Life Is Like An All You Can Eat Buffet: Narrow Your Options For Happiness

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Following Content Also Features as a Guest Blog Post from Practice Balance.

We’re headed out to lunch. Hmm, what to choose… will it be All You Can Eat sushi? Brazilian meats? Korean BBQ?

We’re no strangers to buffets. I like to eat, and so does my 6’6″, 225-lb, all-muscle husband (who happens to be in the practice already of eating only one big meal a day). Even my 4 year old, who looks like a 6 year old, can really put it down. With all of our birthdays occurring in the winter months, we like to frequent our favorite AYCE haunts around this time of year to celebrate, especially when they offer some sort of birthday special.

The thing with buffets is that they can be dangerous. I’ve had some less than optimal experiences with them, leaving me stuffed and uncomfortable at the end. Too many choices. Bad choices. Saying yes to too many things. Moving too fast. Getting distracted by things that don’t matter.

Nowadays, we have a buffet of choices for everything in our lives. Walk into a grocery store and you’ll see a plentiful bounty of fruits and vegetables from far off lands, available at your fingertips. We can pretty much have any item we want delivered to our home in less than two days. We can see what all of our friends are doing and chat with them on social media without taking the time to write a letter or look up a phone number and call.

We’re so much more connected, and that’s arguably a good thing, but the decision fatigue from all these choices can drain anyone. Have you ever suffered from what you would call a lack of willpower? When you’re faced with so many small decisions, ones you aren’t even aware you’re making, it’s very easy for that power to degrade as the day goes on. That’s when the bad choices are made.

Need to go somewhere? It’s no longer as simple as choosing the one airline that flies to that place and directly calling a couple of hotels in the area. Because I’m currently on a sabbatical, I’ve been doing a lot of trip planning. With the advent of the sharing economy (AirBnB, Uber, etc.), third party booking sites (like Priceline) and online review sites (like Trip Advisor or Yelp), there is now a smorgasbord of research to be done and literally hundreds of decisions you need to make to get there.

I’m convinced that this myriad of choices is what leads directly to the feelings of busyness and overwhelm that many of us suffer from, including me. Barry Schwartz, who wrote The Paradox of Choice, actually goes so far as to call this phenomenon the tyranny of choice. Many times, I’ve given up (either temporarily or permanently) on planning a trip because I just freeze with analysis paralysis.

But there is an art to surviving and enjoying the buffet. One day, as I watched my husband decline the chicken leg at the Brazilian Rodizio, I realized that he knew the key: he doesn’t get bogged down in endless choices. Here’s how:

  • He knows why he’s there (to eat the steak and all of the steak).
  • He’s keenly aware of his likes and dislikes (likes red meat the most, everything else is just meh).
  • He knows his non-negotiables (does not choose to eat anything with carbs or sugar).

This bit of awareness and self-knowledge allows him to ignore the fray. I tend to be more of a moderator than an abstainer, and with that personality trait comes FOMO. Not only with food but – for me – travel and sometimes social media. Yet at the same time I’m able to keep my closet relatively small, and I’ve downsized at work and at home.

So in 2020, I’m going to work on narrowing my choices in my weak areas. I want to limit the resources I use to book and research travel, keeping my non-negotiables in mind only. I want to accept imperfection and not worry about something going wrong due to my decisions. I want to keep my priorities and values in mind when spending time on the internet, whether it’s to do travel research or to interact on social media.

Blog Post Excerpt from Practice Balance.

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