This or that, this or that, this or that? My mind goes back and forth like I’m watching a tennis match, weighing the pros and cons of each side. Suddenly, my thoughts are interrupted by a voice asking me what I want, but I don’t know what I want. The waiter must see the panic in my eyes, but too much time has passed and I simply must make a decision. Reluctantly, I utter, “this,” instantly wondering if “this” will be better than “that.”

According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 72% of Americans ages 18-36 ate out at least once in the past week. If you’re a big foodie like me, making a decision at a restaurant can seem daunting, especially when the menu resembles a novel. So how can you overcome decision paralysis when the menu is the paper version of Marry Poppin’s bag?

Process of Elimination

Prabal Tiwari

According to Columbia Business School professor and expert on choice, Sheena Iyengar, cutting is key. Cutting means you must narrow down what you want by looking at what you don’t want. On a menu, the best place to start with this is by looking at the headings. Menus automatically categorize for you: chicken, burgers, salads, steak - so don’t read the whole menu.

It is best to go into the restaurant with a preconceived notion of what you are in the mood for and stick to that category. This helps limit the number of options which can result in a higher satisfaction rate, according to psychologist Barry Schwartz.

Stop What If-ing

Prabal Tiwari

Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice reveals that too much choice, while essential to freedom, can be paralyzing. With so many options, you can’t help but think about how another option could’ve made you feel more satisfied. For every decision that you make, there is an opportunity cost that subtracts from your satisfaction, also known as the great “what if.”

With so many choices, expectations rise, and you are the only one responsible for the outcome. This dissatisfaction is rather new as the number of options for a single product has expanded in recent years. To combat this, try to imagine yourself with a plate in front of you and what you want to be there.

Set a Deadline

Prabal Tiwari

Parkinson’s Law, according to the Business Dictionary, means that the more time you allot for an activity, the more likely you are to fill that time. For example if you give yourself an hour to do an assignment, you will most likely use up that whole hour because you’ve already scheduled it into your day, even if the assignment only requires 30 minutes.

To help indecisive restaurant-goers like me, you can correlate the amount of time you dedicate to a decision with its importance. Put the decision into perspective and remind yourself that this is a small decision that won’t impact you at all tomorrow. Start by giving yourself two minutes to make a decision and gradually decrease the amount of time by 15 seconds until you are deciding in a reasonable amount of time. Being decisive is a practice, and the more you do it, the quicker you’ll be.

Next time you’re at The Swamp Restaurant, Chick Fil-A, or Bento asking yourself “this or that, this or that?” remember to use the process of elimination, stop what if-ing, or set a deadline in order to decisively say “this.”