Do you take hours to make a decision because… well, what if is not the best option?!
It may range from something simple like being unable to decide what to pick from a menu in a restaurant, which colour your new trainers should be, or your next holiday destination/accommodation, and ultimately not being able to commit to anything or anyone fully because… what if there’s something better.
If you just smacked the table yelling “that’s me!!”…
… then, you may be struggling with FOBO – the fear of a better option.
In this article, I want to help you understand what FOBO is, why people struggle with it, give you a bunch of ways how you can manage it or even eliminate it and be content with your decisions.
What is FOBO:
FOBO is the Fear Of Better Option. In other words, when you’re hesitant to make a decision because something better may come along or that the choice you’ll have made wasn’t the best possible one.
Signs you may be suffering from FOBO:
Thinking your options through and being strategic about your life choices is not a bad thing. There are certainly many scenarios where you want to be sure about the choices you’re making, such as when you’re changing careers, buying a house or marrying someone.
There, take your time and weigh out all the options (I suppose “all the options” refers more to the career and buying a house scenarios rather than who to marry. If you have multiple options at the same time…it may be a whole other problem. But who am I to judge. 😉)
But, if you’re struggling to make a decision about options that are relatively inconsequential, spending an unnecessary amount of time on it, falling into the “paralysis by analysis” and ultimately procrastinating to make the decision, then you are most likely suffering from FOBO.
I call FOBOists: Maximisers. People who want to maximise their opportunities and options.
I’d identify myself as a mostly recovered maximiser. It’s under control, for the most part.
Changing my mindset around it made my life much simpler and me much happier.
More about this below.
How FOBO is affecting your life:
While being a maximiser sounds like a potentially beneficial tendency (…erm, we could easily call it an obsession. It’s an obsession) that would lead to “more or better”, it can be extremely exhausting, anxiety-inducing, and leave you unhappy anyway, regardless of what choices you made.
Here are a few negative impacts of FOBO:
- You waste your time overanalysing all the options, doing research OR just imagining what would each of the options be like, and trying to identify the perfect option. It may be minutes, but it can also be weeks or months.
- FOBO is never happy. You may do all the research and comparisons but even after you’ve picked the best option, FOBO will often leave you doubtful whether you’ve made a wrong decision.
- It makes you negative. FOBO is very often about avoiding the negatives/mistakes rather than gaining the positives. Sounds paradoxical but when you pay attention to it, it’s so. So then, it makes you OVER-focus on all the negatives of all the options, including the one you will eventually pick. This can skew your whole perception of your choice.
The biggest negative impact of FOBO is that it keeps you “in-between” the options. You’re not walking away, neither you’re making your choice.
As Sadhguru said: “Being in between, neither here nor there is always torture. In fact, that is how you torture someone, you keep them in between being alive and being dead. That is torture.”
Another danger is that if left “untreated” it usually gets worse and starts spilling into other areas of your life and into smaller and smaller decisions. Do you know the people standing in front of the menu in a fast-food restaurant or in the cereal aisle in a supermarket with stress and desperation on their faces?
That could be you!
Below, I’ll share a number of methods you can use to work on and through FOBO, to simplify your decision-making process, make decisions easier and most importantly, be content with the choices that you’ve made.
Wouldn’t it be nice?
The logical ways of overcoming FOBO
First I’ll share a few logical and pragmatic methods and thoughts that will help you overcome FOBO.
1) Have a predetermined rule or conditions.
I really like this method and it’s something I started using years ago, especially for simple decisions such as what to pick from the menu.
The method is based on creating rules and heuristics to fall back on when indecision creeps up.
Here are a few examples I used in the past when I couldn’t decide:
- When ordering pizza ➡️ I’d pick the one with fewer calories.
- When eating in the restaurant ➡️ I’d pick something I haven’t had before AND/OR the healthier option.
- When ordering cocktails ➡️ I’d pick the cheaper one.
- When deciding whether to workout/run or not ➡️ the answer is always YES.
