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.

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