikipedia there are over 500 in the Western world!) to all the things I can choose to do with my time.

This has gradually and exponentially increased such that we initially hardly noticed it, but it has now added an extra layer of stress and complexity to our already busy lives. As the video describes apparently in 1990 the average American supermarket had 9,000 products to choose from. By 2015 that had shot up dramatically to 40,000. Apparently we need only about 150 to fulfil our general day to day needs. And that is just in the area of food shopping.

It is rather like the proverbial frog in the water pot. Gradually the temperature is being increased and we are beginning to boil! Some have estimated that the average person in the Western world has to make as many as 35,000 decisions every day. That in of itself sounds exhausting!

Why does this matter?

Because our brains struggle to tell the difference between a small decision and a major one. We still expend energy to make a choice. Without respite the quality of our decisions deteriorates over time. Just as our muscles fatigue from an excessive period of exercise, so our minds fatigue from an excessive period of decision making.

Indeed the root of the word ‘decide’ is to kill off and with so many choices to make there is always the fear that by making one choice we are missing out on a better option.

The result is what has commonly been described as ‘analysis paralysis’. We have so many choices we don’t make any decision at all.

Stress, fatigue and our emotions all affect us. There is a fascinating Israeli research study from Ben Gurion University of the Negev. It looked at the results of 1,112 parole board hearings in Israeli prisons, over a ten month period. The results were striking. They showed that the odds that prisoners will be successfully paroled start off fairly high at around 65% and quickly plummet to nothing over a few hours. After the judges have returned from their breaks, the odds abruptly climb back up to 65%, before resuming their downward slide. In other words a prisoner’s fate could hinge upon the point in the day when their case is heard.

Decision fatigue is something that really exists for all of us. In other words we all have a limit to the number of decisions we can make each day – after which we just go into shut down mode.

As a result some of the most successful people automate what they consider “insignificant decisions” so they can invest their limited attention on the bigger decisions. By reducing their daily decisions, they’re able to exert greater focus and energy on the ones they deem most important.

So for Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckenberg and Barack Obama this means pre-deciding their wardrobe.

As Obama told Vanity Fair magazine in 2012, “You see I wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many decisions to make.”

Zuckerberg of Facebook said something similar during a public Q&A sessions when asked about wearing the same t-shirt every day: “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community…I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.”

Reading these examples made me realise that I too have done something very similar as a psychiatrist. I have chosen to go to to work with certain suits over periods of time so as to not waste energy having to decide what I am going to wear!

Have you experienced something of this decision fatigue in your own life? What have you done to handle it?

Do you need to re-connect with nature?

I have to admit when it comes to appreciating nature I have been a slow learner. Perhaps it has something to do with being the son of South Asian immigrant parents and feeling driven to succeed academically above anything and everything else. Or maybe it had something to do with assuming practical aesthetics were only a luxury for rare occasions. However, whatever the reason, appreciating natural beauty and surroundings was for many years not been a priority to me. Much to my own loss.

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To my shame I have to confess that when my wife Sally and I moved to a new house in 1996 with the choice as to how we would design the garden area my natural inclination was to propose that we just concreted it all over! Thank goodness Sally over-ruled me on that!

Taking time out to connect with nature through gardening, going for a walk or even to just get some fresh air can be enormously rejuvenating. There is something about being in the countryside or by the beach that recharges and rejuvenates us like nothing else can. Even I have come to instinctively appreciate that! But I am not the only one who has ignored or downplayed the importance of the environment to psychological wellbeing.

For as long as anyone can seem to remember in most societies progress has been measured by increase in average income and the numbers of people moving from rural areas to the cities. That is how unquestioned and unchallenged economic decisions have been made for centuries. But we are slowly and surely also realising that such progress does not lead to the health and well-being we hoped for. In fact more urbanised and industrialised societies are experiencing increasingly greater levels of physical and psychological distress from conditions such as obesity and diabetes to chronic loneliness, depression and other mental health problems.

When it comes to understanding well-being then there are two important components to consider – the person’s sense of contentment and the ability to cope with life’s challenges (resilience). There is increasing research  evidence to show that spending time in nature has a significant and positive impact on both contentment and resilience….

