Too Many Choices?

Perhaps you’re familiar with the fact that “You do have choices” and that choice equals freedom.  But have you ever been overwhelmed by the number of choices available to you?

This came to light for me during a recent workshop I presented on Eating Healthy and Staying Active for Busy Professionals.  As we talked about the different food options, a few participants chimed in about how overwhelmed they felt with all the different choices. “What do I do?” and “How do I know I’m doing the right thing for my family?” were common concerns among the group.  A new and interesting perspective.

This is why I don’t like going to the mall and much prefer heading to a single shop when I need something. I find the over-abundance of store choices overwhelming.  At the grocery store this week I noticed a woman looking for a bottle of maple syrup. I could hear her frustration with every sigh as she picked up one bottle, put it down, picked up another, commenting on the ingredient list. Too many syrup choices. (Hint:  If the sole ingredient isn’t “pure maple syrup” consider leaving it on the shelf.)

Earlier this week a friend forwarded the following video: Barry Schwartz: the Paradox of Choice.  Schwartz suggests that with too many choices:

  • We become paralyzed, unable to make a decision
  • We are less satisfied, wondering “Did I make the right choice”
  • We expect more. And that an escalation of expectations = less satisfaction even when results are good.

The secret to happiness, according to Schwartz: Low expectations

I’m interested in hearing your perspective about choices.

The video is around 20 minutes if you choose to watch it.

Having trouble viewing the video? Click here.

What do you think?  Do you ever become overwhelmed by the number of choices you have? Or do you appreciate the options? Or maybe it depends on what you need to decide?

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  • Chris Edgar

    Hi Stacey — thanks for pointing this out — that’s something I’ve run into both in myself and in others I’ve worked with — the anxiety that comes up when we’re faced with a sense of infinite choices, as we often are in life. One useful perspective, I think, is that this anxiety is something we can learn to quietly sit with, and one we realize that it’s not going to destroy us if we allow it, choosing becomes much easier. It occurs to me as kind of like allowing the intense sensations that can come up when trying a new yoga pose.

    • Stacey Shipman

      Hi Chris, There is a lot of anxiety – wondering “Did I make the right choice”. We’re so quick to ignore any feelings. The intense sensations come up with a new yoga pose, or anything that’s new, don’t you think? Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  • Jarrod – Cultivating Heroes

    Choices are great. The choice between no choice and unlimited choices would always lead me to take unlimited choices.

    But the sheer amount of choices can definately be paralysing. So I’m am starting to do is timebox my choice. I make 1 choice (regardless if it right) and just do that for 1 month. Next month I can choose something new based on the results.

    This way I benefit from both no choice and freedom of choice.

    • Stacey Shipman

      Hi Jarrod – Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I like the idea of your timebox…choosing one thing and focusing their for a period of time. Helps both with focus and the ability to make decisions. How is it working for you? I’m curious to hear your results.

  • Evita

    Hi Stacey

    I definitely appreciate the options, but I also think we just have too much, too much of everything today, and it is making our minds spin.

    Yes, we are overwhelmed. We wanted more, and well… we got it. Except the human mind can only handle so much and then it becomes more cumbersome, than helpful.

    Anyway, I would love to see this video… going on a hike now, but will make a point of coming back later to see it. Thanks for sharing!

    • Stacey Shipman

      Hi Evita -I hope you enjoyed your hike! Like you, I appreciate options, but after a while it becomes “noisy”…how do we choose?

  • Lora

    Hi Stacey,

    Yes – I, too feel overwhelmed when presented with too many options, which is probably why I’m not a lover of shopping. And malls are way too stimulating with all the energy. I feel the same way as you.

    This relates to the advice of giving young children two or at most three choices. I don’t feel all that much different from a young mind. Mine likes simplicity.

    Ooh- and I like what Chris says about sitting with and allowing the overwhelming sensations and anxiety to settle into our bodies versus resisting them. There’s a lot of power in blending versus resisting.

    • Stacey Shipman

      Lora – I thought I was the only female not a fan of shopping, good to know I’m not. When I started my business I was told “give clients three options, they will most likely choose the middle, it’s not too much, not too little.” Makes sense to me!

  • Karl Staib – Work Happy Now

    To answer your question. A little of both. I love my options, but you are right when I have too many I get blocked up. I’ve learned to narrow my choices to the best options and stop thinking about the other stuff. This focus has been a big part of my success.

    Great questions. Thanks for encouraging me to reflect today.

    • Stacey Shipman

      Karl – That’s great that you’ve been able to block out the rest. It’s the “letting go” that presents the most challenge sometimes.

  • Janelle

    Great read. I like the look, feel and direction of your blog, so I will add it to my blogroll. :) For me, it’s learning to listen to the quiet whisper of my soul (heart, intuition, whatever you want to call it). Yes, there are a lot of choices in life. Yes, there are a lot of experts saying this or that, but ultimately, I know best. I can trust and enjoy the journey. I don’t have to get anything “perfect” – I am free to change my mind, make mistakes and go with the flow. If something doesn’t work, I make a note of it and move on. I think people get anxious when they think they can’t ever make a mistake. That’s a lot of pressure!!

    • Stacey Shipman

      Hi Janelle – Thank you. I’m glad you like it here. :-) I agree – you know best. As individuals we all know best, sometimes all the “do this” “do that” makes us self-doubt. Making mistakes and learning is freeing, trying to be perfect all the time is too hard (believe me, I know!) Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

  • Keith

    Hello Stacey,

    Very nice blog! :-)

    Oh the choices, and having so many can certainly paralyze the mind at times. I’m of the mind to agree with Evita, in that I believe we have drifted away from actually LIVING life and have filled it up with a multitude of distractions. Obviously, not every choice is a distraction but many are.

    Perhaps having reasonable expectations helps with this issue.


    • Stacey Shipman

      Hi Keith – thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I definitely think expectations have a lot to do with how we feel about our choices, not to mention our stress levels. Begs the question “When is enough, enough?”

  • Jarrod – Cultivating Heroes

    Hi Stacey,

    I’ve been setting up my 90 month goals and then breaking them out into a list of actions that I will do for the month. Then I focus on just taking those actions. New learnings and things to study I have been filing away for review for the next month. I’m making a whole lot more progress this way, it’s amazing what you can get done when you keep focusing on doing.

  • Stacey Shipman

    Hi Jarrod,
    Thanks for coming back to share how things are going. It is amazing the progress you can make when you focus. Congratulations on your success!

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