Overchoice- a first world problem

We live in a time when we have the world at our fingertips. We have choices. So many TV channels, so many websites, so many types of cheese at the shop, different varieties of pet, many different leisure pursuits on offer. However, this is not always a great thing. We can get lost in the array of choices open to us. “The fact that some choice is good, doesn’t necessarily mean that more choice is better” (Schwartz & Ward 2004). Oftentimes, we can feel a sense of overwhelm at the large number of decisions that require our attention and energy.

An overload of choices actually results in a rapid reduction of choices made. We tend to get ‘paralysis by analysis’. In this case, we use all of our decision making power in so many little decisions – when, to be honest, there are more important things in the world than which type of paper I would like to print on this week. This “first-world” problem is called overchoice.

The best remedy for overchoice is to be a ‘satisficer’, rather than a ‘maximiser’.

A satisficer is a person who just needs to get what is good enough for their requirements. They consider options until they find what meets their minimum criteria and then they select that option.

Maximisers on the other hand, are those who need to get absolutely the best deal and so look at all possible options.

Choice overload is a problem for maximisers who want to go to the best school, get the best job, have the best car and wear the best clothes. As more options become available, they need to work harder to exhaust all the possibilities” (Boniwell 2012). Maximisation is negatively associated with happiness, optimism, satisfaction with life and high self-esteem, while it is positively correlated with regret, perfectionism, depression and comparing ourselves with people who have more than us.

So what can we do about it?

Barry Schwartz (2004) offers the following ideas in his book entitled ‘The Paradox of Choice – Why more is less’:

  • Know when it is okay to accept ‘good enough’

  • Avoid social comparisons – set our own standards and don’t try ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ (which is increasingly difficult in the age of social media where most people show only the parts of their lives that they wish to share)

  • Be grateful for what we have

  • Learn to love our constraints (e.g. job, children, etc) because these things actually reduce the number of choices available to us

  • Create rules for certain things in our lives so that we can limit our decision making energy

Doing these things helps us embrace the notion of being satisfied with our lives as they are now. We can increase our awareness of ‘JOMO’ (joy of missing out) and let go of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out). Doing so will aid us in building our positive emotions.

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