What does it mean to live with intention?

I don’t know who originally said it, but apparently there are only 3 kinds of people in the world. Those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who say, “What happened?”!

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As well as being somewhat amusing I am also struck by how insightful such a saying is about human nature. It is so easy to go with the flow of whatever is going on around us or get distracted by whatever is latest or loudest in our lives. And at certain times and seasons of life that can be absolutely appropriate. For example think about the stay-at-home parent with the responsibility of children or the receptionist or administrative staff in a busy office. Or the sudden emergency at home with an appliance or device.  In all those instances it is absolutely appropriate to react to the pressing needs of the moment. Not to do so could lead to disastrous consequences!

The danger it seems to me is when we live the majority of our life reacting to what is outside of ourselves rather than in response to the long standing God-given longings, beliefs and desires that have been placed deep inside of us.

Here is how writer Carissa Lada describes how she and her then husband spent much of their lives without intention:

Most of our activities involved going out to eat, planning which movie we’d see that weekend, or awaiting our favorite shows on TV. We had certain shows we looked forward to each night of the week. It was fine for a while, but I began to have this growing feeling like I was missing out on, well, life. I didn’t want to look back on my life in 20 years and say, “Well I saw every episode of [insert show], so I feel really accomplished!” This growing desire to get more out of life caused a rift in my marriage, and was one factor that ultimately led to its demise.’

So what is intention? At its simplest it is about living with an aim or a plan. But when we talk about living intentionally it is also more than that – it is a choice to deliberately pursue what is significant over the long term rather than the short term. It is to get more out of life than what I see in front of me with the vast myriad of choices and challenges to deal with.

Or taking the words of C. S. Lewis:

Podcast #029: The literal end of the world?

A discussion with Chris Wright on what the Bible actually says

What will happen at the end of time? How will the world end? How will our lives end? Where is history heading to? Is there any sense or coherence in this increasingly complex and challenging world that we live in? That is the subject of Hollywood movies and popular science fiction novels down the ages. Popular movies and novels can be great fun and escapism, but then you have to get on with the rest of life with all of its predictability and mundaneness.

Could there be another narrative? Indeed, what does the world’s best selling, and also arguably often least read and understood book actually say about the end of the world?

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On this podcast I have a fascinating conversation with Bible scholar Chris Wright on a subject that is often not given much serious consideration, at least not in popular culture. Is it a subject we can give sustained deliberate thought to in a world of such diverse views and opinions? There is certainly much mystery, but understanding ‘The End Times’ has profound implications on the way we live our lives today in the here and now.

Do join us on this podcast as we discuss the seven last things, according to the Bible, of this life and universe:

Death and resurrection: how the end of the world is actually a new beginning and how Jesus’ bodily and physical resurrection points to a new level of life and existence.

How the metaphor  of sleep describes the interim state between the physical death of our bodies and the end of the world.

The return of Christ at the end of history as an integral part  of the Bible narrative and its implications for us.

The resurrection of the dead and what that actually means for our earthly bodies. Do listen out for the analogy of twins in their mother’s womb!

Why the day of judgement and hell is actually a good thing in a world where so much evil and wrong-doing appears to go unpunished and unresolved.

What the Bible actually reveals about what heaven and the new creation will be like. It is so much more than sitting on a cloud, playing a harp, endless singing or even one long holiday! Heaven is not even my final destination when I die! It is only, as it were, a transit lounge for the new creation. In fact, the Bible makes clear that we don’t even go up to heaven! The new creation is actually heaven, at the end of time, coming down to earth.

Quoting from Chris’ book, ‘The God I Don’t Understand’:

“The new creation will start with the unimaginable reservoir of all that human civilisation has accomplished in the old creation – but purged, cleansed, disinfected, sanctified and blessed…… Think of the prospect! all human language, literature, art, music, science, business, sport, technological achievement – actual and potential – all available to us. All of it with the poison of evil and sin sucked out of it forever…… Whatever it may be like, we can rest assured that, for those who are in Christ, anything that has enriched and blessed us in this life will not be lost, but infinitely enhanced in the resurrection and anything that we have not been able to enjoy in this life (because of disability, disease or premature death – or simply through the natural limitations of time and space) will be amply restored or compensated for in resurrection life.”

