You're probably familiar with FOMO.
[This guy invented the term]
That's short for "Fear Of Missing Out." It's that feeling you get when it seems everyone else is doing something better than what you're doing now. But there's another FO you need to know about, and it's far more dangerous. It's called FOBO, and it's short for "Fear Of a Better Option."
[The Way We Work]
We live in a world of overwhelming choice. Even decisions that used to be simple, like choosing a restaurant or making everyday purchases, are now fraught with overanalysis. Technology has only made the issue more pronounced. If you want to buy a pair of white shoelaces online, you have to sort through thousands of items and read through hundreds of reviews. That's an astounding amount of information to process to just buy two pieces of string that cost less than your morning latte.
Chances are you've experienced FOBO when you've struggled to choose just one from a group of perfectly acceptable outcomes. It's a symptom of a culture which sees value in collecting and preserving as many options as possible.
You might wonder why all of this is so bad. It seems counterintuitive. Shouldn't it be a privilege to have so many good options to choose from? The problem is, FOBO induces such severe analysis paralysis that it can negatively impact both your personal and professional life. When you can't make decisions with conviction, you waste precious time and energy.
Luckily, there is a way to overcome FOBO. Here's a secret. With any decision you make, you first have to determine the stakes, as this will inform your decision-making strategy. When it comes down to it, you only really face three types of decisions in life: high stakes, low stakes and no stakes.
Let's start with no-stakes decisions. These are the minor details of life, where there is almost never an incorrect answer, and in a few hours, you won't even remember making the decision. A good example of this is choosing what to watch on TV. With thousands of shows, it's easy to get overwhelmed, yet no matter what you pick, the consequences are basically nonexistent. So spending more than a few moments on FOBO is a massive waste of energy. You just need to move on.
When it comes to no-stakes decisions, the key is to outsource them to the universe. For example, you can whittle down your choices to just two and then flip a coin. Or try my personal favorite — ask the watch. Assign each one of your choices to one half of your watch, then let the second hand tell you what you're going to do. Looks like I'll be having the fish.
That brings us to low-stakes decisions. These have consequences, but none are earth-shattering, and there are plenty of acceptable outcomes. Many routine things at work, like purchasing a printer, booking a hotel or choosing between possible venues for an off-site are classically low-stakes in nature. Some thinking is required, but these aren't make-or-break deliberations, and you'll probably forget about them in a few weeks. Here, you can also outsource decision-making, but you want some critical thinking involved, as there are some stakes. This time, you'll outsource to a person.
Set some basic criteria, select someone to present a recommendation, and then take their advice. Make sure to avoid the temptation to canvass. Your goal is to clear your plate, not to kick the can down the road.
Now that you tackled low-stakes and no-stakes decisions, you've created the space and time you'll need to handle high-stakes decisions. These are things like "which house should I buy" or "which job should I accept." Since the stakes are high and there are long-term implications, you absolutely want to get it right.
Before we get to work, let's establish a few basic principles to guide you through the process. First, think about what really matters to you, and set your criteria accordingly.
Second, gather the relevant facts. Make sure you collect data about all of the options, so you can be confident that you're truly making an informed decision.
And third, remember that FOBO, by nature, comes when you struggle to choose just one from a group of perfectly acceptable options. So no matter what you choose, you can rest assured that the downside is limited.
Now that you've established some ground rules, the process can begin. Start by identifying a front-runner based on your intuition, then compare each of your options head-to-head with the front-runner, one-by-one. Each time, choose the better of the two based on the criteria, and discard the other one. Here's the trick to avoiding FOBO. When you eliminate an option, it's gone forever. If you keep returning to discarded options, you risk getting stuck. Now repeat this process until you get down to one final choice.
If you follow this system, you will usually end up with a decision on your own. On the rare occasion that you get stuck, you will outsource the final decision to a small group of qualified people who you trust and who are equipped to provide you with guidance on this particular topic. Engage a group of five or less, ideally an odd number of people so that you have a built-in tiebreaker if you need it.
Now that you've made your choice, one last challenge remains. You have to commit. I can't promise you that you'll ever truly know if you've made the perfect decision, but I can tell you this: a significant percentage of people in the world will never have to worry about FOBO. Unlike the billions of people who have few options, if any, due to war, poverty or illness, you have plentiful opportunities to live decisively. You may not get everything you want, but the mere fact you get to decide is powerful.
In fact, it's a gift. Make the most of it.