Have you ever experienced some free time where you could have been doing anything you wanted, yet failed to do… anything? Say you could have gone hiking or slacklining or cycling or swimming or you could have been reading or writing or painting or cooking… and you just couldn’t decide and kind of passed the time scrolling through Social Media or watching Netflix.

This phenomenon appears if you have a significant range to choose from and where you just can’t decide what’s the best for you right now, because you long to do everything and it’s all kind of equally important to you. This is called Choice Overload. We’ll be taking a closer look at it and what you can do about it.

Having Too Many Options To Choose From Paralyzes Us

I’m sure you’ve heard about the jam experiment, where they displayed either 6 or 24 different jams to comsumers to analyze their behaviour. Even though the 24 varieties generated much more interest, consumers where around ten times more likely to buy from a smaller range. 10 times!

There has been another study to analyze the criteria for this phenomenon, which can be found here if you’re interested.

Sure these studies focused on consumer behaviour, because they want to know how to better sell their products. It seems to me though, that this kind of behaviour happens in our everyday life as well. It does in mine at least…

I’m someone with a lot of interests. Honestly, I could fill a few lifetimes with all those things that I would really like to do and there have been times where I just couldn’t decide on one thing. And you know how much people recommend to focus on one thing, and one thing only. Oh how much I’ve struggled with this… and sometimes still do!

Over the years I’ve tried different strategies to somehow stay on top of things and to incorporate different interests in my life at the same time. Some partially worked… some didn’t work at all, but I’ve learned some things that I’m still using successfully.

Add Limitations to Your Life

Humans long for freedom, the power to choose and to make our own decisions. Yet we are actually pretty poor at it if we’re honest. I’m not saying that freedom of choice is bad or that we shouldn’t strive for it though! I think freedom of choice is a deeply rooted human desire which should not be stifled.

Though I think we all should look inside and get to know our own core. What are our deepest values, wishes and dreams? If you know these things, you have some sort of guideline to make your future selections. Do you deeply treasure nature? Then moving to a big city may not be the best idea. Do you dream about being a published author someday? Then choose the writing club over the singing course.

Limitations, as limiting as they sound, are a great tool you can use in your everyday life. They boost creativity and motivation, they make you less prone to procrastination and they enhance your focus. Cool, right?

What are limitations though? They have many faces to be honest.

Some form is knowing your deepest values and dreams as mentioned above. If you decide to only act in alignment with those, you are actually using a form of limitation. Even though it – hopefully – doesn’t feel that way. It makes your decision process easier and actually clearer, because you know your own motivation behind it.

If you have as many interests as I do, it may be useful to find some rules, a.k.a. limitations, for them. Maybe you decide to just focus on one or a selected few and to leave the others out completely. Or you schedule different blocks of time for each interest. Or a combination of both. It’s trial and error here. Try it out and see what works for you. For me, I’ve found that I need focus which means one or two things at a time. I do have my business that I’m working on right now and I have one other interest I’m pursuing at a time.  Few things to choose from, few things to concentrate on and therefore better focus on the things at hand.

For your productivity, I can recommend the Pomodoro method, which I’ve touched on here already. Again, it’s a form of limitation and humans somehow thrive on limitations. I guess it has something to do with our early ancestors who needed to come up with solutions in dire need and with lots of restrictions. Give it a try.

Spice Up Your Life With Challenges

Another thing I’ve come to appreciate are challenges. Similar to limitations (actually challenges are a form of limitation) they give you lasersharp focus and a clear objective.

Weeky goal setting is actually a way to challenge myself. I’m trying – and still learning – to set realistic goals for the week, because setting unrealistic goals makes the whole challenge crumble. If you have a clear objective and you know that you can achieve it if you just put in the effort, then this is a fantastic way to get things done. If, on the other hand, you set a goal of writing 10k words a day and you’re putting down 500 words an hour (which is 20hours of non-stop writing) then you already know that you couldn’t possibly achieve that. Why even try? So try to make your quests attainable.

As I’ve mentioned above, I focus at one interest at a time these days. Working on my business can be energy draining sometimes, because it takes a lot of time, effort and focus. I’m using my weekly goal setting to get as much done as possible in the least amount of time. Since we all know that willpower and energy are limited, I don’t want to burden myself with some weekly goal for my personal interests. I’ve tried this in the past, like writing a set amount of words each day or painting a daily picture. Worked fine as long as I stayed on track, but as soon as I didn’t get it done one day, I started to loose motivation. And, what’s worse, it started to feel like an obligation, like work. When it should feel like fun.

Therefore I scratched goal setting for my interests and tried another approach. I am interested in many things, but I know that I experience Choice Overload when I don’t concentrate on one thing. So I made a list of all my immediate interests and started challenging myself with one of my interests each week. The goal is to simply do this one interest as much as I can in whatever time I have available. I have a baking challenge, a sewing challenge, a painting challenge, a crafting challenge and many more. It works! I love to have one singular activity on my mind without any pressure at all. If you struggle the way I do, why don’t you give this a try?

Somehow this article feels a little all of the place, because there are so many different methods and approaches. I hope I didn’t overwhelm you. If you need additional information (sometimes there is just too much background information in my head – sorry!), just say so. I’m happy to answer your questions.

If you struggle with too many interests:

  • know your own values and dreams
  • challenge yourself to focus on one at a time

If you struggle to make progress:

  • use time limitations, like the Pomodoro method
  • set attainable and clear goals

Also, let me know in the comments if you want some in depth information on one of these approaches.

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