With so much information, technology and connection at our fingertips, choices have become abundant. It is pretty amazing that we can find out answers to almost anything we question, find out how to build most anything we dream up and participate in both casual and meaningful transcontinental conversations. Who doesn’t love to have the power to choose? Having choices allows us to be unique and to create our own thoughts and practices. Choices allow us to live as we want to. But, at what point does having too many choices become overwhelming and beyond that…even, paralyzing? How can we maintain a sense of confidence in our instincts or security in our decision making?
having too many choices make us less likely to actually choose something…
This issue travels up and down the hierarchy from simple choices such as shopping, to bigger decisions such as career paths and marriage. In a recent experiment conducted at a grocery store, shoppers were presented with 30 different jams to taste in the hopes that these tasters would buy a jar. As expected, many tasted the jams but only 3 percent of the samplers bought a jar of jam. The next day, the same store sampled 6 different jars of jams and roughly the same amount of people stopped to have a taste, but there was a significant difference in those that actually made purchases: with fewer jams to sample, 30 percent of samplers bought a jar of jam.
Just go to the grocery store, walk down the cereal aisle… Unless you know exactly what you are looking for, and even that is a challenge, as it’s in our brain’s makeup to question further, “I know I came here for the Kashi Lean, but, look at all these other new boxes!?”, this is a difficult task. This is the first problem. Having too many choices heavily weighs upon the actual act of making a decision.
Now, you’ve picked a cereal, you go home and try it for breakfast the next morning, if this cereal doesn’t absolutely set your taste buds on fire with excitement, most people start thinking about what they should have chosen, and how they perhaps made the wrong decision. Sometimes, leading them straight back to the store to attempt making another decision. This is the second problem. Being exposed to too many choices sometimes leads to a very quick judgement of dissatisfaction, regret or guilt, and eventually results in a lack of commitment.
Of course we are just talking about cereal here, but now let’s go further up the hierarchy, like a career or a relationship. In working with young adults, I have found almost all of them are having a tough time figuring out what it is they want to pursue and furthermore, motivation to stick with something they have initially chosen. Once making a decision, the difficulty doesn’t stop there. Due to the constant widespread exposure of opportunity, we are at a time now, where we are much more likely to move towards a quick judgement of dissatisfaction or regret when something isn’t working out exactly as we would like it to. This could mean a few bad days at work, or a fight with a companion, or merely getting to know someone else’s faults or insecurities.
So where do we go from here? Choices are not slimming down any time soon, but we can learn to skillfully make decisions in a more effective way. Is the magic number of choices that leave us with opportunity but not paralysis? The research says any number up to six is a healthy amount of choice to consider when making a decision. In n Out is a perfect example of a successful business selling products within the framework of limited choice. Yes, they have a secret menu where you can alter your order, but on site, there are basically 3 choices on the menu. Perfect.
make a choice on how to choose…
On the lower end of the hierarchy, (shopping) use the magic number! Allow yourself up to 6 choices, and then narrow down from there.
For the bigger decisions (career, relationships, etc), the best way to navigate through effective decision making is to know what you value and to remind yourself of these values often. If you make a choice that is clearly consistent with a value you are cognizant about, you are more likely to A) make a decision quicker B) feel really good about it and C) stick to it even in times of hardship.
How to identify your Values:
Exercise: Start a Value Journal. Knowing your values comes from allowing yourself time and space, mentally and physically to tap into what it is that is really important to you. Spending the time connecting to this is greatly effective, not just in making choices but to leading a happier life.
Start a sentence with “I value ____________” and see what comes up. Once you feel a sense of completion with that thought, start another sentence with, “These are the most important things to me ___________” and see what comes up. Read over what you wrote and if you need to lump together some of what you wrote, that is fine, just try to highlight 3-10 values. Now write them out as a list and look them over every day, this will train your brain to have these thoughts available to the executive functioning part of your brain and you will start to make choices and take actions that are in alignment with your value system. Believe me, this is valuable.
DR. DEEPIKA CHOPRA