We are bombarded with choices. Right now I’m sitting at a hotel bar in Scottsdale, Arizona, and I’ve got somewhere between 60 and 70 beers I can choose from. That’s just the taps, by the way – I’m not even bothering to look at what they have in bottles. Most of my choices are some local something that I’ve never heard of, and a few of them have ingredients that honestly have no place being inside of a beer. My current favorite is a triple IPA infused with mango and habanero pepper, which I can only assume will be served in some kind of edible tortilla-shaped glass. I’ve been staring at the menu for about eight minutes, and I still haven’t found something I recognize. If history is any guide (because this is hardly the first time I’ve been in this situation), I will eventually pick something at random and hope that I like it.
Think about that for a second. It used to be that there were only a few beers to choose from, and they were pretty much the same wherever you went. Back then, ordering a beer was a relatively simple process, and you generally knew what you were getting. Now, however, ordering one is often a longer and more complicated process, and you’re a lot less likely to know that you’ll like what you’ve chosen. Isn’t that the opposite of what ‘more choices’ is supposed to do?
It is. And yet, that’s exactly what happens when we are presented with too many options. There’s actually a psychological term for it, called “the poverty of choice,” which basically states that the more options we are presented with, the more likely we are to choose nothing. The more options we are given, the more neurological processing power we have to use in order to sift through those options, and there often comes a point when our brain essentially decides that it would be more effective to avoid deciding than it would to continue analyzing which of our 473 options is the correct one.
You can see this in your own life, I’m certain. Think about your closet, for example. What percentage of your clothes do you actually wear? If you’re like me and my wife, then odds are you find yourself wearing the same 6 or 7 outfits over and over again. Is it because you absolutely love those few outfits and hate everything else you own? Or is it because you’re actually burdened with so many options that you find yourself decide over and over again not to spend the time deciding on a new outfit and settle instead of something easy and familiar?
How about television? We have more television options today than ever before in the history of television. So how is it all of us occasionally complain that there’s nothing to watch? It’s absolutely not a lack of choices. It’s that we don’t want to spend a lot of time and energy thinking about which of those choices to choose, so we either choose nothing or (more commonly) settle for whatever one of our friends told us was maybe worth our time.
I don’t mean to suggest that choices are bad. We are blessed to have more options for work, leisure, fashion, food, music, and hobbies than ever before. That’s a great thing. But I am saying that there seems to be an upper limit to the amount of options our brains are willing to handle. That limit is probably a little different for all of us, but there comes a point when eventually more starts turning into less.
So if you find yourself struggling to make basic decisions that didn’t use to be very complicated (e.g. where to eat, what to watch), or if you find yourself settling on decisions that don’t necessarily inspire you (e.g. what you wear), then maybe your challenge is to figure out how to put fewer options on the table. Maybe that’s how you’re going to find the clarity you’re looking for.
Hope that helps. Now if you’ll excuse me, I still haven’t figured out what I’m going to drink. Maybe I’ll just ask for a glass of water and a packet of yeast. Eventually I think that’ll turn into a beer I can imagine drinking.