We are often spoilt for choice, which makes decision-making a difficult task. Take the shopping experience, for example. The array of goods available is mind-boggling and making a correct or judicious choice is well-nigh impossible. I have often found myself going back to what first caught my eye. So, now I save myself the agony of deliberating over what I should buy and just pick up the first article that drew my attention.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz says we should take every opportunity to enhance choice, but within certain limits. When you go from having no choice, he says, to some choice, your life is better. But when you go from having some choice to infinite choice, weird things happen.
Human beings are seldom satisfied with what is available, always wanting more. The problem is that when we are confronted by too much, we are often paralysed by the range of choices. This happens more often to women than men.
I have been dragged into jewellery stores by well-meaning friends who are convinced gold is the best buy. As I look at the countless pieces, each prettier than the next, I am filled with doubt. That’s when I end up going way above my budget even though I rarely experience a gold rush.
Having too much choice can make you do one of two things. The first is to fall back on brands or types that you are familiar with, thereby saving you the trouble of having to choose one over so many others. Or, you might go overboard and buy all that catches your eye and let the guilt overcome you later when you realise you have broken the bank.
Things were so much simpler when I was growing up. There was little choice and I had to settle for what my parents could afford to get for me. In those days, parents were wise enough not to place the burden of choice on a youngster. I continued to covet what I couldn’t have, but I knew that all I could do was dream.
When confronted by myriad possibilities, you are likely to make bad decisions. Or, even if you make a good choice, you are not satisfied with the final selection. That’s because you keep thinking about the ones that you let slip away from your grasp.
Reading consumer reports does not help either as you come across so many different opinions that you remain confused over which is the perfect buy.
Asking friends is also not the perfect solution. Before buying a mobile phone, for example, advice is sought from those whom you think have done thorough research before buying their gadget.
But you are in for disappointment. As they list the extraordinary features of their phone, someone else joins in the conversation and, before you know it, you are subjected to an argument about the pros and cons of the two brands possessed by these two individuals. If you are smart, you will make your escape quickly and silently, toss a coin or buy the one that the majority has. There’s safety in numbers.
Sometimes the decision can become so overwhelming that it automatically shuts down all your analytical skills.
The solution to this dilemma is to stop comparing and analysing and simply settle for what’s good enough.
When I skim through a menu at a fancy restaurant, the description of the dishes is enough to make my mouth water. Eventually, I ask those who have eaten there before to recommend their favourite dish and that’s what I opt for.
Let’s simplify life as much as we can.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.