Too Many Choices

January 30, 2023

By Meghan Greenwood

Listen to the podcast:

Ever go into a large clothing store and feel overwhelmed? Racks and racks of options. One section totally devoted to shirts, the other to pants. If you had expendable income, sure, this store may seem less intimidating. But, if you’re working from a budget, perhaps you fall into a trap of no choice at all.

We are raised to think that the more choices we have, the better. However, research described in the Harvard Business Review, would say the opposite. The notion of choice or decision paralysis is often caused by too many choices. We see 50 different white blouses on a rack. Our brain goes through a number of thoughts, before and after the purchase, such as ‘if I don’t get this one, then I’ll regret it’ or ‘I was dumb to buy the blouse with buttons, now it’ll be harder to press.’ Basically, when there are so many choices, the effort it takes to decide and be happy with those decisions is much more complicated.

Take the example of job hunting. Say you end up with a number of interviews, each providing similar salaries and benefits. The choice may not be too obvious, and thus, decision paralysis comes into play for fear of making the wrong one. Eventually, the time will run out and the prospective employee may be faced with an ultimatum or lose the offers.

So, what can we do in a world with literally an overabundance of choices at every turn?

  1. Trash a few options from the start. If they don’t feel right or don’t check every single box – basically, any unease you feel should not be ignored. Narrow it down.
  2. Determine your must-haves. Does the shirt need to be made of 100% cotton? Does the job have to come with 15 days of PTO? Don’t waver on these. Eliminate more options.
  3. Think of the pros and cons to the other choices. Will the shirt require ironing? Is the detail going to be easily damaged by the washing machine? Does the job allow work-from-home? Would I be joining a well-established team or a start-up? What is best for you at this stage in your life?
  4. Set a deadline. Decisions are often time-sensitive; but if the timing is currently unknown or worse, up to you entirely, you need to give yourself a fixed amount of time. Perhaps 2 days, 2 weeks. Regardless, pick a date & stick to it.

And overall, remember that no matter if the choice isn’t perfect, it likely can be temporary. With so many options, we may also be able to exchange that shirt or switch jobs…eventually 🙂


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