Your local grocery store probably stocks 150 varieties of salad dressing. There are countless choices of items in that one store. WalMart must contain hundreds of thousands of items. It is impossible to keep up with everything there is to choose from.
Have you ever bought something like a cell phone and were very excited about it until you saw someone else’s that had just one feature you didn’t get?
Your really nice cell phone suddenly seemed less wonderful than it had a moment before. This is the problem of too many choices.
Barry Schwartz writes about our confusion with choices in detail in his fascinating book, the Paradox of Choice. He explains why the results of our boom in technology are making us less content despite all the improvements in creature comforts we have.
As your choices in life multiply at an astronomical rate, your happiness and satisfaction are actually going down.
The first reason is that you are probably overwhelmed by the constant level of choice you have to make. For example, cell phones, tablets, laptops and other technological wonders have made it possible to work at any time and from most any place.
This means that you must constantly decide whether you should be working or not. It is no longer a decision about what time to go home for the night; it is a repeated decision on whether that call, email or problem needs to be handled right away. Is what I am doing this moment more or less important than that work item?
We no longer rest, relax or have fun in the uninterrupted way that we used to do.
Have you ever noticed that when you have too many options to choose from that you become paralyzed? This happens on simple things like purchasing a new product and on big, important things like “what do I want to do for a career?” This is why good parents give their young children only a few options, “Do you want to wear the red shirt today or the blue one?”
As a coach, I am always helping people find ways to narrow the options and get past paralysis. It also helps a lot in overcoming paralysis to remember that a choice is rarely permanent and that later you can chose something different.
This leads us right to the next problem from having too many choices – what my mother called “buyer’s remorse”. Buyer’s remorse is questioning the decision you have just made – whether it is a purchase, a life decision or whether to take a phone call.
When there are many, many choices, it is very easy to notice the positive aspects of what you have NOT chosen. This induces regret, even when you have made a good choice, and you are quickly less happy than you could have been about your decision.
Regret is only one aspect of buyer’s remorse… the other is self-blame. You look at the choice you made and know that with all those possibilities, the perfect solution must be out there.
Once you start chasing that perfect solution, you are dooming yourself to unhappiness.
You blame yourself for settling – you think you should have been able to find the best or at least something better than this.
Society has gone too far and given us too many choices. In order to maintain your happiness and satisfaction, it is up to you to limit your own choices. Set your own limits and have ways to lessen the impact of paralysis, buyer’s remorse, and self-blame.
How does the huge number of choices in our world affect your day to day life? What are ways that you can make limits for yourself to eliminate some choices? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.