Choices and Decisions: The Lesser the Merrier?
Humans make close to 35,000 decisions each day and an overabundance of “choice” can rob us of the satisfaction of having made those decisions
Credits: Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash
October 5, 2022
Imagine you need to pick up ice-cream from the grocery store. Once you arrive at the store, you are struck with many different varieties of ice-cream. You are dumbfounded to know that this quintessential comfort food comes in thousands of flavours. And all these choices make it difficult for you to arrive at a decision.
It is said that human beings make close to 35,000 decisions each day and an overabundance of “choice” in those decisions robs us of the satisfaction of having made the decision at all – as highlighted by American Psychologist Barry Schwartz in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (2004). Dr. Schwartz believes that modern consumerism is founded on a commitment to individual freedom and autonomy, with freedom of choice as its core value.
In 2001, an experiment was conducted to examine and understand the dilemma of choice. This was done by investigating how the availability of too many options makes it unlikely for a customer to buy the product. The key investigators of this experiment were Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, both significant figures in the field of behavioural economics. Their study also highlighted that participants reported greater satisfaction while making a decision that involved lesser choices in comparison to one that offered too many. More about this study can be found here.
Lower satisfaction from making decisions can often also give way to feelings of doubt regarding making the right choice. Similar effects of doubt can be experienced when standing at the crucial juncture of making a career choice, choosing medical plans, investment plans, life partners and much more.
Experts in the field of economics and psychology have addressed the adverse consequences of choice overabundance. Why do more choices worsen matters?
It has been found that there is a higher likelihood of feeling overwhelmed by the need to process information, understand, weigh out pros/cons and make informed decisions when we are faced with too many options. The influx of all these tasks simultaneously can arrest or paralyse our ability to weight out each option with equal care. Consequently, this paralysis typically reduces the motivation to seek any choice.
But does this mean that we stand no chance to make good decisions? Of course not!
The field of psychology comes to the rescue here too.
With the complexities of today’s modern world that comes with uncertainty, the change that is needed is a combination of inner work and incremental movement.
This combination has been called the U-Theory− given by MIT Professor Otto Scharmer. The theory suggests shifting focus from an individual lens to a more collective lens in order to come up with decisions that are sustainable and enduring.
Another solution that all of us can keep in mind is given by Psychologist Dan Ariely who warns us to not think of our decisions as all-or-none phenomena. He discusses the unchangeability bias that blocks our decision making. The trick is to reframe changes as “trials,” because after all, all our decisions are merely steps towards possibilities!
Finally, when struggling to assess whether your decision is a good one or not, you could review the following steps that pave the way for a good decision:
- Identify your final goal(s).
- Evaluate the significance each goal holds for you.
- Assemble the options in front of you, or write them down.
- Evaluate how each option contributes towards your goals.
- Pick the option with the highest contribution.
- Later, use the consequences of your choice to modify your goals, the importance you assign them, and the way you evaluate future possibilities.
And remember, the uncertainty we experience before making a decision is but a part of the human experience! As Tony Robbins says, “The greater degree of uncertainty that you can comfortably live with, the richer your life will be.”
Author: Tanni Choudhury works as a Lecturer at Jindal Institute of Behavioural Sciences. Editorial Inputs by Samreen Chhabra.