So how should we then live?

“We are to live then as people who not only have a future, but know the future we have and go out and live in the light of that future, in preparation for it and characterised by its values.”

What questions, thoughts and comments does our discussion raise for you?

The link to Chris’ book is below.

You may also find of interest:

Podcast #028: The God I Don’t Understand

Podcast #007: Religion

 

Feeling stuck? When you don’t know how to do something

Kyle Maynard was born with a rare condition known as congenital amputation. This has left him with arms that end at the elbows and legs that end near his knees. From a young age he has learnt how to live life independently and without prosthetics.

In 2012, Kyle became the first quadruple amputee to climb – actually bearcrawl – the 19,340 feet to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics. His 10-day ascent was widely covered by the press, followed on social media, and raised money and awareness for wounded veterans as well as Tanzanian schoolchildren. Upon his return, Kyle won his second ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability.

The 3 minute video below gives a short insight into his life and attitude to handling challenges:

Kyle thrives on physical challenges and following a few rough middle school football seasons; he went on to become a champion wrestler, CrossFit Certified Instructor and gym owner, competitive MMA/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter, world record-setting weightlifter, and skilled mountaineer. Each of those are for anybody no small achievements! But for someone without arms and legs that is truly amazing. How is that possible for someone with so much in the way of apparent limitations and setbacks?

From the video we get a glimpse into Kyle’s thinking and mindset to achieve something so extraordinary. Here is what he says:

Why Easter should be for everyday

The Easter holidays have come and gone. But what is Easter really about? Hopefully much more than chocolate eggs and bunny rabbits! In fact Easter has a lot to say to us in what can feel like an increasingly challenging and hostile world.

The following 3 minute video was part of a series made by my church, All Souls Langham Place in Central London.  In it I explain what Easter means to me. I set out to make a case why Easter should be celebrated not just once a year, but actually has implications and ramifications for every day of the year!

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That death, according to the Bible scriptures, was not an unintended accident. It was prophecised and planned as the central act of history.

Here is what Eugene Peterson, scholar, and author of the widely acclaimed modern paraphrase of the Bible scripture, ‘The Message,’ says about the cross of Christ:

“The single, overwhelming fact of history is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. There is no military battle, no geographical exploration, no scientific discovery, no literary creation, no artistic achievement, no moral heroism, that compares with it. It is unique, massive, monumental, unprecedented, and unparalleled. The cross of Christ is not a small secret that may or may not get out. The cross of Christ is not a minor incident in the political history of the first century that is a nice illustration of courage. It is the centre.
The cross of Christ is the central fact to which all other facts subordinate.”

That’s a bold assertion to be made!

But what does that mean personally for me and for anyone else who chooses to bring the implications of Easter into their own life?

It is that as death has been conquered through the cross of Christ, then our bad experiences can turn out for good; the good experiences of this life can never be lost and the best is yet to come! My best days are not behind me, but in front of me!

Also there is the security that comes from knowing I am loved as I am. I have nothing to prove. I am completely accepted by God, not because of my goodness or attempted goodness (which fluctuates and is so fickle), but by the perfect life and obedience of Christ. And in addition to all that, the living presence of God through the Holy Spirit means there is the potential to live life with confidence and joy, no matter what the challenges and setbacks that come.

I need to remember that every day! How about you? What does Easter mean to you?

We explore that more in last week’s Podcast #028: The God I Don’t Understand

 

Podcast #028 The God I Don’t Understand

Discussing tough questions of faith with Christ Wright

Religious faith. That is certainly a subject that can polarise and divide opinion between different people! 

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 17.40.54We live in a world where it seems as though the more committed someone is to their particular faith view, then the more certain they seem to be about life and what others should or should not do.  That is often the impression that comes through much of the popular media’s analysis of faith and life issues. But does that really help to make sense of life in all its mystery and complexity?

Why do terrible things happen in our world and why does it so often appear God is silent and not involved?

Chris Wright is a scholar of the Old Testament of the Bible who has written a number of books on knowing and understanding God. He is someone who has a life long passion for knowing God through the Bible scriptures and communicating that clearly to others.

