I was at a beauty shop the other day, looking for a red lipstick to wear for a date with my husband. I just wanted a red lipstick, as mine had run out, that’s all. I wasn’t looking for anything else and in fact knew the one I wanted. It was supposed to be a quick run in and out.
An hour later, I was still in the shop. A salesgirl had cornered me (not a fan when that happens, frankly) and was trying to get me to try other red lipsticks. There were at least 50 that I could see, just from where I was standing.
About 20 minutes after that, I had left the store with the first lipstick I had in my hand. The one I had gone in there to buy. But I also left with a headache, the kind that pangs by having too many choices.
Choices plague us.
We live in a world where more and more choices are given to us, leaving us to feel helpless when stuck making a decision. We keep asking ourselves, is this a good choice? Will I be happy in the long run? What if there’s something better and I just haven’t found it yet?
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Many of us feel this way. We find choices everywhere, from the food that we buy to the entertainment we see to even the places we can go and the things we can do.
And while many of us would say, grand, choices are great. You have more opportunities to try something new. And trying something new isn’t necessarily bad. But I will tell you this, from personal experience:
More choices means less action and less satisfaction.
So I’m going to take this time to tell you why too many choices can paralyze you. Don’t worry, though — I’m also going to give you some solutions to help you overcome it. So let’s start with why choices aren’t always a good thing.
You have to decide between a choice and a “better” choice
Nothing detracts from a choice quite like knowing you could have made a “better” choice.
You know the kind I mean, right? You go into a shop to buy a jacket because you need one. All of a sudden, you see all the jackets that are on offer. You think, ah, I can get a deal on a better jacket than the one I wanted. And then you’re stuck in the shop for at least an hour, trying to decide between the jacket you went in to buy and a jacket that’s more expensive but on offer.
It’s a paralyzing feeling. And sometimes it can be so overwhelming that you don’t make a choice at all. The decision between choosing one or the other has left you with a headache the size of Australia and still no jacket.
Opportunity costs detract from the choice you made, also known as FOMO
This is what happens after you’ve actually made a choice. You’ve picked something to wear, eat, see, or do, and then FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) hits you straight in the face.
It’s easy to imagine the benefits of the choices you don’t pick, isn’t it? You’ve made a choice but then you see someone with a different choice and you start thinking about how much better that choice would have been. You start having regrets about your own decision.
This fear of missing out is one of the biggest ways choices can paralyze you. When there are no choices except for one, you’re not stuck in purgatory of regret — there’s just that one choice. You get on with it. But more choices leave you feeling like you always make the wrong choice.
You increase your expectations with every new choice available to you
We’re a society that is becoming more demanding. With more choices comes the expectation that all of the choices must be quality. When they aren’t, we get upset.
You’ve probably noticed this in the supermarket. You go in to buy bread. You expect all the bread to be quality. Never mind that there’s 40 different kinds and you’re only buying one loaf, you want them all to be quality. That’s the expectation.
But you feel bad when you pick something and it’s not up to your standards. I know I do. I get overcome with this feeling of having been tricked into thinking all choices are up to my high standards, and it can be a bit depressing for me.
You blame yourself when you’re not happy with your choices
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been disappointed with a choice you made. You can’t see it, but I’ve got both of my own hands up. This happens to me all the time.
Barry Schwartz, who did a wonderful TED Talk on the paradox of choice about ten years ago, talked brilliantly about this. He said that when there’s only one choice available to us and it’s not great, we can blame the world for it. But when there’s more than one choice, we can only blame ourselves.
Why do we blame ourselves, you ask? Because more choices means that there’s no room for failure in picking something perfect. And if we don’t choose something perfect, then we must have made a mistake. We must have not looked thoroughly enough or paid well enough attention. This, too, is paralyzing.
There are solutions for this choice paradox. While some of these may be difficult, as we live in a right now society, they will guide you towards making choices you are happy with.
Let go of the “all or nothing” thinking that plagues you
Have you heard of this thinking? It’s the mindset that tells us, look at all the choices you’ve got. Don’t settle. Aim higher. Take a look through everything, or you’ll miss out on a really great choice. You could have it all with so many choices or nothing.
This isn’t true. Only you can decide what will make you happy. Choices can’t do that for you. So you know what you can do this thinking? Chuck it in the bin and relax. It doesn’t exist.
Have standards and stick to them
This one has worked wonders for me. I’m vegan, a minimalist, and I have ethical standards. All this together means that I’ve got fewer choices than most other people.
Why do I have less choices? Because I’ve narrowed down what I’ll accept into my life. If it doesn’t fit in with my standards, it’s not a choice.
Yes, this is quite a difficult one. I found it difficult when I came back to veganism and decided on buying ethical products, holidays, etc., but it has made a world of difference. I’m happier and generally less stressed since making this decision.
I’m sure your standards are different, so think about them. Write them down. And stick to them.
Stick with only the choices that matter
This is a bit like the last solution, but hear me out. When you are making a decision, there are things you know you want, and things you know you don’t want.
But there are also choices you make that don’t really matter. What you have for lunch is a small matter when contrasted with moving house or taking on a new job. You wouldn’t want to give as much time to a small matter as a large one, right?
Reserve your energy for the choices that matter. Another way of thinking about it is — don’t sweat the small stuff. It won’t matter in the long run.
Take some time before acting
This is a hard one for me, but it’s absolutely essential that you take time before acting on any given choice. The time you take ought to be proportional to the size of the choice. For example, deciding on fiscal investments is something that can take weeks, while choosing what to wear should take less than five minutes.
But always take a beat before deciding. If you’ve got time, do some research. Make an informed decision, and informed decisions always take a little bit of time.
Bonus: Don’t change your choice just because something’s on offer
I cannot stress this enough — if you go into a shop (like I did earlier this week) with your mind made up of what you’ve chosen, do not change your mind because something else is on offer. Trust me, just go with what you’ve already decided. Don’t be done in by offers, because it’s never as good as the choice you went in there to make.
Choices are paralyzing because we never know if we made the right decision from the thousands of choices that are thrown at us everyday. But we can combat it with a little thought, some standards, and the understanding that we have the power to lessen our stress over choices.
Have you ever felt paralyzed by choice? What did you do to combat it? Let us know in the comments below!