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Overwhelmed with Choices?

“Choice is a wonderful freedom,” says Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, “but having more choices is not as wonderful as everyone thinks. There is a dark side to all the choices we have in modern life.”

 

Whether we're buying a pair of jeans, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting a long-distance carrier, applying to college, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions — both big and small — have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented.

Schwartz uses the grocery store as a perfect example.

You go in looking for, say, salad dressing and are faced with a wall of 175 types, not counting the dozens of varieties of olive oil and balsamic vinegar should you choose to make your own. Because you can select a dressing that meets your every specification (lowfat, organic shitake and sesame vinaigrette, perhaps?), you expect it to be The Best Salad Dressing Ever—to transform your wilted romaine lettuce into Kobe steak. When your greens still taste green, you are disappointed.

The same phenomenon follows our choice of job, home, neighborhood, vacation spot and romantic partner. Schwartz explains at what point choice — the hallmark of individual freedom and self-determination that we so cherish — becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being. In accessible, engaging, and anecdotal prose, Schwartz shows how the dramatic explosion in choice — from the mundane to the profound challenges of balancing career, family, and individual needs — has paradoxically become a problem instead of a solution. Schwartz also shows how our obsession with choice encourages us to seek that which makes us feel worse.

Schwartz outlines these tenets of decision making:

1. Figure out your goal or goals

2. Evaluate the importance of each goal.

3. Array the options.

4. Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet your goals.

5. Pick the winning option.

6. Later use the consequences of your choice to modify your goals, the importance you assign them, and the way you evaluate future possilities. 

The goal for an individual or a company, he says, is to “find the sweet spot where you have enough options to feel like you are in control, but not so many that you are paralyzed or have out-of-whack expectations.”

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