Choice Overload?

Do you ever feel that there are too many choices? From the big decisions (where to live? whom to trust?) to the tiny ones (which laundry detergent?) we’re surrounded by options. Choosing among them can be tiring work.

From one perspective, having so much choice offers immense freedom. However, instead of being delighted, we can be overwhelmed by all those options.

Marci is trying to figure out what to do for a career, and she’s feeling the anxiety of having an overwhelming array of options. “People tell me, ‘You can do anything you want!’ How does that help me? I don’t know what I want!”

An underlying premise of Choice Theory is the idea that someone else doesn’t know what’s best for you (and vice versa).

Let’s change perspective. How do you think Marci would react if she heard, “You must be a candlestick-maker; you can’t do anything else.”

Well, Marci would no longer be overwhelmed by career choices! Would that make her life better? Likely not. If Marci has even a moderate need for freedom, then that feeling of anxiety she had when she perceived too many choices might be replaced by feelings of anger, now that she perceives that she has none!

So Marci‘s anxiety-ing behaviour isn’t necessarily an expression of, “I want fewer choices” as it is, “I need a way to select among choices and feel confident when I make a decision.”

Let’s look at a trivial choice, one without the important consequences of a career. Say you want to buy a pair of jeans. Each decision (which store? brand? price?) presents a wide array of options.

What do we do, often without even being aware of it? We reduce our options. For example, you might decide that you’re only going to shop on the South Shore. You might set a price range. And, you might decide on a brand.

You may find that a skillful salesperson, after inquiring about your needs and wants, will select a limited number of options for you, not an overwhelming array. It’s easier to pick from two or three options than it is to pick from a hundred. The salesperson knows that if you become confused by too many choices, you might just walk away without buying anything.

Much like Mom asking her toddler, “Would you like to eat the peas or carrots first?” the options offered are all acceptable to Mom (or to the salesperson) and the toddler (or the shopper) gets to feel the power of making their own choice.

Now, what about Marci? It’ll help if she realizes that in the long run, she will be more satisfied if she makes her own informed choice, rather than trying to coerce someone else into telling her what she should do. Then, much like jean-shopping, she can begin to narrow down and eliminate some of those seemingly infinite options.

In his book, “A Set of Directions for Putting and Keeping Yourself Together”, Dr. Bob Wubbolding suggests categorizing what you want. We’ll take a look at how Marci might start categorizing her career wants in the next column.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by options?

This article is the first in a series on choice
The next article in this series is here.
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