It’s important that you predetermine these rules beforehand AND ideally align them with some greater goal. For me, the above examples were typically about being healthier or not spending money pointlessly.
2) Understanding Your Fear: Risk Reversibility.
As mentioned above, FOBO is often about not making the wrong choice, rather than making the right choice.
I’ve worked with a number of clients on FOBO and FOMO and when we explored their fear of what may happen if they make the wrong choice, the impact was usually absolutely negligible and most of the time-reversible.
A simple example would be me ordering running shoes. There are usually several models I have my eye on and I'm never quite sure which size to pick. What I do now is: if I can't decide which model I prefer, I order them all in multiple sizes and try them on. Once they are on my feet I know which one fits and feels best. The rest I send back. If I don't like any (never happens, but hypothetically… 😂) then I'd send them all back. The downside is £5 postage which is well worth saving days of chewing on which shoes I like better.
Ultimately, my choice is reversible if I’m not happy.
A less trivial example may be a job offer you get. I’ve honestly seen people FOBOing around amazing job offers just because… well, what if I get something even better?? Or what if this turns out to be less good than they promise?
Well, then you find something else. Or do you expect this to be your last job?
TIP: If you get stuck, ask yourself whether your decision is actually final or reversible?
And, if you made the wrong choice, how bad would it really be?
3) Hats and Numbers – Understanding the Range
This is going to be a bit metaphorical but stay with me.
Imagine I have a hat with ping-pong balls where each has a number written on it.
Your goal is to pull out a ball with as high a number as possible.
You reach in and pull out a ball with the number 37.
I ask you whether you want to keep it or pick another one.
Would you keep it?
It’s hard to answer, isn’t it? Because you don’t know what the range of the numbers in the hat is.
From one draw, you can’t know if the numbers range from 0 – 40 or from 0 – 100,000.
What if you keep trying and pull out these numbers. (I’ve ordered them for clarity).
3 – 11 – 17 – 29 – 37 – 54 – 79 – 112 – 334 – 415 – 678 – 1439 – 2124
How do you feel about 37 now?
What happened there?
The more numbers you pull out the clearer idea you get about the range of the options.
The only way to do this is to pull many numbers, most of which will be “less than maximum option”, essentially, mistakes.
But then, when you pull another ball with 2003 number on it, you know it’s almost as good as it can get.
You’d probably be quite content to keep that one as any other drawn number would most likely be smaller than 2003.
How does this apply to FOBO?
The idea is that you’re better off making more decisions faster even though they will be sub-optimal because it will help you understand how “good” things can get. This will help you make more accurate decisions in the future as well as be content with your choices.
In practice, I have my favourite pizza place. When we started ordering from there, I ordered pizza called Fiesta De Carne. It was amazing. But, the maximiser in me though - what if the other pizzas are even better? So for the next number of times I've ordered different pizzas. And you know what? They were not better. So now, I understand the spectrum of how good the pizzas are and always order my Fiesta De Carne and I'm very content with it. Had I not done it and kept ordering FDC, I'd probably be wondering whether the others are even better and I'd enjoy mine less. Crazy, but that's how FOBO can mess with your mind.
4) Knowing your long-term outcome.
Very often, the battle of options is between what we should do and what we want right now.
What we SHOULD DO is usually a somewhat less satisfying option but with the long-term benefit towards the greater goal/good.
What we WANT right now tends to be instant gratification, the naughty choice that may take us a few steps back, is uncomfortably bending our values, but… we want it!!!
A simple heuristic that can save you a lot of headaches (and buyer’s remorse) is preferring the options that align better with your long-term goals. Whether it may be fitness, wealth, freedom, fulfilment, etc.
It all may sound oversimplistic, but that is the goal. To make your life simpler.
The key is to set a rule (when your head is clear) and then honour/obey the rule because you know it’s for the greater good. It will feel good. You have my word.
5) If you can’t clearly tell…
This is one of my favourite FOBO logics.
