I like Aldi. The supermarket. I was thinking about why I’ve become a fan… Is it the slightly-too-dim lighting? The way half the stock is still in cardboard boxes? How if you forget to bring your own bag you stagger out of there, leaving a trail of falling groceries from cashier to car? Maybe it’s the randomness of the weekly sale stock… I was tempted to buy a chandelier there once – it was really good value and what I’ve always wanted… Then I realised: it simplifies my life by providing less choice. There is only one kind of big crunchy peanut butter, only one brand of prunes. So I just walk up, grab it, and move on. Hours of agony comparing different nutrition panels and packaging removed.
When it comes to first-world problems, choice paralysis is right up there. The greater the selection the longer it takes, and bigger the item the worse it gets – we can spend months deliberating about the right car to buy, years calculating if we’re in the right job, a lifetime wondering if we’re with the right partner… only to continue dwelling post-decision whether we’d made the best choice or if there’s something better around the corner. You’ve no idea how long it took me to find the right picture to go with this post.
If you’re interested, there is an interesting book by Barry Schwartz on this called ‘The Paradox of Choice’. He talks about this phenomenon of trying to ‘maximise’ in the face of abundant options – arduous research, feeling overwhelmed, getting stuck, making some decision but continuing to research, then inevitably regretting what you chose. It really begs the question whether more choice makes us happier. Studies done on this topic say ‘no’ and that actually, less choice makes people more decisive and happier with their decisions.
So what can we do about it?
Well, we can start by trying to actively streamline our lives; I know I’ve saved on mental energy since I started eating the same breakfast every morning, and despite not having a uniform wearing pretty much the same thing to work every day. And when decreasing the range of choice is not possible, rather than ‘maximising’, picking one thing, then consciously choosing to make the most of it and deliberately deciding to ignore alternative choices after that. Easier said than done, but maybe worth testing out for a week or so and see what you notice…