The Paradox of Choice

While The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less articulated some insightful concepts and contained some helpful hints, I probably would have preferred to read the highlights in an article rather than in a book-length treatise.  That being the case, I’ll boil it down for you.  If you’re truly interested and want to know more you can check out the book, but otherwise you can mull over the information without cutting into your reading time.

Schwartz surveys a lot of research pointing to the fact that modern Westerners are swamped with choices that actually leave us immobilized and hampered rather than increasing our freedom or well-being.  In fact, it seems we all have a threshold after which additional choices just weigh us down.  I know I find this to be true in my own life, and am often bogged down researching far too long or taking too long to make decisions because there are so many options.

Schwartz identifies two types of people–maximizers and satisficers–and demonstrates that maximizers tend to lose in the face of our current glut of choices since a maximizer often can’t let go of a decision until he or she is certain that the solution is the best.  A satisficer, on the other hand may have a high standard, but once that standard is met, he or she is happy to walk away from all of the other, possibly more perfect, solutions.  Schwartz says we all have areas where we maximize and areas where we satisfice, and that we should work to automate or satisfice more of our choices wherever possible so that we free up our brains to work on problems that are most important to us, where maximizing may be called for.

“With fewer options and more constraints,” Schwartz writes, “there would be less self-doubt, less of an effort to justify decisions, more satisfaction, and less second-guessing of decisions once made.”

Reading The Paradox of Choice did make me more aware of my own irritation with “the tyranny of small decisions.”  For example, I like to do all of my grocery shopping at Costco because I don’t have to go as often (to feed my family of six requires Costco-sized packages anyway) and there are fewer choices.  Regular grocery stores drain me and make me feel resentful of the time I waste trolling up and down aisles looking at 417 versions of every single thing.  I started to think about ways I could apply that insight to other types of decisions and activities as well, which was likewise helpful.

Again, the book was perhaps a bit more detailed than I really needed, but I did find the concepts interesting and thought provoking.

Do you tend to be a maximizer or a satisficer in most things?  If you tend one way, have you managed to change to the other in any areas?


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2 thoughts on “The Paradox of Choice

  1. I am a satisficer most often. I think first of cloth diapers….there were so many choices! But, I intentionally chose what had a good track record and was in my pricepoint, rather than searching and sampling and finding the best cloth diaper. I am more than happy in life overall to find what works for me, even if it’s not *the best* or even if I know there is something better out there. I am approaching homeschooling the same way I did cloth diapers…which overall has left me with minimal stress about it all.

    Interesting and thought provoking ideas indeed!

  2. I’m totally a maximizer, and I wish I wasn’t. I deal with it in part by giving myself limitations in the areas where I find it most overwhelming. For example, I hate shopping, so I try to buy as much as possible online. But there are so many stores I could search there too, so I try and stick with a handful of options.

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