Who hasn’t been discouraged by lack of follow-through or falling short of a desired goal or milestone? There are probably some good, objective reasons why this occurred; one that may go undetected, though, is the surplus of options that we encounter. Which might sound strange, for it seems at first glance that options are what allows us to choose well, right?
But research has shown that too many choices can lead to discouragement, frustration and ultimately failure. So, fewer choices = better results.
What we label a “lack of willpower” could in fact be too many choices.
Take the famous jam experiment—“When Choice Is Demotivating”—which revealed that when too many choices of jams (24-30) were presented, sales plummeted, and when the choices were limited to six, sales increased.
This goes against the premise that is readily promoted in our modern information society. We talk about options as though they are the key to success and satisfaction. It’s a false assumption. We need information like we need food, but too much food leads to obesity. It’s time to ban infobesity: the relentless feast of online information.
We want more choices because information is addictive. Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out and search. Dopamine makes you curious about ideas and fuels your search for more information.
It’s nice to have options. Having a few options is better than having none. But too many choices can cripple our ability to succeed. The researchers call it “choice overload.” Reducing our choices can be beneficial.
Here are four ways subtracting our choices can become a plus:
1. Fewer choices delivers more satisfaction.
Variety is the spice of life, but only to an extent. Too much variety can sour life. Making choices with our values in mind helps point out where the spice of life ends and the sourness begins. When “limiting our options” is guided by what is important to us, our options bring personal satisfaction. These become value-based options instead of a smorgasbord of choices.
2. Fewer choices creates energy.
Extensive choices can have demotivating consequences. When the options are fewer, we are more energized to participate. This is true whether we are shopping, joining, investing or goal setting. The never-ending choices do more immobilizing than motivating.
In one study, students were offered an extra credit paper for their class. They were instructed to choose from a list of topics. Some had a list of six, and some had a list of 30. The fewer options consistently produced a higher completion rate, as well as a higher quality paper. The energy level both to participate and produce was increased.
3. Fewer choices decrease second-guessing.
Having unlimited options can lead to questioning our choices. In our “option-rich” environment, we can find ourselves wondering about the choices left on the table.
In another experiment, students were given the choice of chocolates. Two groups were again tested—one with six choices and one with 30. Both groups were happy with the multiplicity of choices. But in the end, the group with more choices displayed a higher level of regret for not having made an alternate choice.
4. Fewer choices deepen learning.
In today’s world, the amount of information is endless. Too many things to learn means we don’t learn anything well. Deciding on what we want to master, and then taking it deep, is more empowering than dabbling in endless subjects and ideas just a click away—ricocheting from one thought to the next. It’s hard to go deep in the fast lane.
What is needed for personal mastery is not more information, but interpretation—not more content, but context. Deciding what we will learn and filtering out the rest creates comprehension and clarity.
A culture always setting itself up for the “next new thing” can create chronic dissatisfaction.
Choices are not intrinsically bad. It’s the complexity that too many can create that causes us to quit—or not start. Streamlining our choices reduces the complexity that hampers good outcomes.
It’s an irony. Subtraction can become a plus. Like any art, it improves with practice.
This post originally appeared on LeadershipTraQ.com.
Mick Ukleja, Ph.D., is the founder and president of LeadershipTraQ. He empowers leaders to optimize their talent and equips them to excel in their professional and personal life. Mick is an author, speaker and generational strategist. He writes and speaks on engaging millennials at work. He is the co-author of Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce, 2nd Edition, which is used in corporate training and business schools. He co-founded the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership at California State University, Long Beach, which promotes ethics across the curriculum. Mick is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Concordia University. His book Who Are You? What Do You Want? has been praised by legendary coach John Wooden: “I have always taught that success can be achieved by each one of us. These principles provide an excellent life-planning guide for bringing out your best.” Mick has been featured on Fox News, CNN, Fox Business Network, NBC and in numerous publications. Keep up with Mick at Leadershiptraq.com.