The Problem of Choice

How much time and energy do you think you waste thinking over the same issue again and again? For me, it’s a lot. Anyone whose ever had the unfortunate experience of shopping with me will know how awful I am at making decisions. If I’m scouting for shoes, I will spend an hour trying on 10 pairs and walk out the shop with none. If it’s food shopping, even if I write a list beforehand, I will go around the store 10 times until I’m sure I have everything I need/want. The problem is, I get so distracted by all the choices that I start to question if the option right in front of me is what I really want, or if there is something better available that I should perhaps consider.

I call this the problem of choice. If we analyse decision making behaviour, any individual will fall into one of two categories. Either you are a satisficer or a maximiser. The satisficer will opt for ‘good enough’, whereas the maximiser will try to assess the outcome of every possibility to rationalise which option will produce the best results. In this day and age, you might think maximising tendencies are preferable, because we always strive for the ‘best’, right? But let me tell you, I have always been a maximiser and it’s really quite unhelpful. The reality is that our minds cannot possibly pre-empt the outcome of every possibility because our knowledge is limited. So where a maximiser will battle with more intense feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out) in the decision making process, satisficers are blessed with greater feelings of contentment and are less likely to kick themselves when they realise they could have made a better choice.

So, when faced with making an important decision, remind yourself what you really need/want from the outcome. Maybe there are three key aspects to consider. For example, I’ve decided to move to France this summer, but honestly I was going round and round in my mind trying to decide which exact spot to choose until my mind was silenced by an intense back bending practice this morning and I realised it doesn’t actually matter where I live as long as it has the main things I am looking for, i.e. is there a good community of down-to-earth young people? Is it an attractive place? And is it close to nature? Once you have found an option that meets your key requirements, go for it and don’t look back. This way, you’ll experience less anxiety in the decision making process and will be more open to making the most of wherever you end up without regret.

Afterall, what can you do with all your thoughts anyway? When did thinking about something for days on end ever actually get you anywhere? So save your mental energy and spend more time enjoying the moment you are in. Whatever happens, it will all work out for the best in the end. Your story is already written. You just have to live it.

One Reply to “The Problem of Choice”

  1. hunters and gatherers have long gone through the same.

    a hunter seeks and finds its prey, then launches after it and takes it home. there is no sentimentality, only dinner.

    a gatherer will find not one, not two, but many different sources before going back and picking up the ideal ones. this is also practical, but appears to be an entirely different process.

    you can only carry so much, and the “prey” doesnt go anywhere (but might be picked clean on the next visit) so the strategy regarding what to carry is more complex.

    i believe this explains why you cant simply put on a pair of shoes. i am also ignoring any obvious male/female assumptions on who is a natural hunter and who is a gatherer. given that stores are more like a fruit tree than a limping animal, it is just as possible for men to shop like a gatherer. tendencies may even skew one way or the other– but my point was that you shop like a gatherer, not that its because of your gender. your advice was to shop more like a hunter– it is simpler.


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