Why Can't Millennials Make Any Damn Decisions?
The Debrief: We have more options than ever before, but do we have too many?
Illustration by Marja De Sanctis
I couldn’t decide what to put in this article. Irony, right? Typically, I am an indecisive in most areas of my life, be it big or small. When I was younger, I remember consciously deciding that my favourite colour is blue from now until forever just for sheer ease. I’m still not sure how much I prefer it over the rest of the rainbow.
The concept of making a decision is simple: you pick one option over another. The option which, in that moment, is more favourable, more satisfying, more suited to your needs. The inability to choose one over another is indecision.
I’m not alone in my chronic indecision; the decisive people I know stick out in mind for the simple fact that they tend to be the minority. Most people I know struggle with decision making; with making a choice, committing and sticking with it. But why exactly is that? What is it about millennials and the way we live that seems to be making so many of us indecisive?
For a start, we have a surplus of choices. We are fortunate enough that the world is pretty much, entirely open to us. The exciting prospect that, in theory, we can go wherever we want and achieve whatever we want is so overwhelming, that it can actually serve to do the opposite of what it should: paralyse us. Dr Jonathan White, psychologist and visiting professor at Henley Business School, agrees. ‘You would think that having online capability would make it more and more possible for people to get information [and therefore help with decision making] but it actually exposes them to more possibilities for choice.’
This over-saturated of choice that we're exposed to, can be applied to all areas of life. Apps like Deliveroo and Just Eat mean we can basically have any cuisine delivered to our doorstep, dating apps literally produce a list of people we can choose whether to ‘match’ with or not, and music streaming services essentially open up the entire back catalogue of the music world for our listening pleasure. I’m tired just typing it. These choices whilst obviously amazing, are both a blessing and a curse. The opportunities are there, but so many of us seem unable to reach out and grab them because we can’t make the decision in the first place.
What’s even more interesting is that making a lot of decisions is actually proven to be exhausting. The New York Times have discussed the phenomenon of ‘decision fatigue’, citing a study about an Israeli parole board which granted parole to around 70% of prisoners who they saw early in the morning, compared to 10% of prisoners who they saw later in the day. They found that the more decisions you make, the more reckless your decisions will become or you'll start to do nothing because of mental fatigue. Is it any wonder then, that we’re not the most capable decision makers? Are we literally exhausted by the sheer amount of decisions we can make, that we decide to do nothing? (Which, if you want to get technical, is actually a decision.)
Then there's fear. In a Forbes article, one writer discusses the idea of ‘career paralysis’, the concept of being so scared of making the wrong career choice, that you don’t make any. It’s no wonder we feel this way; it's consistently suggested that as a generation we’re – to use the technical term – fucked. You know the drill: rising rent but diminishing wages, the extremely distant prospect of ever being able to own a house… The stakes suddenly seem so much higher for our generation that the thought of one false move is terrifying.
For previous generations, life typically followed a ‘formula’; usually education, work, homeowner, marriage and babies. Now, there’s no such blue print. Luckily for us, this societal expectation, whilst there for the taking if you’d like it, is no longer forced upon us. We have the freedom to make our own choices, our own path, yet we can't. As Maddie, 29, told me ‘You’re always told to envision where you’d like your life to go and work backwards from that. The thing is, I don’t know what I want my life to be, which makes it difficult to make those decisions!’
But what if you really feel unable to make a decision? Just do it, says Dr White. ‘If you’re in a situation when you really can’t decide between alternatives, where you’re not convinced by the strong merits of one over the other, then it’s better almost to make a decision and live with the consequences of making the decision. If you wait to find the very best alternative you may wait indefinitely.’
You may well feel crippled by indecision but the first step is simply to make one and deal with the consequences – whatever they may be – later. 'I try and remember that there isn’t a wrong and a right way because whatever decision you make, your life won’t end, and you very rarely have decisions that you look back on and go “OH SHIT THAT WAS THE WORSE”,’ Steph, 28 told me. ‘That lessening of pressure usually means I’m able to make the decision. I think pressure is the enemy of good decisions.’
A friend once gave me some advice when I told her about a decision I regretted and it’s stuck with me: that there's no point in thinking about 'what if's' because you make the decision you think is best at the time, with the information, thoughts and feelings that you had in that moment. And really, who can do more than that?
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