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Red or Yellow?

This is ridiculous but here it is: I was gifting myself a pair of loafers and when it came time to actually choose a pair, I couldn’t decide. For weeks, I was paralyzed with indecision about a pair of freaking shoes I was buying for fun.

The rational side of my brain got stuck on practical things like which color I would wear more often and whether my skin tone could pull off that color.

But then it got…weirder. Like the choice between loafers was actually a choice between two identities: Am I the type of person who wears red loafers or the type of person who wears yellow loafers? Or maybe I should tone it down and admit I’m a GRAY LOAFER PERSON?

Who even are you, Margo?!?!

It was ridiculous. Like why was an insignificant shoe decision spiraling me into an existential crisis??

If you’re judging me, you’re right to be, it was very weird. I’ll attest to being vain any day of the week but INDECISIVE?!?! You can take my decisiveness from my cold dead hands.

I sort of forgot about the whole thing until a client of mine shared some notes from a talk she was giving on decision fatigue (HMU if you’re looking for a speaker on this topic, Michelle is uh-mazing).

ANYWAY, she was telling me that decision fatigue happens from over-reliance on System 2 thinking and physical exhaustion. To which I was like, “Come again?”

[Quick refresher on your Kahneman and Amos: System 1 is your old lizard feeling brain (let’s call it your gut), System 2 is your rational thinking brain.]

When we overwhelm our System 1 (SO MANY FEELINGS) or straight-up avoid it because feelings are hard and can’t be trusted, we put System 2 in overdrive. Basically, we’re thinking too much, which is why we can’t think at all. And little decisions, like WHAT COLOR SHOES TO BUY, start to feel encumbering and impossible.

Your brain is literally like, “I’m out.”

Now, Michelle can give you all the tips and tools to prevent and navigate decision fatigue, but what I got stuck on is why we are overloading System 2??!!?

Aren’t we supposed to think more? Wouldn’t we all benefit from that?

Yes, but also no.

Not all decisions are equal. And right now we’ve lost the capacity to differentiate between BIG WEIGHTY decisions and small insignificant ones. Part of this is pandemic, part of this is systemic. The systemic part is what I’m interested in.

The systemic part is the part where we’ve internalized a fear of consequences for making the WRONG decision. And that fear is fueling our over-reliance on System 2. We’re not using our rational brain to make better decisions, we’re using our rational brains to avoid feeling.

We’re avoiding feeling to the point where we can’t decide what we would LIKE: red shoes or yellow shoes?

This is not a question with a correct answer. It’s a question of personal preference and desire.

In a few weeks, I’m giving a talk on why it’s easy to market others and not yourself and this is part of it. When we’re afraid of messing up, we over-rely on data to tell us how to do things, when the decision is a matter of personal preference.

The irony of over-relying on thinking is we lose the capacity to think for ourselves.

That requires some feeling. Tapping into your gut, your preferences, and (my favorite) your desires. Sometimes it’s ok to want something for no good reason besides you want it.

Not all decisions need to be optimized, in fact, you might be robbing yourself of some great lessons by preventing yourself from messing up. The best marketing and sales wins usually come from your needing to clean up a mess you made when you made a decision that turned out to be wrong.

We gotta lower the stakes here people. It’s marketing, not rocket science.

Let the data scientists and engineers codify us, our job is to remember our humanity. And take a lesson from my toddler: When you click the screen of the iPad enough times, you figure out how it works.

Your lizard brain is smarter than you think.

Let yourself use it.


PS: If you’d like some help accessing that lizard brain, I can help.

PPS: And, yes, I went with the bright red loafers, obviously.