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Option-Paralysis

Sacrifice choice to gain focus and momentum.

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This article was originally posted on HumanConnection.blog

I never used to struggle choosing background music for my videos.

There were only a few hundred quality royalty-free songs available, a handful in each different genre and mood. Is it an upbeat video? Pick one of these five songs. Calm and contemplative? Here are three options.

Sure, I was a little tired of the same few songs, and it was disappointing hearing the same song on so many videos from so many different creators, but at least it only took a few minutes and then I was back to focusing on creating content that would connect with an audience.

Then came the birth of high-end, massive, royalty-free music library subscription services. And at first, I was in love.

Choices, choices everywhere

For just $15 per month I had access to not just one hundred songs, but hundreds of thousands of songs – in every genre and cross-genre imaginable, and searchable by everything from tempo to mood to project.

Looking for a quirky, inspiring, jazz fusion piece between 124 and 132 beats-per-minute?

Here are 400 options.

Recently I was creating a 20-second intro for the new season of the Beyond Networking podcast, to play at the beginning of every episode. What should have taken me 30 minutes took 3 hours. Why? Because I listened to literally hundreds of songs before committing.

Two and a half hours choosing a song. Thirty minutes to build and edit the intro.

As a self-employed freelancer, that is arguably a massive misuse of precious resources, energy, and time.

Stranded and Jobless

As fate would have it, I was editing the season premier with guest Carolene Méli. Carolene spent 10 years travelling the world with Cirque du Soleil as the Head of VIP Events and Concierge, until COVID wiped out the global live entertainment industry and Cirque declared bankruptcy, eliminating 3,500 jobs overnight.

When Carolene and I had a chance encounter via LinkedIn back in November 2020, I immediately invited her on the podcast to share her Pivot story.

During our conversation, Carolene explained that when the world went into lockdown she was stranded at an AirBnB in France with nothing but a backpack and her phone. Suddenly jobless, she immediately got to work building a new career for herself.

Her big Pivot was to go into coaching and consulting as an Experience Strategist. She needed to completely overhaul her website and develop an entire brand as quickly as possible.

The problem? Having only planned on being in France for a few days before Cirque’s next stop, she didn’t even have a laptop.

In order to get a website and marketing up-and-running, Carolene had to make repeated calls to a designer back home who could do the work for her. But her designer needed to know what to put, and where.

Back to basics

So Carolene grabbed an old-fashioned pen and paper and started sending photos of hand drawn diagrams to her designer.

“The result is I didn’t do anything hastily. I was literally with pen and paper. I felt like a cavewoman. I couldn’t make quick changes on my website.”

She want on to say, “I’m a little bit scatterbrained sometimes, but doing it that way meant that by the time I actually got a laptop, I was so intentional about everything I had created during lockdown, that when I implemented it was incredibly efficient, and at an incredibly high standard.”

Less really is more

The key takeaway for me in speaking with Carolene is that we can choose to remove “option-paralysis” from our lives.

There are an infinite amount of powerful tools at our disposal, many of which are free if not historically cheap and accessible. But those options mean it’s incredibly difficult to make choices because there’s always a sense we’ve left something better on the table.

There’s always a better song than the one I chose.

There’s always a better restaurant than the one we ordered from.

There’s always a better show than the one we’re watching.

Carolene accidentally learned the power of artificially restricting her options, that by sacrificing choice, we can gain focus and momentum.

Listen on the podcast, or watch our full conversation here:

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