Is too much choice making us feel stressed out? I think it is; here’s why.

It all started with a trip to the supermarket. Scanning my shopping list I saw that we needed toothpaste, so off I headed to the correct aisle.

Faced with an overwhelming wall of choices, I started to look at the brands and types, whilst also keeping my eye out for a bargain.

Before I knew it, about 3 minutes had passed and I was no closer to making a decision…should I go for the whitening (normal or diamond), the sensitive (normal or ultra), the double pack (or single/triple) the flavoured? (fresh mint, cool mint, clean mint, spearmint)…the list goes on. There was literally TOO MUCH CHOICE.

Feeling the overwhelm and small signs of anxiety starting to stir…because I knew we needed it, but I just didn’t know which one to buy…I was just about to walk away when my husband found me (who else always loses their partner at the supermarket?) looking a bit confused, lost and forlorn.

Faced with so much choice, I would rather have walked away than actually buy the item we needed because it was making me feel stressed out.

We are so fortunate to live in a world where choice is abundant and yes, this is one of those first world problems. It goes without saying I am really grateful we have choices but I do wonder if too much choice is making us stressed out? If there had been only two or three choices, I would just picked one and walked off without a worry.

In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More, Barry Schwartz explains;

[synopsis] …we assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis. And in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz

The question is, how can we make quick, sensible decisions where there is too much choice?

And if too much choice is having this kind of impact at the supermarket, imagine how the responsibility of decision making is affecting us in business!

Here are some suggestions to help when you’re faced with too much choice:

  • Stay on task when making purchases. In times of excessive choice, make a list and stick to it; this applies to both online and offline shopping. eCommerce stores and shops place things in prominent places to distract you and give you yet more choices. Keep on task and don’t click distracting brightly coloured call to action buttons or pop ups.
  • Brainstorm. It really helps to get what’s in your head, OUT! Write it down, journal it out; write freely about what the decision is, pros and cons, how you’re feeling about it and anything else that comes up. This can really help to clear your head and give you some perspective.
  • Weigh up the odds. Does it really matter if you spend a little bit extra more because you chose the ‘wrong’ thing? It’s a small price to pay for saving time and decision making. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Use the two-minute rule. When faced with a wall of overwhelming choices, give yourself two minutes to make a decision. You’d be surprised at how long that feels.
  • Narrow it down. Say you have 10 choices. Narrow down to 5, then 3, then 1. Use your intuition and don’t overthink it.
  • Get help… If it’s a decision that you can get help with, then do! Ask for advice. Sometimes we just need a different perspective to help us decide. Facebook groups are a great place to start.
  • …Or leave it in the lap of the Gods. How about a throwing a dice, drawing straws or using an app/website to decide for you? This is great for smaller decisions that you’re procrastinating about; such as “should I go to that meeting, or stay home and finish my client work?”…”the blue notebook with stars, or the yellow notebook with rainbows?”
  • Think about the here and now. When faced with so much choice, we are forced to consider how our decisions might affect us tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year. The weight of responsibility can be incredibly stressful. Try and be mindful and make a decision based on the now, rather than years ahead in the future.
  • Don’t ruminate. I ruminate things over and over because I tell myself I shouldn’t make a rash decision…but then end up letting the decision rule me all week, ruminating constantly until it starts to affect my sleep and mindset. Give yourself a set time period to make a decision and stick to it.
  • Go with your gut. When there are so many choices, we try so hard to make rational decisions because of the responsibility we feel to get things right. But when we overthink things, we quash our intuition and gut instinct, which is a shame as they are incredibly powerful, and very often right!
  • Remember, it’s OK to get things ‘wrong’. Not all decisions are going to be easy and you aren’t always going to make the right decisions. That is just part of life. It’s better to have made the wrong decision quickly than it is to have spent days and days wasting time and energy on something that, in the scheme of things, probably isn’t that important.

Going back to the toothpaste incident, my husband had a quick scan of the options, saw a good brand for a good price and just placed it in the trolley ?

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by too much choice and making decisions? I’d love to hear your experience, comment below.

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