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Choices, Choices….

We tend to assume that choice is always good. Having multiple options available to us is all good, right? Well, not so fast. Have you considered the emotional strain we are put under by too many choices? The feeling that we could be wrong if we choose X or Y?

Barry Schwartz, a psychologist, dealt with this topic in his book “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less”. He talks about how the culture of abundance robs us of satisfaction and argues that we would be better off if we embraced voluntary constraints and sought what was ‘good enough’ instead of always seeking the best. To reduce stress, there are some recommended coping strategies: lower our expectations, make our decisions non-reversible and pay less attention to what others are doing. What Schwartz calls “choice overload” can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for failures. This could even lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress – or clinical depression in extreme cases.One of the factors that contribute to this feeling of dissatisfaction or negative emotion is related to perceived opportunity cost – the feeling that we need to ‘give up’ things in the trade-off, however theoretical this may sometimes be.

In fact, I remember reading about a rule of thumb which has it that beyond 7 alternatives or options we tend to become overwhelmed. The human brain gets all stressed beyond that number of choices. Sound familiar?

What is your view on the paradox of choice? Any other examples on either side of the argument?

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