We live in a world of endless choices. From dating to dining, from vacation to vacuum cleaner, from movies to mangoes, from sneakers to schools, the bouquet of choices available to us is unimaginably wide. Having choices to choose from is a great thing. Right? Right! However, having too many choices is not necessarily the best thing to happen to us.
Is there even a thing like “Choice overload”? Yes, there is! The term was introduced by Alvin Toffler in his book Future Shock in 1970 and describes it as a cognitive impairment in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options.
Ever imagined how much time we spend just deciding which place to order food from? Or the insane number of hours we put into ‘research’ about the latest smart TV before buying one? Or the sleepless nights we spend scrolling through Netflix ad other OTT apps browsing through hundreds of web series only failing to decide which one to watch? Well, the only silver lining is that you’re not alone swimming in this sea of choices.
Having too many choices is as overwhelming and disturbing as having less or no choice. While having choices is a great thing and gives us the psychological satisfaction of having the power to choose between options as per will and want, having too many choices and our innate urge to “choose the best and perfect one” often leads to bad decisions, anxiety, stress, dissatisfaction, paralysis, decision fatigue and sometimes even depression. The nagging and persistent thought “what if I had opted for the other one” weighs us down making it impossible to be happy with the choice we made.
Given the fact that we make about 35,000 decisions in a day (yeah, that’s right…but most of these are simple, like lifting a cup of coffee, taking a step, sitting down, etc), it’s easy to be emotionally and psychologically depleted.
Like me, if you realize that having to make too many choices is crippling your life instead of enriching it, it’s time to free yourself from the stress and decision fatigue.
So, how do we save ourselves from decision fatigue when faced with choice overload?
- Whenever possible, try to bring down the number of options to a relatively small number, ideally around six, give or take one. Studies establish that human decision-making is optimal when the choices are limited to six or fewer.
- Make some automatic decisions where the impact of the decision is not severe. Deciding what to wear to work should not be something you spend any time on!
- Take bigger and more important decisions in the morning when you are relatively less fatigued.
- Set personal time-window and deadlines for certain decisions to free up brain space. Knowing when to STOP the process is psychologically empowering.
- Have what I call “pre-configured templates” for recurring events. Every time I am invited to a baby shower, I exactly know what to gift. Similarly, for weddings and birthdays, I keep it simple by using gift cards. I order the same thing at Subways or Barista every single time.
- Prioritize! Spending time deciding between schools for your children is not the same as deciding where to order pizza from.
- Instead of spending too much time weighing between too many choices, it’s wiser to rely on other peoples’ reviews, research, feedback, and opinions. A good example is asking friends about a specific smartphone you have in mind.
- There is no such thing as a perfect decision. After you’ve made a choice don’t allow your mind to re-evaluate it.
- Stick to routines and basics! Understand that spending your brainpower on trivial choices like which toothpaste or cornflakes to buy is such a waste of your time and energy.
- Allow others to make decisions. Delegation is oft an underrated strategy to minimize stress.
In the fast-paced digital information age that we live in, if we do not limit our choices and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the tsunami of choices it can screw our heads, eventually turning us into grumpy, irritable, sad, exhausted, unhappy, dissatisfied and psychologically drained individuals.