Friday, 28 October 2011

Crippled by Choice

A very brief experience yesterday reminded me of a concept I read ages ago. The experience went like this:

I was in a cafe looking at a new product (new to me anyway). It was unusual 'Hedgerow' cordials offered in about eight different flavours. I was tempted to buy a bottle but my indecision over which flavour would give me the most enjoyment meant I didn't buy anything. I was literally crippled into doing nothing by choice. Now that is ridiculous! However, there is researched theory that shows this is quite typical behaviour and retailers 'in the know' play this to their advantage.

O.K. If you went into a restaurant and had to decide which of the following flavoured ice cream you were going to choose - which would you choose?

Now imagine the same restaurant offered you this choice, which would you choose?Was choosing from eighteen or three different flavours easier?

We tend to live under the impression that the more choice we have the happier we will be. There is no denying that absolutely no choice creates a miserable existence and we do need to have some control over our lives and be able to manoeuvre in it to feel happy but too much choice can overload us - especially if we are a maximiser.

The reality is, the more choice we are given, the more effort we have to invest in making a decision and the more chance we have of making a perceived 'mistake'. Greater choice, raises our expectations of the outcome and makes us more prone to disappointment and it makes us more likely to 'kick' ourselves' for not making a better choice. And strangely, how we feel about the decision seems to overshadow the actual experience the choice gave us! In other words, we can be more upset about what we missed out on than what we actually got.

So greater choice means we have more potential experiences to let go of and get over having turned down!

I think I will just go back to that cafe and grab the first bottle I look at. It's sure to create enough of a pleasant experience and it is just cordial after all!


  1. That was an enlightening post. Definitely one of those observations that awakens a person to the things going on around them in a small way. I wonder what it says to always pick the same thing, and be deterred from ever making a choice outside of what is known.

    Or maybe if it says more than simply being closed minded to the possibilities of life.

  2. Hello A Wilson.

    A very interesting comment. You have made me wonder more...for example:
    - if some people always choose the same because they are actually overwhelmed by choices or if they just love the simplicity of closure and rely on a decision made earlier than have to think again.
    - how much it depends on what the choice is about or not i.e. whether some people always maximise or suffice whatever the choice
    - whether it is actually impossible to remain open to all possibility all of the time (I would think that would make life more interesting but would make it mentally exhausting)
    - whether the discernment needs to kick in not as the decision is being made but before then - i.e. is this a choice I should think carefully about or one that I really need to be flippant about
    - are people that are prone to choosing the same better at choosing with unknown criteria or worse?

    Oh my.

    Hello and welcome. I visited your place...I am intrigued.

  3. Agree totally. Have you tried buying shampoo inthe supermarket without putting in years of pracitce first?

  4. Choices just frustrate us... but then I've never met an ice cream I didn't like. Good post!

  5. That was quite fascinating. When given choices we can be overwhelmed with gluttony, though--err--sensory overload. The latter tends to lead to poor choices.

  6. Molly:

    I'm delighted to find your blog. Wow. We could have such a long conversation ver coffee. As I've read several of your posts, I'm taken by the creative manner you are thinking your way through life and life's mysteries.

    Jung is an interest of mine, and has been since early college and through graduate studies. His work on dreams is especially helpful to me.

    Regarding the need for choices, I've studies the sales process for years and it seems that people are best enabled to chose if the are limited to 3 options, even if make no choice is one of those.

    Well, I've joined your Google follow now, so I'll be able to better keep up witH your stuff. I welcome you to drop over to my place and do the same - if it strikes your fancy.


  7. Spot on MollyP. Life is too short to be wasted on dithering by ditherers...says I, the ditherer of all ditherers.

  8. The Suffolk Raspberry flavour is the best. You should buy that one. xxx

  9. 11 months later and I still can't decide between lime ripple and g gooey maple.

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