Skip to main content
This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

First world problem number 4,976: decisions.

Do you ever think about how many decisions you have to make in a day? Decisions you don’t even know you’re making but they stack up like little leeches sucking the life energy right out of your skin.

Here’s something I read: the average adult makes an estimated 35,000 decisions in a day. That sounds like a lot until you think about how many options of bread there are in the supermarket alone.

There is an entire aisle stretching from the front to the back of the store that is dedicated just to bread. There’s 5 grain and 12 grain and 21 grain, and what I want to know is can you even name 21 grains?

There’s 7 grain, but those are sprouted. There’s multi-grain, in case you didn’t know that 5, 7, 12, and 21 were multiple grains. Then there’s whole grain, but that only makes me wonder what if I want half grain? Or quite possibly three-quarters of a grain?

You’ve also got your blended grain and ancient grain, which I suppose came over on Noah’s Ark? And none of this takes into account seeds, which exponentially multiply the number of combinations you can have.

Add in whole wheat, honey wheat, white wheat, golden wheat, and now we’re talking googolplexes of bread.

But we’re still not done! Because there is still white bread, oat bread, potato bread and brioche. Not to mention gluten free bread, reduced calorie bread, enriched bread, “healthy” bread, I guess as opposed to the other 500 things on the shelf. And none of this takes into account the bread adjacent foodstuffs like pitas, wraps, buns, bagels and flatbreads.

By the way, this is just the actual bread aisle because if you walk to the opposite side of the store you have an entire bakery section dedicated to artisan bread and kaiser rolls and Portuguese rolls and baguettes and Italian bread and

I didn’t even have the energy to put the period on that sentence. Besides, I’m sure I left some things out.

When I go to the grocery store I just want… bread. But I have to make all these decisions about grains and seeds and things. I’ll be perfectly honest – now that bread is like five or seven or ten dollars a loaf, I just want the cheapest thing, but that requires calculus-levels of math skills by the time you’re done comparing weight to price to number of slices.

This is not the bread blog. But you can see how that one aisle could take up most of your day, right?

So let’s assume you can make it out of the grocery store in one piece and haven’t used up all 35,000 decisions on yogurt (Whole? 1%, 2%, 5%? Fat free? Plain? Vanilla? Strawberries on the bottom? Pineapple on the top?)

By now you’re exhausted and you need to fan yourself a little and lay on the couch. Maybe you put on the TV.

Remember when you had about seven channels, plus the one that just played snow? How simple life was! Then you got cable and about a billion channels, so all you did was flip-flip-flip-flip? Then we all cut the cord and got Netflix, and now you can scroll-scroll-scroll-scroll. But that’s only if you can make it past the menu on your screen that asks you to decide whether you want to actually watch Netflix, or maybe you want to watch Disney, or possibly HBO, or Showtime came free with your internet so maybe you should check that out. And what’s this Roku thing, anyway?

I actually read something once, and please don’t make me google it to prove it, about a study where people had to make a whole bunch of decisions and then the experimenters put a bowl of candy in front of them. Guess what the people did? Ate the bowl of candy. But when the experimenters put the same bowl of candy in front of people who didn’t have to make all those decisions, they were able to eat less or none at all.

The point was that willpower wasn’t the problem. Decision fatigue was. At some point you just can’t make another decision about whether or not to eat an entire bowl of candy.

It’s like the pumpkin pie spice malted milk balls. They’re still clamoring to be eaten, by the way. But the minute I bought them I decided that I was not going to eat them except for one or two on the weekends. I decided that BEFORE they arrived, before my brain got fogged over with whether or not to make a salad with dinner, or when to get on the Peloton, or how much time to spend deleting the 30,000 extra pictures off my server.

Some days, 35,001 decisions is just one too many.

Sometimes I wonder what it was like to live as an adult 50 or 100 years ago. I wonder if there were fewer decisions to make. There were certainly fewer decisions to make about bread. Fewer decisions about whether any given action would kill you. Is this plastic container going to kill me if I put it in the microwave? Will this apple kill me if it’s not organic? Will I die early if I sit in this chair too long maybe I should stand up or get on the treadmill or go outside am I getting enough sun or too much sun will it kill me?

I think we suffer from two modern conveniences: information and choice. There is a glut of both, and the decisions required to process them all makes it impossible to resist pumpkin pie spice malted milk balls.

Honestly, I think a lot of problems could be solved if nobody ever invented pumpkin pie spice malted milk balls in the first place.

Photo: don’t even get me started on picking a vitamin that won’t kill you. Or your bank account.