The Paradox of Choice

From an interview with Barry Schwartz
Contributed by: Louise Mallory

Since the first term of this choir, I have been appreciating the way the different choices of Soul Food give us glimpses of the different choir members. I’ve always wanted to do Soul Food, but I wanted to find the perfect excerpt that would show you something about me. Then I thought that it would be even better to write something. I was looking for the perfect Soul Food and I finally came across this. You’ll understand why I chose it after I read it.

This is from an interview with Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor, who wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice.

Everyone agrees that having choice is better than not having choice. It seems evident that if choice is good, then more choice is better. The paradox is that this “obvious” truth isn’t true. It turns out that a point can be reached where, with more choice, people are worse off.

People can’t ignore options – they have to pay attention to them. If they make a choice, is there another choice that would have been better? There’s more effort put into making decisions, and less in enjoying them. What’s nagging is the possibility that, if they had chosen differently, they could have gotten something better.

How can you avoid the Paradox of Choice?

Most importantly, learn that “good enough is good enough.” You don’t need the best; probably never do. On rare occasions it’s worth struggling to find the best. But generally it makes life simpler if you settle with “good enough.” The only way to find the absolute best is to look at ALL the possibilities. And in that case you’ll either give up, or if you choose one, you’ll be nagged by the possibility that you may have found something better.

Lesson number two, learn when to choose. Sometimes don’t choose at all. Buy what your friend says, or Consumer Reports.

Lesson number three, compare what you’re doing to what other people are doing less. Some people, no matter how good their outcome is, compare themselves with people who did better. Don’t do this. Instead, get in the habit of noticing what you’re grateful for in your decisions, instead of what you’re disappointed with. It’s almost a truism, it’s so obvious, but it turns out that people don’t do it naturally. Most people just need to practice.

Lesson four, arbitrarily limit the number of options you’ll consider. If your friend won’t choose your digital camera for you, then promise yourself that you’ll go to only two websites and then stop your research and make a decision; or you’ll buy the best choice in one store. With practice, people will stop being nagged with regret that if they’d looked in one more place they would’ve done better. Instead, it gives people more time for things that are really important, which is not which digital camera to buy or which soul food to share.