What takes your attention?

As a parent, as an educator and a general member of society I find I am constantly being bombarded with decision making on how to spend time, how to spend money and what to involve the kids in. The kids come home with so many different opportunities as to how they can spend their time. It can be exhausting working out what to say yes and no to. It is easy to get caught up in what we think we should be doing instead of what we need to be doing.


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Jonathan Harris has had many opportunities in life. ( See the full article in ‘Daily Good‘) He has traveled the world, including visiting Richard Branson’s island as a guest. Jonathan was on the cusp of launching a company when he realised that that was not where he wanted to put his attention. The way he expressed how he felt is worth sharing.

“We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need.  Don’t let the media convince you to covet lives of celebrities.  Own your attention – it’s all you really have.”


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Satisficers and Maximizers

I want to start my blog today with a point of gratitude:

I felt so thankful last night that there were 57 views for the day on my blog! Out of that, many were Facebook referrals, so thankyou so much to those who contributed to this happening! It was so encouraging for me as a ‘blogger’ and I truly hope that you have been encouraged by the words I humbly write as I share the things I read.


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Whilst talking to a colleague about the topic of choice, and the difficulties it can present for some people, he shared a story. This colleague has twins who went to the Royal Adelaide Show, with $50 each to spend on showbags. One quickly bought a couple of bags and was happy with the purchases.  The other twin walked around for ages, looking, trying to work out the best deal and trying to decide which one they wanted. In the end, that twin went home upset and with no showbags!


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This is such a classic example of the way decision makers can be divided into two rough groups:

Satisficers and Maximizers

Satisficers are those who just get what is good enough.  Options are still considered but there is a minimum requirement that needs to be meet and then the choice can be made and they are generally happy with that.

Maximizers are those who hum and ha, they need to get the absolute best deal and all options are considered. These people find choice overload a problem as the more options that are available, the more things need to be considered.


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Unfortunately maximization does not come cheap (Ilona Boniwell ‘Positive Psychology in a Nutshell page 99). There are 5 areas that Schwartz and Ward, (2004) found impacted negatively for maximizers:

*Regret – what if I regret this decision?

*Opportunity costs – every choice we make has an opportunity cost.

*Escalation of expectations – with more choice one can expect more?!

*Self-blame – combine intensely high expectations with personal responsibility for failure.

*Time – the time spent making the choices could be spent with others.

In all honesty, maximizers usually end up doing better in life, but satisficers feel better.

“This is how more can end up being less, or at least so costly that it’s simply not worth it.” (ibid pg 99)


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(Schwartz has written a book “The paradox of choice, why more is less”.)

Schwartz and Ward then go on to suggest some useful pointers for us all when it comes to choice:

*We can learn to satisfice more and accept ‘good enough’.

*We can lower our expectations. (Unfulfilled but reasonably high expectations are the yellow brick road to depression.)

*We can avoid social comparisons and set our own standards.

*We can regret less and be grateful for what is good in life.

*We can choose the times for being a maximizer.

*We should stick to our choices and not change our minds.

*We can learn to love constraints – perhaps some constraints are blessings?


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As I read this I thought of myself and which label I usually fall under.  I understand that it is not good to ‘box’ ourselves and that we are often a combination of both. But, how can this knowledge of choice help us practically? I was thinking that it can enable me to help my own kids and kids in class when you see them stressing because of the choices in front of them.  It is great to know that there are different strategies that can be used!

Finally let’s remember choice only increases freedom up to a certain point, beyond which it actually restricts freedom.
(ibid pg 101)


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Too much choice?

For some reason, my 10 year old has not been enjoying his food!  I have used a few different approaches to get the food in.  This has ranged from giving him total free choice, to trying to tempt him with some special food, to giving no choice at all.

Today I was reading a chapter from Positive Psychology in a Nutshell titled ‘Freedom of Choice’. It seems that the amount of choice we have is not always a great thing.


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In 1970 a book was written by Alvin Toffler entitled Future Shock. It is amazing to see what was written then and how it relates to us now.

“The term ‘future shock’ refers to what happens when people are no longer able to cope with the profound and rapid changes and enormous amounts of information the super-industrial revolution brings with it. …………… One of the main threads running through the book is that of over choice and freedom that might, in a somewhat counter-intuitive way, take our very freedom away “. (pg 95 Positive Psychology in a Nutshell)

Overchoice is no longer a fear but a reality. For example, in 2004, the local supermarket had approximately 360 types of shampoo, conditioner, gel and mousse. (ibid page 96).


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I have known friends who have gone to the supermarket tired, stressed and fragile, who have arrived and then left with nothing due to the difficulty of making choices!

Interestingly, over the years when asked by my family how would I like to celebrate my birthday or Mother’s Day my answer has been ‘Anything, as long as I don’t have to make any decisions or choices!’


A ‘choice-free’ Mother’s Day!

There are several experiments that have been done that show that ‘instead of being liberating choice can be demotivating’. (Page 97) The more choice, the harder it is to be educated in the decision making and the more time it takes! The more choice, the more we may actually stick to what we know due to fear of the unknown.

What does this mean for the kids of today and what does this mean for us?  We are continually making decisions and choices. Sometimes it gets overwhelming! Will we make the right choice? What should I do?  There can be freedom and security in having choices made for us.

Back to my 10 year old. I have taken most of the choice of food away.  I know most of his likes and dislikes and have given him small samples of food and expected that it is eaten.  And, guess what? It has been!

What does this mean for our parenting? Our classrooms? Our relationships? I would love to hear what you think.


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