If you can’t clearly tell which option is better, then they are probably comparable.
They all have pros and cons that are balancing them out.
Here is the mind fu*k!
NO MATTER which one you choose, it won’t feel like a clear home run and there may be some “I wonder what the other one would have been like” thinking afterwards.
It is important to understand that sometimes there is no clear winner.
In such a situation, I’d refer back to the long-term goal alignment principle.
Don’t mistake BETTER with DIFFERENT. Sometimes we’re attracted to other options just because they are different. Different is not always better. We like new things. But new things become old very quickly.
The emotional way of overcoming FOBO
If you’re a highly empathetic and emotionally tuned-in person, the pragmatic approaches above may not be your cup of tea. But, don’t despair, below are a few methods you may find resonating with you a bit more (no pun intended).
6) Listen to your gut
Sometimes, we have a gut feeling about things.
May it be about people, places, or situations.
Many people trust their gut feeling and there is a good reason why we should.
Apart from thoughts, our brain is communicating with us in many different ways through our body.
Blushes, goosebumps, shivers down your spine, trembling, stomach butterflies, and many others… are all physiological expressions of what our brain perceived and is trying to tell you something through.
Our conscious mind and attention can only process a small amount of information at any given time (7 +/- 2). However, research showed that our subconscious mind is actually processing a significantly greater amount of information “in the background”.
That weird gut feeling you may got about a person who approached you asking for direction even though they were perfectly polite, that was your brain letting you know that something was not right.
While you were busy trying to answer and assess the obvious about the person, your brain noted their body language, tone of voice, eye gaze, body movements, clothes, tidiness, (and much more) and how it all fits with the environment and with what they were saying, compared it to all your other previous experiences and knowledge… and something did not match. Incongruency is usually a big warning sign of deception and even though you didn’t notice, your brain did and let you know by making you feel unease, trying to make you leave the situation.
There is a lot of well-documented as well as anecdotal evidence of firefighters, surgeons, police officers, and other professionals as well as the general public who acted on their gut feeling and prevented various disasters. (To make it clear: There is nothing supernatural about it. )
So, your gut feeling may be your subconscious mind that analysed your options in much greater detail letting you know what to go for and what to avoid.
7) Feel the coin
And finally, I have a very simple but strangely insightful method that will help you make your choices.
All you’ll need is a coin. But, you don’t just flip it.
First, assign your two options to the heads and tails.
Then you flip the coin. Cover it with your hand as it lands.
Now, there are two ways you can go about this (I’m realising I probably should not be giving you unnecessary options but… it’s all good to practice).
Before you look at the coin, check with yourself: What do you hope it to be? It may be just a little glimpse of preference. But if there is one, that may be a sign.
Lift your hand and look at which side of your coin is up.
Whichever it is, pay attention to how you feel or to your gut when you found out what it is.
Were you happy? Or were you like, ahh.. man!
Again, it may be very subtle. But if there is a reaction, it may be a sign.
Neither of these methods is actually about the outcome itself, but how you feel about it.
Have a go at the various methods I’ve shared. Try them all, and see how they work for you.
The most important for overcoming FOBO is self-awareness. Notice when you’re in analysis paralysis, choice overload, and getting stuck making decisions. Then try to apply some of the methods I shared.
Once you’ve decided, pay attention to how you “live with your choices”.
By that I mean, that you’re enjoying them rather than wondering what the other things might be like.
That you’re proud of making A choice rather than being stuck.
It’s usually the stress and worry after making a decision that comes from obsessing about whether they’ve made the best choice that makes it even more difficult and terrifying to decide next time.
Get clear on your values and long-term goals and direction. If you align your decision with those, all becomes much easier and more enjoyable.
And finally, have fun, life is too short.
If you can reverse your decision, don’t obsess over it.
PS: If FOBO is something you really struggle with and you’d like to work with me privately to help you be more decisive, contact me here and let’s see what can be done.