At one time or another, we have all suffered from paralysis caused by an overwhelming number of choices. It happens when we have multiple streaming channels with thousands of shows, but we complain there is “nothing good” to watch. We face closets full of clothes, but lament that there is “nothing” to wear. The refrigerator and pantry may be stocked, but we still go to a restaurant because we don’t have anything at home to eat.

Choice often seems like a gift, but in reality, it may rob us from the ability to make decisions. Studies by professor Barry Schwartz showed that if consumers were able to taste test only 6 varieties of jam that 30% purchased a jar, but when faced with 24 choices of jam, only 3% decided to buy. Paint companies that offer fewer color choices sold more paint. Homebuilders that limited the options for buyers saw higher sales. The same principle has been replicated in numerous other studies: less really is more.

 

In order to ward off the inaction caused by too many choices, you can save time and energy by creating parameters and routines. Select your outfit the night before to avoid staring into your closet at the start of the day. Pre-plan a week’s worth of meals. Schedule tasks on your calendar in regular blocks (on Tuesday you do research, Wednesday is budgets, etc.) Decide in advance who makes the entertainment selection or what genre you will watch each night. Buy multiples of things that you love to limit having to find that “perfect white blouse” again when yours fades out. Offer your spouse a choice of three meal options instead of saying “What do you want for dinner?”

Instead of embracing all the variety, our mind becomes overwhelmed by it. Help maintain your productivity and sanity by setting limits on the number of options you consider in each circumstance. In other words, choose to limit your choices.

Source: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, 2004

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