October 17, 2008
Refuse to Choose: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love by Barbara Sher
Do you have many interests and can’t decide what to pursue? Never finish a project, because your attention all too quickly drifts to the next idea? Then perhaps you’re a Scanner, suggests author & life-coach Barbara Sher. Throughout much of history, generalists- “Renaissance” people were admired. She traces the fall of generalists and the rise of specialists to the Cold War, in which science and math were emphasized in order to compete with the U.S.S.R. Later in the book Sher divides Scanners up into different types based on their behavior and tendencies. She suggests career strategies for each of them.
I’ve always had many different interests- over the years some fell by the wayside while others remained, and new interests emerged. But unlike some of Sher’s clients, I’ve never felt there was anything wrong with this, or felt pressure to choose one as a career. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, the way I was raised or what. But I did find the ideas in her book useful in giving me more focus in my various pursuits. One idea she discusses throughout the book is that of a “Scanner Daybook” a journal/sketchbook for jotting down ideas and exploring them. Another idea I found helpful is to try organizing my hobbies into a sort of “class schedule” spending an hour or so on each at different times. Refuse to Choose is an amazing guidebook of tools and strategies for “Scanners” draw upon to use their many skills and interests to their advantage both in their professional and personal lives. I recommend it to anyone who struggles with choosing between different passions.
June 18, 2008
The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz
The American gospel of individualism and the free market seems to preach that the more choices we have the better. But Barry Schwartz argues that as our options increase, the worse we tend to be at making choices. And the less we enjoy the choices we make. He starts by discussing this in shopping- all the different types of bread, or jeans we can buy. Then he goes on to show all the phone & communication options, entertainment, choices over how we pursue relationships, careers, religion. He supports his claims with many psychological studies.
Schwartz explains that people respond to this smörgåsbord of choices by being “choosers” who think about the importance of the decision and “pickers” who passively pick from whatever is available. Maximizers try to get the best, but while looking everywhere for it and finally making a decision, they wonder if it was really the best. Satisficers settle for what is good enough. Maybe sometimes they don’t get something as good as the maximizers, but they don’t stress out about it as much, and they don’t spend all that time needed to find the “perfect sweater”.
I have often felt overwhelmed by decision-making, and while others chided me for being indecisive, I thought there was something wrong with me. So reading this book was very reassuring, that yes, there is something psychologically overwhelming about all the choices we have. At the end of the book he gives a list of practical suggestions on how to make choices easier to deal with. One is to be more grateful for what you have, so that you will be more satisfied. Don’t compare yourself to others- figure out what is meaningful to you, and what makes you happy. This is something I really needed to hear- lately I’ve been very hard on myself for not being “good enough” compared to how I saw others around me. Accept some constraints on your choices. I would recommend this book to anyone in a modern industrial society, but especially people struggling with stress and depression. Folks with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), ADD, and autism often have trouble making choices and so I’d suggest it to them too.