Choose already!

Developed countries have an advantage – they have choice. They have options to choose from and the freedom to choose, however choices can be inundating.

I was listening to a TED Radio podcast this morning titled “Misconceptions” and for this show, they brought on Barry Schwartz, a social psychologist who spoke about how choices and having an infinite number of them, causes paralysis and is exhausting to the human psyche. Consumers get too overwhelmed and their immediate response is…to not choose at all. Interesting! He went on to present an example, one that was pretty apropos. He said his grocery store stocks 175 (!) salad dressings but that in reality, you only need 6-10 to make a reasonable choice. Ding ding ding! Long ago when I was going through a salad phase, I bought every organic dressing I thought would go well with my varied salad recipes, but the one most consumed was the basic buttermilk ranch. The others sat in the refrigerator and gathered condensation. Note to self – Buy a large bottle of ranch or better yet blend some olive oil with balsamic vinegar or orange juice and make your own. Limiting your choices, limits confusion.

Here’s another example. Often times on my day off, I will take my Kindle and head to my favorite Panera Bread location. They serve clean food and I get to sit at a table, read and people-watch. I have my standard “pick two” – chicken and wild rice soup with whatever their seasonal salad is. It is amusing however, especially in summer when the place is teeming with teenagers, to watch the ones in line ahead of you fumble through the menu. The boy says “I’m hungry. I’m going to get the pick 2 with the turkey chili and ummmm…”. Meanwhile the girl with him says “Oooh their new summer salad is out! Amanda told me it is awesome but there’s also the other one with mandarin oranges in it. Wonder if they will give me this one but with mandarin oranges on the side. Gosh this is so hard!” I can’t help but grin when they turn around and say “Sorrrryyy….we can’t decide. Everything on the board looks so yum!” Maybe if Panera offered 3 cold sandwiches, 3 paninis and 3 soups, life would be easy. 🙂 Limited choices, limited confusion.

All this discussion of limited choices makes me wonder though if it is any easier when all you have is 2 choices. What would your parameters be in that case? How do you know you’re making the right choice? Some choices are obvious – eggs for breakfast instead of donuts, a house in a good school district instead of that studio apartment closer to downtown. And then there are more serious choices like choosing a life partner from the two you like the most, choosing to give up on that cushy traveling job to be close to your older, ailing parents. Each day, each and every one of us makes choices….choices that will affect us maybe for a day or maybe for a lifetime. How do you know which choice is the right one? Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes all you can do is weigh the pros and cons and even then end up with the option that has higher number of cons. In the end, no matter what you choose, you own the decision and you own the outcome. Sometimes it barely creates a ripple in your life and sometimes it changes who you are. Either way, you live with it and try your best not to let it undermine your happiness.

I read an interesting quote (yes, I live my life by other people’s quotes….why reinvent the wheel. They said it so well.)

“Be decisive. Right or wrong, make a decision. The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.”

Don’t be a flat squirrel orrrrr be one! Nature has a way of righting things. When you just can’t make a decision, one will be made for you. If it’s your life, you’d best be the one making it. So weigh your options and weigh them carefully but at the end of the day, just pick one for Chrissakes’!




3 thoughts on “Choose already!

  1. it depends who you are. there are two types of people, there are maximizers which are people who become confused when presented with too many choices and there are satisficers, who are people who once they find a decision that is “good enough” they go for it. That’s something we should all strive to be. Once we find something on the menu, or clothes or whatever it may be that is good enough and that we’re happy with, we should choose it and learn to be okay with it. the trade off however is that maximizers make better decisions because they analyze too much and think too much, but they’re less happy with the decision they made because they always worry that they could’ve made a better decision. nice post:)


    1. Thank you for such a great review. You make a very good point here. Oddly what you’ve said was the sentiment that made me write this article but you’ve called it out really well. The myriad of options we have out there today is making each of us a maximizer against our will. I used to envy the maximizers because they made the best decisions until I saw what they put themselves through to get there. I got serious heartburn watching it. 🙂 I’d rather have a maximizer as my consultant if I have to make big ticket item purchases but otherwise left on my own, I’m going to eliminate choices and whittle down to a shorter list and pick.


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