It is somewhat surprising then that Chris has also written a book called “The God I Don’t Understand”. Here is what he writes in the introduction:

“It seems to me that the older I get the less I think I really understand God. Which is not to say that I don’t love and trust Him. On the contrary, as life goes on my love and trust grow deeper, but my struggle with what God does or allows grows deeper too.”

On this podcast we have the privilege of interviewing Chris about the book he has written and exploring this tension between living a life of faith, loving and trusting God, while at the same time being honest enough to admit there is often mystery and much we do not understand about life.

Do join us in this fascinating conversation as we explore:

How anger and frustration with what God allows and does not allow in our world is nothing new. Indeed an author like Richard Dawkins writes in his book ‘The God Delusion’:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filiacidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

How Psalm 73 written 2,700 years ago by someone called Asaph dealt with similar anger and frustration with God’s dealings with the world, but came to a very different conclusion.

Why the question of evil and suffering is a specific problem for people who have a Biblical faith, compared to those of other religions.

Why the Bible says we should not bottle up our feelings and be stoical when suffering and evil comes into our lives, but actually to be angry, lament and protest.

Why Chris surprisingly says, “Of all the things that lead me to speak of the God I don’t understand, the cross is top of the list.”

Why was the death of Christ necessary?

What did God actually accomplish through the death of His Son?

How did it all work? Or to be even more specific: How did one man’s bleeding body stretched on two pieces of wood for six hours of torture and death on a particular Friday one spring outside a city in a remote province of the Roman Empire change everything in the universe?

How can it be possible for God to be both loving and angry?

What comments and questions does this discussion raise for you?

You may also find of interest:

What Is So Good About Good Friday?

How Can I Find Hope In My Darkest Days?

Why Understanding Easter Brings Hope

Is This The Best News You Have Ever Heard?

4 Personal Implications Of The Resurrection

A Day That Changed The World

Do you need more sleep?

What the research shows

Russell Foster is a professor of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford. In this 22 minute TED talk he very helpfully explains the importance of something we so often take for granted and underestimate the importance of – sleep! Or to put it another way, sleep is the single most important behavioural experience we have. We spend on average 36% of our life sleeping. So for someone living to say the age of 90, they will have spent on average 32 years asleep! When you put it in those terms then sleep at some level is a really important part of being human. So what has science so far learnt about sleep?

Professor Foster helpfully explains that when you sleep your brain doesn’t just turn off, but that there are a huge raft of different interactions going on within the brain.

So why do we sleep? Its likely that there are a multitude of different reasons. Some of the most common:

Are you looking for inner strength?

Identifying and replacing unhelpful thinking habits

We all know what physical strength is. But inner mental strength? What is it? Put in the simplest terms mental strength refers to any set of positive attributes that helps a person to cope with difficult situations.

Someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about this is Amy Morin. She is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and lecturer at Northeastern University in the United States. In this powerful 15 minute video she very helpfully explores three kinds of destructive beliefs that can derail us and rob us of our mental strength.

What makes her explanation particularly meaningful is that she talks not just as a psychologist, but from her own experience at the age of 23 with the sudden loss of her mother and then exactly 3 years later of her then husband.

As she says about that time,

“So now I found myself a 26 year old widow, and I didn’t have my Mom. I thought, ‘How am I going to get through this?’ And to describe that as a painful period in my life feels like an understatement. And it was during that time that I realised when you’re going through tough times, good habits aren’t enough. It only takes one or two bad habits to really hold you back…… Because sooner or later you’re going to hit a time in your life where you will need all the mental strength you can muster.”

Even after these tough experiences Amy Morin still had further challenges in her life to deal with, but her insights about helpful and unhelpful thinking habits are universally applicable.

What kinds of bad habits is she referring to?

When the small things make a big difference

Lessons from the school of hard knocks

How do you discern the motives and intentions of others? How can you tell the honesty and trustworthiness of someone before it is too late? There is no easy answer. Often we learn these lessons from the school of hard knocks.

I am often struck how in human relationships the small things can make a huge difference. Apparently inconsequential actions can reveal otherwise undisclosed hearts and attitudes. Here are some stories that illustrate this.

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