I’ve always struggled with makings choices – I quickly grow impatient, more and more indecisive, endlessly evaluating all the available options. Often, I’m so tired of my own incapacity to opt for something that I abandon the process all together.
I dread the idea of going shopping, unfailingly ending up feeling stressed, overwhelmed by the sea of possibilities and paralysed by fear of settling upon the wrong thing – which eventually leads to disappointment, regret and self-blame.
How relieved was I to find out that I’m not alone in this madness! According to Barry Scwartz’s “The Paradox Of Choice”, all the negative emotions I experience are a direct consequence of our social scenario glorifying the individual freedom of choice.
We live in a world of abundance, surrounded by boundless opportunities, and yet we never seem to have enough. We get what we say we want, only to discover that it doesn’t satisfy us to the degree we expect.
According to the author, having too many choices can in fact produce psychological distress, enhanced even further by regret, concern about status, social comparison and – last but not least – the desire to have the best of everything.
The first part of the book is dedicated to an extensive analysis of all the mechanisms by which choices overload makes us unhappy, pointing out many interesting connections, including the link between the tendency to maximise and propensity for depression.
Luckily, it ends on a positive note – with a set of specific steps and strategies we can put into practice to improve the quality of our lives, subjective well-being and – perhaps most importantly – the overall satisfaction with our choices.
Here’s a little something for everyone experiencing decision fatigue.
- Choose when to choose. Try establishing some rules for yourself about how many options to consider or how much time and energy to invest in choosing. For example, you could make it a rule to visit no more than two stores when going shopping.
- Modify your goals. Shorten or eliminate deliberations about decisions that are unimportant. Use the time you’ve freed up to asses the areas of your life where decisions actually matter and start creating better options that meet your needs.
- Learning to accept “good enough”. Knowing what’s good enough requires knowing yourself and what you care about: your values. Think about occasions in life when you settled comfortably for “good enough” and start adopting this strategy more broadly.
- Don’t second-guess yourself. Unless you’re truly unsatisfied, stick with what you always buy. Don’t be tempted by the “new and improved” and don’t worry that, if you do this, you’ll miss out on all the new things the world has to offer.
- Make your decisions non-reversible. Knowing you’ve made a choice that you will not reverse allows you to pour your energy into appreciating the things – and relationships – you have, rather than constantly wondering whether you could have done better.
- Practice gratitude. When we imagine better alternatives, the ones we choose seem worse. When we imagine worse alternatives, the ones we choose seem better. We can vastly improve our well-being by striving to be grateful more often for what is good.
- Anticipate adaptation. The challenge here is to remember that the high-quality sound system or the luxury car won’t keep providing the same pleasure over and over again. Learning to be satisfied as pleasures turn into comforts is key to ease disappointment with adaptation as it occurs.
- Control expectations. By reducing the number of options we consider and allowing for serendipity, we open ourselves to experiences we wouldn’t have otherwise considered – life’s little pleasures that can be far more enjoyable than the big events and supposedly unforgettable adventures.
- Fight social comparison. Focus on what makes you happy and what gives meaning to your life.
- Learn to love constraints. Thinking about small decision adds a layer of complexity to life. By deciding to follow a specific rule or routine, many of the daily hassles will vanish, leaving us with more time, energy and attention for the decisions we have chosen to retain.