The Choice Is Yours: How To Make Confident Decisions In Your 20s

If you ask a 3-year-old an open-ended question, like what she'd like to eat for lunch, you’d both be standing in front of an open refrigerator all day.

To help develop decision-making skills, children should be presented with various options throughout the day in order to ease them into making their own choices.

When there are only a few choices to pick from, children are better able to decide which option is better than the others.

I'm comparable to a 3-year-old child when I am at the nail salon.

With hundreds of nail polish colors lined up with names like “Going My Way or Norway?," “Hotter Than You Pink," “Lincoln Park After Dark” and everything else in between, how can the nail technician expect me to choose a color in a reasonable amount of time?

"Do I go with my go-to light pink? Do I try something new?"

"But, what if I hate it tomorrow?"

I become anxious and unsure about something so trivial, and I can't help it.

I never thought about how the quantity of choices we have can impact our decision-making skills, until now.

Being a 20-something about to embark on my journey into the real world (and things like getting my nails done) has brought to my attention all of the decisions I have made in the past, am making in the present and will have to make in the future.

According to many psychologists, including researchers Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, there is a phenomenon called "choice overload."

Through a research study using jam tastings, the pair found that when people were presented with only six flavors of jam to choose from, 30 percent of patrons bought their preferred flavor of jam.

When patrons were presented with 24 jam flavors, only 3 percent of consumers could decide on a flavor to buy.

Although the excessive number of flavors seems intriguing (since people think more options give us freedom of expression), that amount of choice is overwhelming for the human brain.

Today, when the Internet has exponentially increased the number of goods available, schools to attend or jobs to apply for, it seems 20-somethings are more worried or unhappy than ever about the decisions they have made. Is it because of choice overload?

The people I know who are the most confused and unsure about the future are the ones with the most choices to make and the most choices to choose from.

Do too many choices make us choose the wrong choices?

For me, deciding where to attend college was easy because I only applied to four schools, and I really only wanted to attend two. Choosing a major, however, was difficult.

I was so carefree as a teenager, when I decided what I would do for the rest of my life, I just Googled the highest paying careers and chose one.

Iyengar would say the value of my choice (to enroll in the pre-physical therapy doctorate program) depended on my ability to perceive differences between the options.

I saw no difference at the time from becoming a physical therapist, teacher or an accountant; it seemed so far away, I figured I would learn how to do whatever I chose.

I made my poor and uninformed choice to study physical therapy because there were so many majors to choose from.

I was overwhelmed, disinterested and blatantly didn’t care: I just had to pick one. I lasted two quarters, if that.

I made an appointment with my academic advisor and decided to go into the field of communication and public relations because I asked, and I quote, “What does Samantha from 'Sex and the City' do? I think I want to do that.” (Again, I was carefree, but whatever; it worked out.)

Another reason 20-somethings tend to procrastinate while choosing something, like what city to move to, is because of all the possibilities of the rejected options.

We worry about closing one door and opening another because of the “what ifs."

“What if I move to Nashville and meet the man of my dreams? If I don’t move there, I won’t meet him."

We dwell on the thought that we may be making the wrong choice because we truly don’t know what the “right” choice is.

Meg Jay, PhD, a lecturer, psychologist and author of "The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How To Make The Most Of Them Now," brings her audience into the sessions and lives of her 20-something-year-old clients in her private practice of clinical psychology.

Jay touches on the idea of uncertainty 20-somethings harbor, especially while choosing career paths.

Not choosing anything seems easier than choosing something you don’t know how to obtain, but as Jay tells one of her clients, "Not making choices isn't safe. The consequences are just further away in time, like in your thirties or forties."

This may be a harsh wake-up call for many 20-somethings who just want to have fun and live it up.

Many 20-somethings don’t know how to get their sh*t together and have fun, but it is possible!

All of those "shoulda, coulda, woulda" thoughts that run through your mind while you waver back and forth between different options are healthy and necessary thoughts to grow and mature into promising adults.