Overchoice

I’ve come to a conclusion: having too many options causes nothing but trouble.

I was sitting on my bed browsing through Netflix for almost two hours last night trying to choose a film to watch and what was the end result? I got tired, gave up and went to sleep, there was just too much choice! My brain was so frazzled from clicking and scrolling up and down that I switched off my laptop and that was that. I ended up opting to watch nothing, rather than wasting my time trying and failing to find ‘the best’ film, or making my way through every single one that had caught my eye (no way José, not on a school-night!). But such is the usual outcome when we’re spoilt with too much choice, lack of action and dissatisfaction.

Think about it, when you go to a restaurant and see a huge menu with tonnes of dishes that you’d love to devour, are you able to quickly select one and then give the waiter your order? No. You end up choosing one thing and then change your mind a second later, then your eyes glaze over, you start staring at the menu without actually reading anything and you become hangry, because you just can’t decide but you’re also starving! And so what’ll happen is that you’ll probably end up settling on something mediocre that you’ve had before, just for the sake of placating your poor empty stomach as quickly as possible! Fail.

And of course we have to talk about all of the dating apps out there, like Tinder, if we’re discussing the subject of overchoice. In theory the possibilities are endless with these apps. You’re FLOODED with options, aka photos of girls and guys posing with sedated tigers and skiing down the Alps. But what’s missing is the element of genuine interest, because although you may have found a decent match and the conversation is good, both of you are still swiping and being inundated with other matches all the while, so how can you form any kind of real attachment? The idea is that an even better person is always just a swipe away. And so in this case too many options leads to a lack of genuine interest which I’ve heard is pretty essential in the world of dating! Plus it’s impossible to keep up with chatting to multiple matches for too long before it becomes tiring, that temporary ego-boost wears off and you become unenthusiastic towards all of them. And so the result? You give up and delete the app because all that pointless small-talk starts to give you a headache! Fail.

Or what about the subject of career paths. Say you studied a broad degree subject at university like: marketing/psychology/management/english, theoretically you can go in to any field of work that you like and you won’t be limited when applying for jobs. But when it comes to that wonderful post-graduation period when you have to get serious and actually select a career, it suddenly feels like the sky is falling because you have so many potential avenues to now pursue, even though all you really want is just one. Result? You half-heartedly apply for a range of different jobs in various professions and a week later still don’t hear back from anyone so you have a major panic attack and beat yourself up for not having taken the safer route, picking a specialised degree subject like: optometry/physiotherapy/architecture/medicine. Because even though you almost certainly would’ve hated every second of it, at least you’d probably be employed right now! Fail.

Even going to the supermarket is a stressful task because of the overload of choices that we’re faced with. Buying bread and milk is really not as straightforward as it should be. I mean come on, we have to decide between: wholemeal, medium-sliced, thick-crust, best of both; skimmed, semi-skimmed, whole, lacto-free…Fail!

Basically (after all that) my point is that having too many options causes us to spread our focus and attention so far and wide that we overexert ourselves, become stressed and lose the ability to think rationally and fully dedicate ourselves to just one concept. Overchoice also makes us subscribe to the notion of perfection. We feel like we need to consider ALL of our options and then make the BEST choice possible, we try to locate that needle in the haystack of options that we’re given, but NEWSFLASH: sometimes there is no needle, just a haystack.

Overall, I do think that we need an element of choice and autonomy in our lives in order to feel like we’re exercising our rights to freedom (because we’re all entitled to that) but too many options doesn’t seem to do us much good psychologically. Overchoice makes us feel overwhelmed. So whenever possible try to limit your options to as few as possible, that way you’ll keep your focus intact and avoid a massive meltdown!

38 replies

  1. Well put. 🙂

    This is actually something I’ve been thinking about since I read a J.J. Abrams interview in a recent issue of Wired magazine. He talked about when an ABC executive called him about coming up with a pitch for a TV show. The executive wanted Abrams to give him an idea for a show about people who get stuck on an island. When Abrams called the executive back and pitched his idea for Lost, the executive responded that the idea sounded crazy. Reflecting on this moment, Abrams told the Wired interviewer that it was because the executive gave him a limit on what he could pitch that he was able to come up with something crazy. Had the executive simply asked him to pitch a show that was crazy, Abrams wouldn’t have known where to start, or even how to define “crazy.” It was because Abrams was given boundaries to work in that he was able to do something extraordinary within those boundaries. Had he not been given boundaries, he would’ve been lost (pun intended) from the beginning.

    So, yeah, too much choice can be a bad thing. Again, you stated it beautifully. 🙂

  2. I can definently relate to this! The Netflix case is something that happens over and over again where I end up with one I have seen before. The same applies to apps/gadgets. So far I have removed all social media apps and only have wordpress. I guess you can say I am down the avenue of elimination. great post!

  3. So true. There weren’t many options for anyone when I was a child in the ’40s and ’50s. Whilst, to some extent, I envy those who have so much more today, I don’t envy what you describe

  4. But, aren’t we all Yoga Enthusiasts/Non-Profit Organizers/Rock Climbing/International Travelers or is that just in online profiles? Our divided attention has allowed us to believe that we need a society that needs every light illuminated, every thought medicated, and every dream bottled. Not for our own success just so we could go buy something else.

      • I agree. Doesn’t it reflect how we buy things by having all these choices?. I was at Target in Minneapolis for toothpaste normal it’s a small space of a few dozen choices. There’s a toothpaste aisle now. I think only the boxes were different. If we had that kind of redundancy with something well, more valuable. Freedom from choice maybe than freedom of choice.

  5. As life moves forwards the choices you desire are narrowed based on what has peaked your curiosity of the past and especially what you like, or love as a passion.

    However, is less better or is it.?

    Experiencing a vast majority of what life provides builds an excellent foundation to discover your likes and dislikes.

    In the 80’s cable television offered one to three hundred channels of programming. After years of debate, and viewing choices, I have evolved to narrow my personal options no matter what volume of options are available.

    Great posting:-)

  6. I’m so the same with regards to he career one, I’m happy I’m not alone! I like writing so I should go into publishing or make it as a freelance writer, I like travelling so maybe I shouldn’t have a career and just move around, but then again I like routine so maybe I should have something office based! All in all its really difficult ! 😦 thanks for sharing!

  7. The examples u used were actually nailed it! But take an example: when we shop online for a mobile, we want options like one with good camera quality or the one with good looks or more memory or durability…! Here, we can search the best option we get but if we get very few option, will we be satisfied? No!
    That’s why I felt, options are good!

  8. Hey, thanks for the follow 🙂 I was literally thinking this the other day – we have far too much choice and it’s causing so much anxiety in the world! We can’t cope. I really like your blog, what theme do you use?

    Ruth 🙂

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