The mission was simple: to buy a spice rack for the pantry. I figured my best shot was at Bed, Bath, and Beyond; a store I had not entered in over a year. Little did I know that would be the beginning of the end of my productivity for the day. Upon entering, I quickly found the kitchen department. But I was shocked at the number of items, and how many choices there were for each one. I was on my way to encountering decision fatigue.
Because I like choices (or thought I did until this particular day), before long, I was nose to nose with shelves of plastic, rubber, aluminum, and chrome gadgets, doodads, and whatchamacallits for kitchen storage problems I didn’t even know I had. As I searched for the exact product I wanted, my brain had to sort through everything else and cast it aside. More than once, something other than a spice rack caught my eye. At first, I had the wherewithal to ignore them.
As the minutes wore on, though, I was forced to make dozens of little decisions. First decision – does this item look like a spice rack? If yes, is it the right size and type? If no, move to next item. As I grew tired of the sorting process, some irrational part of my brain appeared and said, “But….is it something I COULD use? Hmmmm…it looks like very handy after all….it could make more room in the cabinet maybe?…would it fit in the cabinet?”
“STOP IT,” my Rational brain said. “You are here to get the spice rack. Move on.”
Next item – does this look like it? No, not quite. Then that annoying voice again, “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if my whole kitchen looked like the label on this doodad?”
“STOP IT,” Rational brain says. “You would have to buy every doodad like it in here, which is a) exactly what the label is suggesting you do and b) out of the question. Next item!”
And so it went….for nearly fifteen minutes until I found exactly what I was looking for. By then, the dueling sides of my brain had gone 144 rounds. I was exhausted. But did that stop me from oh, just taking a look around the rest of the store to see if there was anything I couldn’t live without? Nooooooooo. I got to the bath side and wondered what got into me. To check out, I had to walk through the gauntlet of holiday specials. I actually stopped and considered a couple of them.
When I left the store only $8.35 poorer, I felt like Rocky – beat up, but victorious. I needed a nap.
I once heard Dr. Moira Somers talk about the mental energy required to make decisions, particularly ones to avoid temptations. It seems we have a daily quota of decision making energy available. After we’ve exhausted our quota, it’s free-for-all shopping, chocolate, nagging, smoking, sleeping, drinking, or whatever your personal favorite temptation happens to be. That annoying irrational voice, the one tempted by labels, and the same one we’d like to believe we can defeat by simply shutting it down, is pretty darn powerful.
Some solutions? Get plenty of sleep. Be conscious of how many decisions you put in your own way every day. Have someone, or a group, with whom you can share your struggles.
I had never considered a retail organization store to be a threat to my mental health, but after this experience, I think even once a year is more than I can handle.