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We live in a world with overwhelming options.
What to eat? What to watch? How to watch it? What to wear? Where to shop? What job to get? What school should I go to?
There really is no end to the amount of questions I could come up with.
Ask my wife.
But what is the point of pointing this out?
We have so much to do and are so busy and so what!?
Well the good news it that there is something we can do about it.
Sheena Iyengar studies how people choose (and what makes us think we’re good at it).
She also gave a TED Talk on How To Make Choosing Easier.
In case you didn’t watch the video, I will point out a few key things to consider.
First a background survey found that “the typical American reports making about 70 choices in a typical day.”
That is a ton of brain power to just survive!
In fact because of the myriad of choices we are faced with, sometimes “we choose not to choose, even when it goes against our best self-interests.”
Observations have found that there are three main negative consequences to offering people too many choices:
- People delay choosing
- “They’re more likely to make worse choices — worse financial choices, medical choices.”
- “They’re more likely to choose things that make them less satisfied” Source
What do we do to help people, customers and ourselves in life with so many choices?
Do this by limited the choices to begin with.
Thinking of going out to eat? Don’t think of everywhere possible. Pick 2 or 3 places and then decided from there.
At the end of the day you will be happier that you got something quicker and moved on.
After all, it is just one meal in your life, and unless it is a super special occasion, you probably won’t remember it anyways…*
– Concretization (make it real)
Abstract thinking is difficult.
Make choosing easier by making the choice with the help of real world examples to assist your thinking.
Thinking of future jobs?
Write out a list to see the job.
Write out the job description to see what you would be doing.
Getting this information on paper with pen (or making an electronic document) gives your brain something more “tangible” in a sense to look at to help it think through the choice better.
The arranging of information into categories helps us filter down our decision making.
Next time you are shopping for a vehicle, notice that online tools help you select the type by starting with broad choices like “car or truck” and then more narrow choices like “make and model” and then finally the details of the specific feature packages available.
This funneling of choices helps your brain come to a conclusion, by using the two above techniques of making it concrete and cutting out the options that don’t need to be given extra thought.
This is also described as “Condition for complexity”.
And another video on choice is from Psychologist Barry Schwartz in his TED Talk The Paradox of Choice.
Schwartz makes the point that “choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied”.
I can see this in my own life when I have too much to think about that I just want to shut down and take a nap instead.
“All of this choice has two effects, two negative effects on people. One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis, rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all.”
One last point:
“Clinical depression has exploded in the industrial world in the last generation. I believe a significant — not the only, but a significant — contributor to this explosion of depression, and also suicide, is that people have experiences that are disappointing because their standards are so high, and then when they have to explain these experiences to themselves, they think they’re at fault. And so the net result is that we do better in general, objectively, and we feel worse. So let me remind you. This is the official dogma, the one that we all take to be true, and it’s all false. It is not true. There’s no question that some choice is better than none, but it doesn’t follow from that that more choice is better than some choice.”
So next time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by options:
- Stop and take a breath
- Determine if it is really a life or death decision
- Cut down your options
- Categorize to compare
- Don’t despair, most mistakes can be undone or you can get a re-do
Life isn’t easy and you should get upset about making a bad decision from time to time.
I would settle with getting 50% of my life decisions right.
Other than that I just try my best, take ownership of my errors, and move on.
I think this is a wonderful and interesting time to be alive.
What do you think?
The future together is bright.
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