I am generally pretty good at making decisions. I try to understand the pros and cons (as much as that is possible or makes sense), ask others for their input, and try to remember that perfect can become the enemy of good.

But there are some areas in which I consistently feel I spend too much time trying to make a decision and am often stressed by my efforts to “get it right”: ordering food in restaurants and booking airline travel.

I am very passionate about food. I believe that my life offers a fixed and decreasing stock of meal opportunities, and I hate few things more than a bad meal. I agonize over what to pick from a restaurant menu. I consult waiters, only to turn around and doubt their expertise or motives. I review the choice of fellow diners (giving me at least sample size access to their dishes). I don’t shy away from adding people on neighboring tables to the deliberations. I consider my previous and my next meal, and try to decide if the fact that I may only get to try a house speciality once, trumps the unfortunate event that I don’t really feel like eating that particular speciality right that moment. I am generally happy with my choices, but I am not sure all that back and forth really helps me make better decisions.

Airline travel is different. I know that my travel is more comfortable and less expensive because I have spent (too) much time reviewing various options. But I am still not sure it is worth the time. Just some of the factors I try to balance are route (duh), safety (Lufthansa), comfort (not Lufthansa), frequent flier benefits (Lufthansa again) and price. I should add that I generally fly economy which means the ability to access better seats, e.g. emergency exit row seats, is pretty important (Lufthansa again, but also Virgin Atlantic).

In both of these cases I struggle with the combination of imperfect information and the strong desire to make a good decision, which makes it difficult to calculate at which point further effort only produces diminishing returns. As Ghost Dog, in the wonderful Jim Jarmusch film, says one should make decisions within the space of 7 breaths. I always loved that principle, even though I so thoroughly struggle to apply it my choice of burger. Or maybe rather the Reuben sandwich? And I don’t think one should really make all decisions within 7 breaths (especially if those breaths have even a hint of bourbon in them).

In any case, I started reading The Art of Choosing which, I hope, will provide both intellectual grounding and some real world examples. I think I’ll go with the Reuben…