Too much choice

Barry Schwartz wrote the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less more and gave this TED talk on why too much choice can be a bad thing.

To summarize, too much choice is bad when:

  • It paralyzes decision making because you fear making the wrong choice.
  • You recalculate the benefit of your choice by subtracting the benefits of the choices you didn’t make (i.e., subtracting the opportunity cost).
  • Choices leads to escalation of expectations.
  • You blame yourself for not making the right choice (if you didn’t have to choose then you couldn’t be blamed for making the wrong choice).

A couple months ago I signed up to do the Hood To Coast relay run, which is next weekend.  I’m running with a really well organized and experienced team.  The team captains are taking care of all the organization, pretty much all I have to do is show up and run – so this is a fantastic opportunity!

However, since I signed up for the run I’ve had some regret because I’ve discovered I’m missing out on several other things (the company picnic, the first Chinese class of the new semester, an annual 100 mile cycling event, and watching the last couple of days of the Olympic games).  Why should having all these options available reduce the benefit of my decision to do the HTC run?!  Except for missing the class, none of the other options would even remotely be valid reasons for not doing the run!

Thanks to Barry, I now understand why I feel a little bit of regret, even though I shouldn’t.  However, in his TED talk Barry didn’t say what I should do about it…  it’s not unlike Daniel Gilbert, who explains in his book – Stumbling on Happiness – why we are often unhappy about our choices, without really explain what to do about it!