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The Paradox of Choice Summary

Here’s The Paradox of Choice summary. Learn why we don’t benefit much from having too many choices. Also learn more choice doesn’t always mean better options and more satisfaction.

Overview

The Paradox of Choice author Barry Schwartz explains that overwhelming abundance presents us with too many choices. However, having more choices doesn’t always benefit us psychologically.

In this case overwhelming abundance became a problem instead of becoming a solution. Too many choices leads us to think of the missed opportunities, regrets, and gain unnecessary anxiety.

About the Author

Barry Schwartz is an American psychologist who studies the link between economics and psychology. He wrote the book, The Paradox of Choice, which explains that more choices can make us more miserable.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the more choices there are, the better. But Schwartz argues that it can be the opposite. More choices leads to overwhelm and anxiety.

Main takeaways: The Paradox of Choice Summary

Let’s discuss the key takeaways from his book:

  1. More choices leads to overwhelm.
  2. More choices leads to less satisfaction.
  3. Control your expectations if you want to feel better about your decisions.

More choices leads to overwhelm

Having more choices is good. We can choose the best according to our needs or preferences. We all have different tastes. More variety means there’s a good chance that one thing will satisfy our tastes.

Having no choice is unbearable. It means we don’t have the ability to choose. We’re forced to settle on what’s on the table. We often feel sad or unsatisfied when all we can have is what’s already there.

This thinking leads us to “having more choices is better.” Yes more choices is always good, but only up to a point. Yes it’s good to have at least 10 TV channels. You can choose what to watch. But what if you have dozens of TV channels? What will you choose?

The result of having more TV channels could be overwhelming. You sit there on the couch and you turn the TV on. With so many channels to choose from, where would you start?

You touch the remote and browse the channels and shows. This goes on for several minutes. 30 minutes passed and you still don’t know what to watch. Having not chosen at all makes you feel a bit of stress.

This happens in other situations. We often have many choices on what to eat for breakfast, what movies to watch, what books to read, what shoes to buy, and more. This leads to overwhelm. One moment we can just decide to choose one and get on with it. Another common response would be to choose nothing.

That’s why some companies figured it out. They only offer very few products or choices. This way customers won’t have a hard time choosing.

More choices leads to less satisfaction

Let’s look at this scenario. There are 5 movies now showing at your favorite mall. All of them are blockbusters and they star your favorite Hollywood celebrities. You only have to choose one maybe because of time and budget constraints.

Finally you choose one. It turns out that your choice is just average. The story was average. The cast didn’t seem to give their best. The movie seemed low budget. And many other things.

You regret your choice. During and after the movie you ask yourself “What if I watched Movie Y?” Or “What if I watched Movie Z?” Those questions can go on for the rest of the day until you fall asleep.

You didn’t get much satisfaction. Your disappointment even compounds further when you hear your friend what a great watch the Movie Y was.

One reason you get less satisfaction is that you have other choices. Even if your choice was really good, you still compared it with the other movies you didn’t actually watch. You keep asking yourself “What if?”

What are you going to do then? Regret less. That’s the way. It’s useless to compare your choices with the what-ifs. Comparison might just make you feel worse.

Control your expectations if you want to feel better about your decisions

When we make a choice, we assume that it’s the best one. We think that one choice will give us the most satisfaction. It happens especially when we did some work before we made the decision.

Maybe we listed the pros and cons. We analyzed the situation. We analyzed the possible consequences of each choice. After hours of analysis, we finally chose one. It’s natural that we have high expectations of it.

We made the decision but the outcome is not satisfactory. That’s because we have high expectations of it in the first place. It doesn’t matter if the results are good enough. What matters for us is it didn’t meet our expectations.

That leads to more regrets and disappointments. But the results are good enough so why feel disappointed? Our expectations made us feel bad about our decisions.

Whenever we make a choice, we don’t have a complete knowledge of each situation. There are uncertainties. And most likely our predictions will be wrong.

But because of our expectations, we feel the disappointment. Even if it’s just a slight deviation from what we thought, we feel bad about it. We also ask ourselves of the what-if scenarios.

What should we do then? We should control our expectations. This way we’ll feel at peace. We’ll also minimize the regrets afterwards. We’ll also avoid thinking of the other options we left behind.

You’ve learned that more choices can lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction. You’ve also learned how to reduce those negative feelings for your own good. Aside from those, you’ll also learn the following from The Paradox of Choice book:

  • Why many people persist in troubled relationships
  • Why previous investment matters more than future performance
  • The importance of practicing gratitude
  • Why you should set constraints on your decision making
  • The difference between upward and downward comparisons

My personal takeaways

More choices isn’t always better. It leads to overwhelm. It leads to regrets. It also leads me to taking no action at all.

Why do I avoid taking action despite too many choices? Because I’m afraid to realize later that I made the wrong choice. That the other options are much better. I’ll simulate endless what-if scenarios in my mind.

To avoid regrets, I should set constraints. I should limit my options. I should also make my decisions irreversible. This way I would stick to my decision and get the most out of it.

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