Paralysis by choice

I just saw an interesting piece on Catalyst (on ABC2) about the effects of choice on our psychology.

Our entire market economy is based on one idea, the more choice you have the happier you get. But science suggests we’re going against human nature. In fact, too much choice can actually make you sick.

From here: "Choice"

You can see the vast amount of choices we are faced with when taking a trip to the supermarket. Do we really need half an aisle of toilet paper to choose from? How about 20 different brands of olive oil?

I think there are a couple of factors that affect our response in the face of "over-choice":

  1. The importance of the item - If we're faced with a large number of choices for a trivial item, such as toilet paper, it induces frustration. One ply, two ply, or three ply? Plain, or pictures of dolphins or puppies? Who cares!
  2. Our knowledge of the items - If we can't distinguish between the choices, then more frustration. My favourite example is olive oil. Who knows the difference between the different types and brands, and who could be bothered learning when we just want something to cook with? I just want some oil!
  3. The cost of the item - High cost and high choice is the worst, for me at least. The Catalyst piece spoke about how this leads to anxiety, and for some people depression.

This topic has been playing on my mind a lot lately, mostly because I'm a chronic over-thinker. I think the turning point was truly realizing that, for small items, the choice really doesn't matter. Just pick one, whichever captures your attention first - it's not that big a deal!

It's been harder to deal with choice in the face of high cost items, such as when buying a camera for my US trip or my recent purchase of a new TV. I've been working on trusting my instincts and not second guessing myself, which appears to be working. Formulate what it is you want, find what is available in that area, and see what other people think. Internalize as much information as possible, and see what decision "bubbles" to the surface.

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