“Decision Fatigue”

January 25, 2015
Jonathan Rumburg
Psalm 62:5-12

Amazon sells 1,161 different kinds of toilet brushes. Not just 10 or 20 or even 500. One thousand… One Hundred… and Sixty One. That’s a lot of toilet scrubbers.

Writer Jane Porter discovered this when she spent an evening trying to choose one for the bathroom of her new apartment. She states, “Nearly an hour later, after having read countless contradictory reviews and pondering far too many choices, I was tired and grumpy, and simply gave up.”

Fortunately, after a good night’s sleep, she went out and, “I happily bought the only toilet brush the local dollar store offered.”

I know exactly how Porter feels. I recently, and finally, upgraded from my dumb phone to a smart phone, and naturally I wanted to get the best protective case for my phone.

Well if you thought there were a lot of toilet brushes on the internet, check out how many iPhone cases there are. I was so overwhelmed that for two weeks—two weeks—I literally carried my phone around in the box it came in. Every time it rang, I had to open the box. One time I just pulled the lid off, and held the phone and box up to my ear. No joke. My brother in law has a picture of it.

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We love having choices in 21st-century America, but too many options can exhaust us. Even worse, they can make us unhappy and cause us to flee from making decisions.

Jane Porter and myself experienced what some call “decision fatigue”, while others call this “choice overload.” And it’s not just choosing toilet brushes or phone cases that can overwhelm us. Even worse, an abundance of choices in our creative and professional lives can cause problems.

What all this means, is that the choices we have become more of a burden then a blessing. And unfortunately, studies show, that as the number of options increases, the cost— in time and effort— of making good choices also increases.

Just ask a regular Netflix users how much time they spend searching for something to watch compared to how much time they spend watching something! Some of you have even told me this about our Right Now Media trial.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, as we are presented with more and more choices, the level of uncertainty we have about our final choice rises.

Meaning, the more choices we have, the more anxiety we feel about someday regretting the choice we made.

The bottom line in this is that too many choices can by paralyzing.

From toilet brushes to phone cases to careers to whatever, we have seemingly endless options but they all lead to uncertainty, anxiety, and decision fatigue.

As the old saying goes, “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”

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So what do we do about this?

What is the best path forward, one that will help us to be happy and decisive and free of decision fatigue?

Psalm 62, a song of trust in God alone, gives us three words of direction: We wait. We pray. And we obey. And if we do, it will all pay off for us because when we are exhausted by excessive choices, by decision fatigue, God provides a path that will lead us to a place of rest and peace.

 

Move 1

So let’s unpack these three words.

First, wait.

The writer of Psalm 62 is not in a rush to make big decisions. Instead, he says, “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him” (v. 5).

Now granted, often we feel pressure to make choices quickly, whether we are picking out a new car, or jumping at the first job that’s offered to us because we have bills to pay. But more often than not, we almost always have time to wait. And it would be a good idea to do so.

But, how should we wait, becomes the question, because after all, waiting can certainly lead to anxiety, the very thing we are trying to avoid.

The psalm-writer says that God “is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.” (vv. 6-7)

When we bring God into our time of waiting, and seek God’s presence and patience, then we actually grow, not anxious, but confident.

When we are confident about our decisions, then anxiety and regret are never of any consequence.

And we develop confidence by spending time with God.

By fellowshipping with God and meditating on God’s Word, we develop ultimate trust and confidence in God—that God will see us to good and faithful decisions.

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The Psalmist tells us to wait in silence. Wait for God. Wait for the One who is our source of hope.

When we wait in silence and trust God to help shape our decisions, we inevitably make a better choice—a confidant choice.
Move 2
Next, we are to pray.

Waiting in silence is key, but it is also important to pray.

Verse eight tells us, “Trust in God at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”

We pour out our hearts when we ask for guidance in our decision-making, and when we pray about the various options that lie before us. But our prayers also open our spirits up to God’s direction; to hearing God’s voice; to discerning God’s way.

And taking the time to discern God’s-Will, will help us to eliminate a number of options that would lead us in the wrong direction.

We can do this by eliminating choices that don’t align with our understanding of the Bible, that is, that don’t fit with our Christian theology or our core values.

How this works of course, is that if the proposed option doesn’t line up with your understanding of God’s will for your life, then the option before you is not an option at all!

So pray about it. Pour out your heart before God, and let God be your guide and your refuge.

You’ll not only end up with a better decision, but also a faithful one.

 

Move 3

Finally, after we wait and pray, it’s time to obey.

“Put no confidence in extortion,” says the psalmist, “and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.”

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Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University, has spent a portion of her career studying the relationship between choice and religion.

In particular, she has looked at whether having a lot of choices makes a person happy.

She started her investigation by asking a psychology professor the question, “Wouldn’t people of more fundamentalist faiths become more depressed because they have so many more rules imposed upon them and so much less choice and control over their lives?”

It was a relevant and good question. To answer it, she and her psychologist colleague surveyed people from nine different religions, ranging from fundamentalist faiths to liberal ones.

What they discovered surprised them.

Iyengar told New America Media Journal, “We found, in fact, that the liberals were more likely to become depressed. We found that the liberals were more pessimistic about the future of their lives. That showed me that constraints on choice could give people a feeling of more control over their lives.”

Now if you see yourself as a liberal—theologically and/or politically— don’t get all worked up about this!

The point being made here is that— wherever your persuasions may lie: liberal, conservative or somewhere in between— when you have clear boundaries and faithful limits—you are more likely to be at peace with yourself.

That would indicate to us that one of the keys to happiness is to obey the laws of God and the teachings of Jesus.

Sure, you will have fewer choices, but you’ll end up with a feeling of more control over your life, and you will know that in all that you say and do, you are obeying God and Christ Jesus.

 

 

Move 4

Within this formula to overcome decision fatigue—to wait, pray and obey—comes our reward.

“Once God has spoken,” says Psalm 62, “twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.”

This verse reminds us that God is working for good in our lives.

Therefore, when we trust our God, when we wait, pray, and obey, we are then given the reward of rest and peace, confidence and faithfulness.

In fact, the word “repay” in this verse is related to the Hebrew word “shalom”, which means “peace.”

Imagine—our obedience to God will bring us peace.

 

Conclusion

In a world of decision fatigue”, in a world where too many choices can paralyze us, Psalm 62 invites us to trust in God at all times, to wait, pray, obey… and believe that God will be faithful.

This kind of faith is the secret to making good choices in every area of life, while avoiding the stress and anxiety of decision fatigue.

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Now I’m certainly not suggesting that we need to apply the method to decisions about toilet brushes and phone cases.

But I am saying we ought to apply this method to bigger and life impacting choices: Who we marry, whether or not to have children, how we raise children, career moves and decisions, how we respond to those who hurt us, health care, retirement, what we do in retirement, and the like.

Because here’s the thing—In our world, in our lives, we have countless options to choose from—so many that they can fill us with anxiety, worry about regretting any choice we do make, even paralyzing us from making any choice.

But though there are countless options, that cause us decision fatigue, in the face of all those options, there is only, one God, one Lord.

Therefore, when we put our one God, and one Lord into the process of making the major life decisions we must make, then we can know, for certain—without fatigue or anxiety—that whatever we decide will bring us rest and peace, confidence and faithfulness. Amen.

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