How to Overcome Too Many Choices

Every second of every day, we are choosing. More choices may not always mean more control and more happiness.

I finally had a chance to pick-up and read this book, The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. It's been cited so many times in articles and other books. It was originally published in 2004, but I found that a lot of its content seems more relevant today more than ever, especially in our constant stream of updates.


More Is Actually Less

The basic hypothesis is that the more options we have, the less satisfaction we get. The book cites economic, psychological and social factors that affect how our choices ultimately contribute to our happiness. The premise is that while choice allows us a sense of control over our daily lives, too many choices can actually cause us a sense of overwhelm. This is due to a complex interaction between many psychological processes: rising expectations, awareness of opportunity costs, aversion to trade-offs, regret, self blame and social comparison.


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Always Searching for the Next Best Thing

Choices sometimes means that we are constantly searching for the next best thing. Take the new cell phone dilemma for instance. There are many choices currently in the market from the iPhone to Samsung to the Google Pixel. For many of us, we may spend a lot of time deciding which one to get, which one is the best. How many hours are we browsing review sites? How much time are we thinking about the phone? How often do we picture our new phone? The problem is that after the purchase, we keep thinking about the other options. Should I have gotten the iPhone instead? Should I have waited because they just announced the new version to be released next month? In the end, we not only spend a lot of time researching and trying to pick the best one, but our satisfaction loses it's luster knowing that we may have chosen the wrong one or that a new and better one is coming out.


Too Many Choices Are A Time Suck

We also have to think about how much time we are spending on a decision. How much effort are we putting into it and what are we giving up? Whose time is being eaten by the many decisions that we make? How much time are you spending figuring out what to wear in the morning? Could you use that time instead to have breakfast with your spouse or children instead of grabbing an energy bar and rushing out the door?

We earn more, spend more, but spend less time with each other. Time spent dealing with a choice is time taken away from being a good friend, a good spouse, a good parent...
— Paradox of Choice

Our Choices, Our Social Status

Our current world of constant social media updates also means that we are exposed not only to a range of options, but also to a range of social statuses. So and so driving the latest BMW (based on their latest post) may push us to sign on to a new car lease incurring larger costs and time away from our family working to pay for that added costs. In "Happy Money," which I wrote about a few months ago, the luxury car luster also loses it's shine quickly if being used on mundane tasks such as commuting and being stuck in traffic. So while I don't have anything against driving a luxury car (we drive a Subaru for full disclosure), be aware of why you are buying it in the first place. How much time are we spending comparing ourselves to others? Whose lawn is greener? 

People are largely drive to social comparison largely because they care about their status, and status, of course, has social comparison built into it. Part of the satisfaction from achievements and possessions comes from the awareness that not everyone can match them. As others start to catch up, the desires of those who are ahead in the ‘race’ escalate so that they can maintain their privileged position. life is determined by our desire to be big fish in our own ponds. If there were only one pond - if everyone compared his position to the position of everybody else - virtually all of us would be losers. After all, in the pond containing whales, even sharks are small. So instead of comparing ourselves to everyone, we try to mark off the world in such a way that in our own pond, in comparison with our reference group, we are successful. Better to be the third highest paid lawyer in a small firm and make $120,000 a year than to be in the middle of the pack in a large firm and make $150,000. The way to be happy - the way to succeed in the quest for status - is to find the right pond and stay in it.
— Paradox of Choice

How Do We Overcome the Load of Choices?

Schwartz broke down a few suggestions to help overcome the load of choices.

Choose When to Choose

Decide which choice in our lives really matter and focus our time and energy there. You'll see many examples of this with people reducing their wardrobe to the same shirt and pants, or eating the same breakfast every day, or learning just to live simply.

Be a Chooser, Not A Picker

Don't be a passive selector. Choose things that matter to you. Don't settle for picking what's available.

Satisfice More, Maximize Less

Learn to accept good enough by becoming conscious and intentional because if you chase the next best thing, you'll be running for a while.

Stop Thinking About the Opportunity Costs of Opportunity Costs

The option you didn't pick will always be there. Don't dwell on it because it will steal satisfaction from what you've chosen already.

Make Your Decisions Non Reversible

The very option of being allowed to change our mind increases the chances of us changing our minds. When return is no longer an option, you'll have no choice but to be satisfied with your choice.

Regret Less

Easier said than done, but stay in the present and don't dwell on the past because you can't change it.

Anticipate Adaptation

We will eventually get used to the new things that we have. Understand and recognize this feeling early on to reduce the chase for the new thing.

Control Expectations

Be honest with yourself about expectations. Be vocal so that you lay out expectations right away.

Curtail Comparison

Focus on what makes you happy, what gives meaning to your life, not someone else's version.

Learn to Love Constraints

It's OK to give yourself parameters when it comes to choosing. Filters can help a great deal in reducing your choices to the ones that you truly want.


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