When presented with a multitude of options, human beings tend to get extremely anxious. We become restless and bothered to the point where having too many choices actually hinder progressive decision making. That is, it becomes too difficult to make up one’s mind and the easiest decision – which is to not decide at all – typically ensues. However, if the intended goal is to progress by selecting one of those options, then deciding to not decide would be very detrimental. To say the least, having too many options is crippling.
One of the most common concerns for recent college and high school graduates is this: “what should I be doing with my life now?” Obviously, this question is inherently vague and as a result has many possible answers. For instance, as a recent high school graduate, you have the options of travelling and going backpacking (if you have the money, of course), going to another state for college, staying at home and living with mom and pop, etc. Or if you’re a college graduate, the number of options are arguably even greater. You can move abroad to work, volunteer with the peace corp, go to graduate school, apply for a Fullbright scholarship, work on the next big thing (which is also vague), etc. Point being, graduating and deciding what to do afterwards is non-trivial.
Ah, the paradox of choice.
As recent college graduates, we too were impaired by the number of opportunities available for us. As they say, finish college and the world is your oyster. Indeed, it ate us alive.
Incremental Goal Setting
With this knowledge, how can one avoid the pitfalls associated with having too many options? The first and foremost obvious answer would be this: narrow down your options. This does not necessarily mean you’re eliminating options altogether, you’re simply identifying the most feasible ones that are actionable and current with what you want. Think about it, it’s impossible to do all things at once; however, executing a few manageable ones is a much better start than not doing anything at all.
This process of narrowing down options touches upon a technique that is key to any sort of achievement, that is, the process of incremental goal setting. The idea is simple, looking at any insurmountable goal is daunting, especially if you’re extremely far away from accomplishing it. Breaking a goal into smaller actionable steps, however, not only simplifies the process, but it enables you to move forward. In other words, incremental goal settings allows you to breathe and take things one step at a time.
It is also important to note that incremental goal setting is simply a part of the entire process; arguably, the more crucial step is the act of fully committing to those goals until a reasonable conclusion has been reached. This involves consistency and being able to push through with unwavering grit (more on this in future articles).
Lastly, whether our goal has been accomplished or not, we need to determine when it’s time to reassess our current goals and refine them to fit our discoveries. Let’s face it, we don’t always get what we want, nonetheless, the various learnings along the way are invaluable and crucial to identifying the next steps.
Decision making and personal advancement are hindered when we’re faced with situations where subjectivity is intrinsic. The key to preventing this is simply being deliberate and conscious about our thoughts and actions, “seeing how things goes” should never be a criterion especially if a specific result is desired. The approach of setting incremental goals, fully committing to them, and refining goals along the way may not necessarily get exactly what you want, but it’ll surely get you pretty damn close.