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Choosing the 'not ham' option...

About 15 years ago, my husband and I were visiting a couple of his friends in Hobart. Greg, one of our hosts, and I popped out to get some lunch supplies from the local supermarket and were standing in front of the deli. As the delegate from our group who doesn't eat ham, it was my job to choose the 'non ham' option of sandwich meats to take back to the house for lunch. As I was standing there, overwhelmed by a vast array of salamis, chicken loaf, pastrami, corned beef - the list goes on. I started to factor in the other elements of making the choice - aware that my host would be paying for it and not wanting to get something that was too expensive, the taste preferences of other people who would be joining us, the shelf life of each item. Soon I was paralysed with indecision and the only thing that I could hear in my head was a voice pressuring me to make the right choice, now!

What Greg did next changed my whole perspective. He told me that if I couldn't choose, he would get the chicken loaf, but that it was still my choice to make. In that moment, not only did he give me a price point to work around, but also he freed up my working memory. Suddenly instead of comparing every option, with all of their positives and negatives, to every other option, I was now comparing each option to the chicken loaf, one by one, and if something was better, I forgot the chicken loaf and compared to the new meat, until I had the best choice. It was suddenly so easy to discount three quarters of the offerings and I was left with a handful of choices to make. It took me seconds to think things through and decide on the mild Hungarian salami.

I still use this strategy every day of my life so that I don't need to be overwhelmed by the small things. I know where I usually park the car, and what brand of items I buy from the shop. I know how my day flows and the routines in my life. I know these things, not to be rigid, or to inhibit my flexibility, but rather to enable me to make clear informed decisions within my working memory capabilities. So that when something changes or is a little bit different, I can compare the options I have available to me and respond quickly. I'm not saying it always works, or I get everything right, but I now avoid the analysis paralysis that comes from being overwhelmed with more than I can manage.

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