Too Many Choices: A Problem That Can Paralyze

Research also shows that an excess of choices often leads us to be less, not more, satisfied once we actually decide. There’s often that nagging feeling we could have done better.

Sound familiar? :slightly_smiling_face:

As I’ve considered the angst I often feel in deciding on apps and workflows, and as I read the many posts in this forum regarding the same, I wonder if many of us suffer from the paralysis of choice.

Perhaps this article summarizes the source of our problem–too many choices. I am striving, as I’ve written elsewhere, to come to peace with the notion that “good enough” in app selection is good enough, hence my decision to use Apple’s default apps.

I encourage you to take the time to read this short article; you may find, as I did, it to be a healthy reminder that too many choices can, and may be, hindering us or at minimum creating an unnecessary uneasiness that perhaps “there is something better.” Because current apps are frequently being updated with new features and new apps are being developed, there will always be the thought that “perhaps that app is better.” How much time have we (I) devoted to app selection, changing apps, discussing apps, and changing our workflows when we could have spent that time reading, writing, researching, thinking or playing?

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It does, albeit with respect to my wife. She is always second guessing herself!

And of course there is the song Freedom of Choice by Devo.

I on the other hand have learned that once I make a decision, I’m done with it and move on to whatever is next. We drive each other nuts, me wondering why she keeps going over things I consider finished; she wondering why I don’t care about doing better. :slight_smile:

I learned long ago that what is important is to be good enough, because it will never be perfect. This may have to do with my background in physics and astronomy, where order of magnitude calculations are often good enough. And now in software development, with the concept of the Minimum Viable Product. Something my engineer friends find crazy (order of magnitude answers don’t work for bridge building!).

With respect to apps, I find a workflow that works, and then unless there is a problem I need to solve, I stick with it. Recently I’ve participated in several threads about window management, noting that I use multiple tools (Moom, Stay, Better Touch Tool, Bunch). One might say when there are multiple choices I select them all!

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I can’t read the article due to the paywall, but I would like to contribute that when I am choosing and changing apps, I am doing all 5 of those!
I get the point though, and in my process I make sure to almost immediately whittle the options down.

There are questions about whether this study can be replicated. The study has other limitations as well. In general, it’s best to take any study from the field of social psychology with a grain of salt.

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Or planes! :rofl:

Not debating that but I suspect that many of us can affirm the essential point of the article anecdotally. This forum being a prime example. :slightly_smiling_face:

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When fiddling with software, switching apps frequently, obsessing over forum opinions about this or that application, take precedence over fulfilling one’s commitments to work or family or oneself, then it’s time to stop everything and get back to living.

Katie

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I agree that we are now in a position of having to trust our own observations more. For example, many of the studies discussed in the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman failed to replicate but the ideas presented in that book seem valid. The problem is that the media loves to jump on “sexy” studies and are completely unwilling to do the hard work to find out which findings are strongly supported and which are not,

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I agree completely. That said, one of the things I try to guard against is a reductionist approach to knowledge. Depending on one’s training, education, personality, and more, one can make the epistemological mistake of assuming there is only one sure path to truth, e.g., the scientific method, authority, intuition, experience, etc. The nature of truth, the relationship between reason, presuppositions, belief and faith, the relationship between objective reality and our perceptions of it, the relationship between brain, mind, and external realities, the distinction between knowledge, understanding and wisdom, how we know that we even know and more is such that acquiring truth and wisdom cannot be reduced to one or two methods. In all likelihood, truth, understanding and wisdom are acquired through an interdependent, symbiotic relationship between all of the above and probably more. Hence, the need for thoughtful humility. :slightly_smiling_face:

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The obvious answer is to reduce your choices! :grin:

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want

Thanks to @MevetS for the original gem.

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As a teenager working in a grocery store I saw shoppers stand for long periods of time staring at produce without making a decision. Then suddenly picking up an item and walking off. And I’ve worked with people who cannot (will not?) make a decision. Frequently this leads to waiting until the last minute and guessing at what the boss would want. Is it too many choices or a lack of confidence? IMO it could be either, or both. I’m not qualified to say.

“This is a case where offering a default option of opting in, rather than opting out . . . doesn’t take away choice but guides us to make better ones,” In computer software the default is usually more profitable for the platform owner, and we can hope it is also good for the consumer. Because most people settle for the built in apps.


This may not be the same thing but I’ve observed people in high stress situations that freeze up. They literally make no decision even if their safety or that of another is involved. We used to call it “option lock”. Maybe some of us are just born that way.

Good article and point. I’m on a slightly different wavelength. I like it when a choice makes me realize some more fundamental question is unresolved. For example, if an array of pie fillings makes me stop in my tracks at the store, I’m realizing it’s because I don’t understand our range of grocery spending well enough, or we don’t know the people for which we’re baking well enough, or perhaps I’m realizing I haven’t been adventurous enough of an eater. I think those moments are valuable. In the long run, recognizing and acting on this signal gives me the wisdom to escape the paradox of choice and go straight to the one or few viable options. The mechanics of evaluating and testing the choices themselves can be mastered, too.

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In general, we humans get upset when we have too many or too few choices.

Great article and thanks for sharing. I think the key issue is “what is the sweet spot for offering number of options”. The answer could be different depending on the product, service and market segment and conditions.

For us as end users having to pick. The process vary depending on

  1. opportunity cost
  2. consequences of wrong choice

When it comes to app, I normally weigh up between switching cost (financial and effort) and potential benefits. The hard part is to know when a new app is not for myself and need to pull out

You, @cornchip, are a much more disciplined thinker than I. I commend you.

I agree with you. Very often a piece of RCT or experiment, in which by the way, social sciences are not any worse or less reliable than many done in the so called hard sciences, is based on reflection and evidence of the kind you indicate. There is, as you imply, a kind of ‘reflective equilibrium’, which includes but is not confined to, certain statistical or experimental methods.
For sure in biology and medicine the randomized control trial, the ‘Golden Standard’, has shown its weaknesses over the last two years: in particular in the face of some basic engineering/physics principles. For what it is worth I think we have way too many vapid and empty ‘choices’ in our society. Not so much regarding jelly and jam though. Now get off my lawn! :star_struck: :grinning:

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I like that. I’m going to steal it. :slightly_smiling_face::ninja:

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Just quoting this because I can only heart it once and wanted to be able to give it more praise than that.

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I wonder if this is simply a result of decision fatigue? Another factor seems to be not having sufficient information to make the choice. The context is also important. If someone is standing there looking at you to make a decision, the pressure can cloud the ability to make a decision.

I lived in a developing nation for over 8 years. The largest shop I visited in that time 12 foot x 30 foot, and selection choice of similar items was two max. When I returned to the uk I went to a supermarket to shop. I came out after 30 minutes sweating and immensely stressed having bought nothing. I could no longer cope with a choice of an entire long shelf of similar products. It took me 3 months to adjust. On reflection a lot of this was that I no longer possessed the information to choose. The products had changed the supermarket had changed and I hadn’t a first clue what to buy.

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