The Paradox of Choice – Why More Can Be Too Much (Too Many Choices)

The Paradox of Choice

Have you ever decided to buy an item on Amazon but then became frozen by the total number of choices out there – and left the site without buying anything?

Me too. In fact, I have done this countless times. Who can pick from 150 different white curtains? Or 300 different toothbrushes?

Life is full of choices – good and bad, big and small.

Scientists say we literally make thousands of decisions every day, even though many of them are unconscious. But if we had to consciously think through each and every one of those decisions, we would be exhausted all the time.

This is why our brains make lots of unconscious decisions for us. It saves brain energy and keeps us from being overwhelmed every minute of every day.

And while having choices in life is a good thing, I would make the argument that too many choices can be a bad thing – just as having no choices can also be bad.

You see, the key to almost everything is life is moderation. See The Key To (Almost) Everything in Life: Practicing Moderation here.

Things were not always this way. In the book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz makes the point that our grandparents were not faced with quite the barrage of choices that we face. For example, if their washing machine stopped working and they needed a new one, they simply went down to their local store and picked from the two or three models available. Then they took it home and didn’t give that choice another thought.

It is common today for shoppers to do hours, days, even weeks of research before purchasing a new appliance. And even that does not guarantee that buyer’s remorse will not follow the purchase. The fear of missing out, or FOBO, is often joked about but is also a real thing.

What if I had bought the model that was self-cleaning? And what if the third review was right and this model has plastic gears that will wear out?

Regret is a powerful thing, and in our world of perpetual data and reviews we might never figure out which item is truly the best. That sets us up for the uncertainty that leads to the regret.

I bought the audio version of The Paradox of Choice and listened to it all the way through in my car while traveling. Then I started at the beginning and listened to the whole thing again.

After this, I came to understand many of the reasons why I was so stressed and impatient. My brain was simply working too hard to sort out the choices in my life.

We are all fairly smart when it comes to self care these days. Like everyone else, I read and research the latest information on how to be aware and happy. I know to cut off the electronics.  I only engage social media in the pursuit of passing on useful information. I get quiet time and meditation into my schedule almost daily.

I but I never knew I needed to put a wall between myself and so many decisions.

Before you ask, yes, this can be done. First, just being aware that so many choices are out there (and stressing you) can help you get a handle on the situation.

Second, put as many things on autopilot as possible. For example, many people have a rotating dinner menu. They simply repeat the same recipes in the same order, and occasionally add in a new one for variety.  Also, many people make their own “uniform” for work by purchasing multiples of the same shirt and pants and wearing the same outfit every day.

Third, limit the amount of time you search for an item you want to buy. At the end of that time, make a decision based on the information you have at that point.

Fourth, make a commitment not to expend energy on making unimportant decisions.

Fifth, dedicate a few minutes each day to meditation. You can start slow with two or three minutes and work your way up 10 or 20. Some people incorporate even more each day. You can find the sweet spot that works for you.

Life can be so much simpler than we make it. This is a great place to start.

The Key To (Almost) All Things in Life: Practicing Moderation

Practicing ModerationModeration is a word that get a bad rap these days. Overindulgence is heavily flaunted in the media and also on social sites. It looks like so much fun to go all out on everything in life that extreme behaviors have become the new normal. Almost no one even thinks they are abnormal anymore.

But doesn’t it get tiring trying to carry EVERYTHING to the extreme?!?

There is another way.

The word “moderation” might not sound exciting or glamorous, but it will carry you a long way in life.  Engaging in some behavior, but not TOO much – works in many areas of our lives: eating, sleeping, exercising, etc.

It also works with possessions. Every person needs SOME stuff, but TOO MUCH stuff becomes overwhelming. (Hoarders is a show that both fascinates and scares me.)

But I have found the principle of moderation to work in (almost) every facet of life. Spending versus saving money, following your passion versus earning a high income, and hours working versus hours relaxing –  more great examples. You must practice moderation in each of these categories lest you become too extreme in one area or the other.

I’m sure everyone reading this can come up with multiple more examples. The point is this: it is so easy to go along with everyone else around you. For example, you work too much because everyone else does, and also you feel it is expected of you.

Or maybe you spend too much or overextend your credit because you want your children to have the same vacation or Christmas as all their friends.

Stop and take a breath.

We have more control over our lives than we sometimes realize. When you decide to live intentionally you exercise your right be who you really want to be. You don’t really have to live your life in extreme debt, extreme stress, or extreme tiredness.

Decide to mindfully practice moderation in all (or most) aspects of your life and it will simplify your decisions – both big and small.

Your Christmas decorations don’t have to be bigger and better than everyone else on your block. Remember, moderation. Put up the decorations that make you happy instead. Then stop.

You don’t have to coordinate every office party at work. Decide to do one each year and delegate the rest with a sign up sheet. It is even possible to do too much for others. See The Benefits of Serving Others.

