The Paradox of Choice

Last week I wrote about the dilemmas of too much information. It strikes me that too much information is like having too much choice. It complicates things, even though there’s a good side as well.

The paradox of choice caught my attention when I was teaching college classes about consumer issues. In the TED Talk below, researcher Barry Schwartz speaks about choosing consumer goods, but his findings can also be applied to health and wellness decisions.

Barry Schwartz studies the link between economics and psychology, and his work brings  insight into life in a consumer culture. The information accompanying his talk identifies the basis of his inquiry:

Barry Schwartz tackles one of the great mysteries of modern life: Why is it that societies of great abundance — where individuals are offered more freedom and choice (personal, professional, material) than ever before — are now witnessing a near-epidemic of depression? Conventional wisdom tells us that greater choice is for the greater good, but Schwartz argues the opposite. …Infinite choice is paralyzing, Schwartz argues, and exhausting to the human psyche.

Here are his common-sense recommendations for those of us bogged down in decision-making.

  1. Choose when to choose. Be willing to restrict your options when the decision isn’t crucial. Put your energy where it matters.
  2. Learn to accept “good enough.” Settle for a choice that meets your core requirements rather than searching for the elusive “best.” Then stop thinking about it.
  3. Don’t worry about what you’re missing. Consciously limit how much you ponder the seemingly attractive features of options you reject. Teach yourself to focus on the positive parts of the selection you make.
  4. Make your best decision for the moment, and implement it. You can always adjust when circumstances change or you learn of a better way.

For more information, see his book, The Paradox of Choice, or this article, “The Tyranny of Choice,” published in Scientific American.

2 thoughts on “The Paradox of Choice

  1. I often lament the “too muchness” of modern life, especially when I go grocery shopping and see the seemingly endless variations of a single product. It is, indeed, paralyzing, and exhausting. And I agree there is too much information available. About everything….

    Good blogs!

    • Hi Nora. You reminded me of a saying from my childhood – too much of a muchness – usually said when something was being overdone. Thanks for your comment, and for continuing to plow trough too much information to read my blogs! 🙂

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