Having the pain of too much choice

In my previous post about choice I wrote that many people like me have the luxury of choice in an amazing amount of areas. However, the flipside is that we get too much choice and we get to experience the pains of having all these choices!

The result is that we get completely paralyzed facing all these choices – choices that sometimes are so complex that we don’t have the knowledge, skill or time to be able to figure them out.

In my generation you can clearly see this when it comes to careers, all this choice – instead of making people choose radically different things from each other – leads many young people to resorting to simple templates when thinking about their careers. Instead of using the fact that we in essence have the choice of choosing what we’re going to devote our lives to freely, opting for the choices that most resonate with our goals allowing us to have the most impact, we make low-impact “easy” choices based on what others do.

I recently came across some interesting thinking in this area that I wanted to share. The first is a book called Nudge and it deals with ways of relieving the burden for paralyzed choosers and ensuring that by simple methods we can be nudged into taking better choices. Nudges makes the “best” option a little bit easier to make (while not prohibiting you to make any other choice you might like) through for example providing intelligent defaults or making long-term results clearly visible (think about how many people are potentially susceptible to diabetes, but still chooses high sugary foods, thus increasing their risks…).

The book mostly looks at things like choosing your health care insurance, saving for your retirement and so on, but the pattern they describe holds very true also for what we do with our lives and how we work towards our goals. In this area, just as when it comes to choosing the right pension plan, we could use a little bit of a nudge. I think if we implemented more nudges in our everyday life focused around working towards our goals & aspirations or taking up impacting experiences, we’d probably live better lives.

The other source of inspired thinking in this area is TED-speaker Barry Schwartz (if you haven’t checked out TED, do so now!) who talks about this topic and on how the idea in our (western) society we can maximize happiness by maximizing choice is deeply flawed. His speech is well-invested 20 minutes. Overall I think that his points, combined with the approaches of the book Nudge makes sense – and I am certainly going to spend more time thinking of how I could “nudge” myself and others around me into making better (as viewed by myself & them) choices about sustainability, personal goals and personal development.

Having the luxury of choice

This weekend I spent a couple of days in London. It really is one of my favorite cities and also one that I by now know my way around pretty well. That means a visit is pretty relaxed. One of the nights we went to see the movie Religulous by Bill Maher. It is an entertaining movie, that doesn’t quite however make it’s message of religion being ridiculous fully believable. However, whatever you think about religin Bill Maher in the mvie had one comment that really stuck with me – that we (ad in most people living in america and europe) have the luxury of having choice. We don’t have to stick to our beliefs. We don’t have to stick with one job all our lives. And the list goes on …


One choice that we also have is to eat meat or not. I usually don’t go around preaching vegetarianism (even though I will happily spread the idea if people ask) however an article I read in Economist today got me in the mood to share. According to the article we are now potentially quite close to the limits of what our ecosystems can handle in the terms of our water usage. Agriculture is one of the main users of water, using 70-80%. These needs are set to increase, due to in part to population growth but also to a large extent change in diet.

As more and more people get increasingly prosperous they also have the possibility to eat more meat. This has a huge impact on water consumption – producing a kg of wheat takes about 1000 liters of water, whereas a kg of meat requires a whopping 15 000 liters (and wheat has a higher energy contents!). For us who belong to the “top end” of the increasingly prosperous (in global comparison – so that means mostly everyone in western europe) we have a choice, and all too often we use that choice to consume much more of the latter than what is either healthy or reasonable. Even though you don’t have to go completely veggie – why not cut down meat to one or a couple of days a week? Beyond saving water, you’re also impacting your co2 emissions and improving your health.

This is just one of the many areas where I (and many who will read this) have the luxury of the choice. We can live perfectly healthy lives (even more so in fact) with vegetarian diets and lower our environmental impact drastically. So, why not use that luxury?

Believing in people’s ability to contribute

I just came back from the AIESEC conference Sunday evening, tired but really enthusiastic about the experience. There are a lot of things to share, but I think I’d begin by sharing one of the first things that got me really thinking during these days.

There was an entrepreneur joining the first day holding a session where he started telling about his numerous businesses and how one of them had an especially rocky time now during the financial crises. As they started facing challenges the two other co-founders decided to quit the business, putting the entrepreneur in quite a difficult situation. He had to decide wether to close the business, sell it to a potential buyer that had emerged, or continue running it. He shared very openly (probably even more openly than he even himself expected to!) and asked the audience (the AIESEC members) what they felt he should do?


He got a lot of input, overall identifying that he himself sounded passionate about the business and didn’t seem at all inclined to close or sell it.

The interesting part of this experience is not in the specific input he got – but in the fact that he generated both a strong experience for the participants and for himself by displaying his own challenges openly and honestly asking for input. I’ve participated in a similar session in an AIESEC context before, then hosted by the multinational Bridgestone, and both these times I think the value of the meeting was very high both for participants & host.

Often, we don’t recognize that we’re surrounded by intelligence, ideas, strategies & help all around us. We tend to automatically devalue the input we can get from others with pretext such as that they lack information, knowledge or experience. If we instead open up, share the information we have, and set the expectation that we’ll receive something valuable back, then we’ll be able to extend the knowledge & creativity we can apply to our decisions and actions.

He came back to the conference a couple of days later, and shared that he’d come to a decision. Just as the AIESECers said, his passion was there and he wanted to take this business forward… and that’s what he will do.

Stretch & Grow

One thing that really motivates me is being around people who wants to strive for more, stretch themselves and just doesn’t settle with the ordinary or the status quo. For a long time I couldn’t pinpoint that this is what I sought in people, but after having working in several business projects, joining AIESEC and going through university I realized that it was the people who stretched themselves that I was drawn towards.


It’s not about the people who have unique abilities, high intelligence, great grades or anything like that. It’s about people who sit down, decide to take what they know and what they have, and choose to use it to it’s max – and a little bit more.

Right now, I am sitting in a room surrounded by people from seven or eight different countries, each person having come here to work on a conference that we’re going to execute over the next couple of days. They have chosen all to take up a challenging task – creating sessions, building a conference, driving an organization forward – not because they have to, not because they get paid, but just because they want to stretch and grow.

So now I am excited and enthusiastic, because I know that I will share the next few days immersed in stretch-oriented, growth minded individuals.