Too many options – leads to little satisfaction

By Benjamin Armas

It has been said that we are our choices. But what if we have too many choices? Can this make it too complicated and prevent us from making an easy choice? I think of the home screen on Netflix or the cereal aisle in the local supermarket. It can seem like too much. too many choicesAll of these options can cause the natural flow of choosing a movie, or picking the right brand of breakfast food, to idle. In my line of work, provoking the right choice is part of my job. I help kids by hashing out all the choices, and separating one idea from the other to help him/her reason more efficiently.

A recent trip to a popular restaurant, however, had me question the luxury of choice, leaving me feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. This particular experience left a bad taste in my mouth, as my aptitude for providing a smaller window of choice evolves. I believe the less options the better. It helps create better harmony and decreases the stress and anxiety of decision-making (both individually and in group settings).

An article in the New York Times cited Professor Barry Schwartz. Professor Schwartz suggested that one should limit him/herself to only three options. He also noted that being presented with more choices “decreases freedom”. Furthermore, he says that one way to make a decision or choice is to become more comfortable with the idea of “good enough” because seeking the absolute right decision, “is a recipe for disaster”.

As a counselor for troubled teens and the neurodiverse population, healthy decision-making plays a huge part in a teen’s personal and social development. Internal and external conflict naturally occurs. Here is a basic example: give a kid the option to chose a restaurant for lunch; this leaves them feeling stuck. Rather, choiceroadsignI’ll present him or her with two choices and ask that he or she picks one. This eliminates the struggle of finding the right place and keeps the kid from teetering with all the options. Here is a more complex example: choosing to do the right thing- the age-old question. I myself can’t choose what is ultimately right or wrong for these kids. However, what I can do, is cultivate an idea in their heads around only having two choices- the helpful choice or the hurtful choice. I can help them see these two choices and how it will affect them and/or others moving forward.

When presented with fewer options, satisfaction increases. The more we distinguish choices as black and white, the more strife decreases. This has shown to be successful in working with this particular population, as well as a nice way to simplify all of life’s choices, big or small.