Choice:The Case Against
Choice:The Case Against
Every day brings a choice: to practice stress or to practice peaceJoan Borysenko
Last week, standing in front of the bread aisle in my local supermarket, I felt baffled. It was the end of a long, busy, tiring day. How could buying a loaf of bread be so difficult? As I perused the sheer variety of different types, shapes and flavours on offer, I was struck with decision paralysis. Sourdough or rye? Crispy buns or bagels? Warburtons or Sainsburys own? Thank goodness I didn’t have to do an entire shop!
There’s no doubt we live in a world where there is more choice than ever, whether it’s deciding what to wear, choosing holiday destinations, T.V. programmes, or what to drink in a coffee shop. By the way, do you know that Starbucks sells 80,000 different drinks combinations?
We are led to believe that the more choice we have the better. It’s associated with freedom, autonomy and self-determination. It’s true that some choice is good, but too much of it isn’t. The sheer volume of choices we now encounter on a daily basis is bad for our health. It’s really not surprising – research shows that we make a staggering 35,000 choices a day.
So how does it affect us? In short it overloads our brain. Psychology Professor Barry Schwartz refers to it as the ‘Paradox of Choice’. His research shows that having an infinite number of choices is both paralysing and exhausting. It can also lead to self-blame as we agonise over making the wrong decision. This is because when we choose between different options, we not only waste time deliberating between them, we use up cognitive energy and also experience a small dose of stress. The more times we do this the more we accumulate these ‘micro stresses’. Eventually we reach a threshold and it’s at that point we snap at our partner or kick the metophorical cat.
So what can we do about it?
To reduce stress caused by having too many options, try to make choices only where it really matters, so that precious time and energy is saved for important decisions in life. You can do this by making everyday choices much simpler, for example, what to wear. Have you ever wondered why Simon Cowell wears a uniform of black T shirts and blue jeans? Or why Mark Zuckerberg typically wears a grey t-shirt with jeans? It’s so that they do not have to waste time making clothes selections every morning. It also makes shopping for clothes much easier.
I want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how best serve this communityMark Zuckerberg
So here are some ways to limit choice in your life:
Make a meal planner
It’s a familiar scenario. You return home in the evening and open the fridge with no idea of what you’re having for dinner. If you’re lucky, the fridge contains food – but you’re tired and the last thing you want is a mental to and fro about what to eat. A major source of daily stress for most people involves deciding what we are going to cook and eat. Planning your meals for the following week before doing your weekly shop will save time, stress and could also save you money!
Create a morning routine
Mornings are filled with lots of decisions that you can learn to automate such as; what time to get up, what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, etc. Cementing all your morning decisions with a clear routine can really set your day up for success and save you lots of cognitive stress.
Be a selective viewer and listener
Only subscribe to the channels that give you the most pleasure or provide the information you want. So instead of choosing between the millions of programmes and podcasts on offer, you can start listening or watching straight away.
Don’t agonise over menus
If you already know what you like, stick to it instead of considering lots of different dishes. Don’t feel obliged to add to your stress load every time you eat out in a cafe or a restaurant.
Consider looking at your lifestyle to see where and how often you are making choices. Then honestly consider how many of the choices you are making are really necessary. Start to eliminate some of these choices from your life. Do it bit by bit – you can build it up over time.
Need more help?
My Simply Declutter online programme includes weekly one to one meetings with me, monthly prompts to keep you motivated and my exclusive organising guide.
It’s the perfect way to create space, reduce stress and simplify your life!