There are literally hundreds of ways most people can make their lives better with moderation.  Along with the principle of moderation comes the ability to say “no”. Sometimes that means saying it to yourself. Sometimes it means saying to others.

Try mindfully using moderation for just one week and watch what happens. You won’t be disappointed.




The Benefits of Serving Others

The Benefits of Serving Others

As recent as a few decades ago, people put a lot of value on helping and serving others. You saw it woven throughout the fabric of our society. People helped their neighbors, their friends and their family anytime there was a need. It was a reciprocal relationship. When it was your turn, then someone helped you.

Fast forward to today…….

We live in a world that can sometimes feel very individualistic and self-centered. Many reality stars, particularly, have gained fame and fortune by appearing selfish and putting themselves before those around them. We also see this theme with many entertainers, sports stars, and even politicians. 

These people often appear to be the “winners” in life, right? They make headlines with their antics and things they say, while they rake in huge paychecks and live luxurious lives. Everything about being selfish appears to pay off, so they keep on doing it. And we support it by watching their shows, following them on social media, and eventually emulating them. That is how it leaks into everyday society.

But what ever happened to being a good person with solid morals? Do people even remember what those are anymore?

Society didn’t become this way overnight. It has been a slow progression. Years ago, it was common to herald virtues such as selflessness and helping others, but as the number of consumer goods continued to rise, so did the amount of greed. A couple decades ago, one of the popular bumper stickers read “Whoever dies with the most toys wins”. I haven’t seen that sticker in a long time, but that thought still prevails with most of society. 

I don’t think most people who live this way are even conscious of it. This way of life has become so ingrained in us that we only see it as doing what we are supposed to, which shows just how distorted things have become.

There are scores of articles detailing how social media has made people envious of the supposed “perfect” lives of their friends, family and neighbors. And, I understand, it is easy to assume that someone else’s life is perfect and that yours is inferior by comparison. So we turn our lives into a competition, whether consciously or unconsciously, so we can be the people at the top – the ones who have bragging rights on having the most shiny, sparkly life. 

There is one big problem with that. It’s very difficult to serve others while we are in competition with them. (Also see The Power of Gratitude In Your Life.)

And by not serving others we are actually denying ourselves some of the best blessings in life. Nothing on this planet makes you feel better than helping someone else. Nothing. It warms the heart of both the giver and the receiver, and the benefits of that help sometimes reach further than just those two people. 

The benefits of helping others are many:

  1. You lift up the person you help & make them feel loved.
  2. You give yourself a boost because doing good in the world feels good.
  3. You set an example for everyone else by promoting helping others.
  4. You encourage those you help to pay it forward.
  5. Our whole society improves.

Whether it’s picking up a dropped book or roofing someone’s house, every little gesture of kindness makes this world a better place. 

I had an opportunity to help someone last week that truly blessed me. I was in a parking lot and saw an elderly man shuffling slowly in the rain with his cane. He was getting drenched and so I fell in beside him with my umbrella as I walked him in the direction of his vehicle. After just a few steps, another vehicle backed up and ran into us. No one was seriously hurt, partly because I took the brunt of the car that hit us. But what would have happened to the elderly man if I had not been between him and that car? I believe whole-heartedly that I was meant to be there to shield him, and I am thankful that I had the opportunity to be of service to him. It made me feel good to be of use in such a wonderful way, and I hope that someone would do the same for my elderly father in the same situation. 

Being of service to others is a way of giving back to them and also yourself. Plus you make this world a better place. 

Here is the best way to get into the spirit of serving others:

  1. Stop Comparing Yourself To Others

It is easier to feel compassionate toward others if you don’t see them as your competition. Stop comparing your situation to theirs. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. No two lives are the same and it doesn’t matter if their life looks better than yours. The grass always looks greener on the other side, but it almost never is. 

  1. Be Thankful For Your Life

You can’t be envious of the lives of others if you are busy being grateful for your own life. And by this, I mean deep down grateful. Start each day saying or writing down all the things you are thankful for in your life. Even the smallest things are worthy of noting. Eventually, this exercise will reshape how you feel about the world  and your whole existence. 

  1. Wish the Best For Others

Now that you realize just how awesome your life is, be sure to wish the same for others. Always speak positive words and think positive thoughts toward everyone you encounter. What goes around, comes around. And that includes positivity and good will towards others. 

  1. Serve Others In Any Way You Can

Now that you have got your heart in the right place towards both yourself and others, you are free to joyfully serve others in ways you never thought possible. Tell others about what you are doing so they can get involved and receive those blessings too. 

  1. Don’t Limit Your Kindness To People You Don’t Know

Many people give to charities to help those in other countries or victims of natural disasters, but often overlook those close to them. It can sometimes be easier to give to a nameless face than to serve a person right in front of you. Remember that charity begins at home and we should help even if it feels uncomfortable at first, and always without judgement.

Kindness can be contagious! Pass it on!