Do you ever get the feeling we’re hemmed in by too much stuff and too many choices?
Standing in the jelly section at the grocery store is a case in point. When I was a kid back in the dark ages, we had about two brands to choose from and only a few flavors: grape, strawberry, raspberry, and maybe something weird like orange marmalade. The choice was easy. Now the jelly selection is are mind boggling.
In a well-known marketing study, researchers offered customers either 24 jams to sample, or 6 jams to sample. Sixty percent of customers were drawn to the large assortment, while only 40 percent stopped at the small one. But 30 percent of the customers who sampled the small assortment actually purchased jam, while only 3 percent of those confronted with multiple choices made a purchase. The hypothesis is that people like the idea of having multiple choices, but in reality more choices become less appealing.
In other words, when confronted by too many choices, customers leave empty handed and move on to something else.
Jelly is only one example of the bewildering choices we face every day. We’re fortunate to have so many good things in our lives, while others in the world have few choices, such as “this jelly or no jelly.” Yet, abundance can be too much of a good thing. All day long we’re bombarded by seemingly infinite choices, from billboards, magazines, email, Internet ads, and of course television. We aren’t even safe in movie theaters, where we’re now forced to sit through twenty minutes of advertising before the film begins.
Choice overload is stressful. Research shows that an excess of choices often leads us to be less, not more, satisfied once we actually decide. There’s often a nagging feeling we could have done better. Though we now have the capacity to endlessly research choices, that doesn’t mean we should do so. Spending too much time on choices actually decreases our freedom, while increasing our unease and frustration.
On the web page Tiny Buddha (Simple Wisdom for Complex Lives), UK author Andrea Wren offers seven ways to deal with choices:
- Ask what you’ll really achieve by keeping all options open. You’ll probably realize that the time and stress you invest in a huge range of choices does not outweigh the benefit of saving a few dollars.
- Cast your net small. Eliminate most of the choices up front and consider only three or four, based on your most important criteria.
- Unless your budget is extremely tight, stop worrying about saving a small amount of money. Your time and emotional well-being are more important than saving a few bucks.
- Stick with your decision once you’ve made it. Believe in yourself and your ability to choose.
- Let go of the other choices. Whether it’s your husband, your wife, a new air conditioner, or a box of cereal—don’t obsess over what might have been. Let it go. Seeking the perfect choice is a recipe for misery.
- Do I really need this, and do I need it now? Focus on choosing things that add meaning to your life. Don’t waste time on things you don’t need.
- Trust yourself to know what you truly need and what’s right for you. Be happy with your choice when you’ve made it, and know the world will not explode if, by the slightest chance, this was the wrong choice.
Choice overload can also happen when we face decisions in our creative work. Given the endless options of which route to take, we can sometimes end up going with the more conventional path simply because it’s the easier way to go. A study from New York University found that “restricting the choice of creative inputs actually enhances creativity.”
In other words, letting yourself have less options to choose from can help you arrive at a more creative answer.
If you’d like to further explore this topic, I recommend a powerful book by psychology professor Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More. This book may change the way you think.
And thank you for taking time to read this blog, out of the million choices of your day!
About Sammie Justesen
Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.
She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.
A recent review of Dialogue for Writers
What I left with after reading Sammie’s book is a brain swimming with ideas she has generously shared based on her years of experience in all aspects of the industry. She shows us, not just tells us, with style, humor and an easy, comfortable voice. Her examples bring the points to life. Sammie indeed practices what she preaches, and shares with us as reader and writer a fun to read and handy compilation based on experience and insight. –Gin Getz, author of The Color of the Wild andThe Last of the Living Blue