Friday, March 26

The Paradox of Choice - Barry Schwartz

Subtitled Why More is Less: How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction, this interesting text explores the common perception that more choice equals more freedom, and finds that the converse is true.
Schwartz opens with the incident that first alerted him to this counter-intuitive idea, jeans shopping. This was a task he thought relatively straight forward, but he soon discovered that, since the last time he bought a pair of 'just regular' jeans, the world of denim pants had expanded, offering him a vast variety of colours, lengths, closures, treatments (acid wash, stone wash...) and six types of fit from fitted to extra baggy. What was once a five minute purchase had become a task that occupied not only significantly more time but also a elicited a lot of concern where once there was none, including anxiety about making the wrong choice.
And it's this aspect that Schwartz discusses the most. The more choice we have, he says, the greater the likelihood that we'll be paralysed by fear of picking the wrong, or perhaps least good, option. And experiments show that the more options there are to choose from the less likely we are to make a decision - shoppers given a choice of six types of jam are far more likely to buy some that those confronted with twenty four varieties.
This disparity between what we think we want and what we actually want runs across the board - though up to 65% of people say they'd want to pick their own cancer treatment, more than 88% leave treatment modalities to their physician, while doctors faced with choosing between two medications or referring to a specialist are twice as likely to make a referral as doctors asked to chose between one medication or referral.
There are too many really interesting facts raised in this book for me to do them justice in this review. So my take home message - you can save yourself a lot of stress by deciding that sometimes 'good enough' is better than hunting until you find 'the best' regardless of whether that's a jumper, a restaurant or a house; making rules that limit some of your choices (eg only go to two shops when looking for crockery, only drink one glass of wine at dinner) will streamline your life; avoid reversible decisions (like being able to return items to shops) because that increases your potential for regret; work out what decisions are important to you (where to work, who to spend time with, for example) and what aren't (which kind of pasta to buy, where to have dinner tonight) then focus on those choices; be grateful for and appreciate what you have instead of thinking about what you don't; choose to regret less often; be aware that we quickly adapt to things so that something that brought up great pleasure rapidly becomes taken for granted and less pleasurable.
I've yet to out these changes into action but look forward to making them part of my life - Alex

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