Too Many Choices

Posted on May 15 2009

Too many choices can produce Analysis Paralysis, not liberation.

The fact that some choices are good doesn’t necessarily mean that more choices is better. Nor will that many choices Reduce Uncertainty, nor will it help you overcome indecision.

There’s a point where too many choices starts to become not only unproductive, but counterproductive–a source of pain, regret, worry about missed opportunities and unrealistically high expectations.

Some researchers find that too many options can actually lead people to take less positive risks in making selections and to use simplifying strategies in lieu of more considered choices.

While the fact is that we don’t necessarily want to satisficing all of the time, we do want to ensure we have enough options to make a wise decision. Sometimes, satisficing is a perfectly acceptable method. As we increase the number of options we have, we become more unable to adequately analyze the options to the best extent possible.

People generally don’t want to make their own decisions. There is a disconnect between theory—what people think they want, and reality. When it comes time to make a decision, many people say they wish there were less choices – they want the decision to be easier to make. Often, when there are Too Many Choices they avoid making the decision altogether.

There are many people who are trying to simplifying their life and understanding that the choices that they make — instead of denying you freedom, provide constraints that let you have a real freedom from the tyranny of endless choices.

How can we apply this to our decision making process. We may start with a definition of our problem and constraints. Some processes then may abdicate generation of a list of alternatives. At this time, we may apply a simple process to reduce our number of choices.

If we can make a few passes at the list, and leave ourselves between three and five choices, depending on the size of the decision, can you imagine how much easier the analysis will be?

For example, in our Decide Guides we may often apply a two or three pronged approach in discarding unviable alternatives. Can you imagine how much easier it is to decide between three cars to buy with three entirely different sets of specs and options than it is to choose between 15 or 20?

Study the options, then settle on something you feel good, if not perfectly, about; let informed sources like Consumer Reports choose for you; don’t compare your acquisitions to others; and don’t wallow in regret–since, in the long run, people feel worse about inaction than action.

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