Choice overload 🤯

How an abundance of choice robs us of satisfaction


People want more control of the details of their lives, but at the same time want to simplify their lives. It is in this paradox the truth of choice surfaces.

As options increase, the effort of making decisions also increases. Mistakes hurt more because large sums of mental labor are expended to make them. Leaving the growth of choice with three related and unfortunate side-effects; decisions require more effort, mistakes are more likely, and the psychological consequences of the mistake are more severe.

Eventually, choice is no longer liberating, but debilitating to the point of tyranny.

Having every activity and purchase decision be a matter of deliberate and conscious choice overburdens us to the point of paralyzation. No one has the time or cognitive resources to make every decision thoughtful, thorough, and accurate.

The digital revolution has brought with it an explosion of products and services but most importantly a convenient and effortless means to browse. Through app stores and online shopping, an increasing trend of time-consuming foraging behavior has again emerged. A behavior that forces the individual to filter, sift, and sort. Pillaging for the perfect product or service for every aspect of life.

Each choice exhausts willpower, reducing the quality of your decisions.

As you find more important decisions on your plate, you might find that you're forced to make many of those decisions with inadequate reflection, causing the stakes to go even higher.

Even mistakes made with seemingly unimportant decisions can take their toll.


Unfortunately, the proliferation of choice in our lives robs us of the opportunity to decide for ourselves just how important any given decision is.

- Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice


Make decisions about when to make decisions.

Ease the burden that the freedom of choice imposes by:

  • Accept to follow existing rules or create your own to offload decisions.

  • Use presumptions to define your default option, eliminating the majority of the effort that goes into choosing.

  • Set standards that divide choice into two categories, acceptable and not acceptable.

  • Combine standards with routines to essentially eliminate specific areas of decision making.

Using rules, presumptions, standards, and routines come at a cost. Each involves passing up on the potential opportunity for something better, more efficient, or novel.

Until next time,

Josh Duffney

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A friend of mine, Isabelle Wilkinson of Journey Further Book Club is putting on an online event called XV21, a day of bitesize learning for people who are building the products, brands, and workplaces of the future.

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