The Problem of Too Many Choices

The Problem of Too Many Choices

Written by: April Cheung


I was originally going to write a segment on modern dating life.  I quickly realized the root of the issue is really the problem of too many choices.  We are given more and more choices as we grow up, from the people we date, the mustard we can put on our hot dogs, to making an important career choice.  Most of the time, humans do not actually know what they want when given the choice.  Malcolm Gladwell offers entertaining insight on why we do not know what we want through a story of spaghetti sauce.  There are several social experiments that prove this very point.  People are more likely to buy things when there are only a few options.  When there become too many, we have trouble analyzing what it is that we want, and we shut down.  As a result, we rely on relativity; comparing one thing to another.

The problem with comparing is, it makes us generally pretty unhappy with what we already have, it affects our choices that have a pretty big effect on our lives, and it makes us want more.  We all have different ideas of what success is, yet, we measure our degree of success with what others have accomplished.  When we succeed, we switch our comparisons to someone or something that possess more.  I know that when I make decisions, I like to think that they came from my thoughtful rationalizations.  However, maybe realizing we don’t will help us step back for a second and think about our decisions in a different light.

Comparing also becomes more difficult when given more choices.  Options for everything seems to be growing, especially with the rise of technology and the internet.  I would imagine growing up in the 80’s meant the likelihood of meeting your partner in your neighborhood, work, school, or circle of friends was great.  Now, there is online dating, and travelling has become so accessible that we frequently move for work opportunities or even for fun.


I remember learning about this in a sociology of sex class my last year of my undergraduate degree, and feeling uncomfortable at the thought that I would meet my soulmate “only” through work, school, and circle of friends.  I thought, “What if there was someone better out there, that was perfect for me, and I just didn’t meet them because I didn’t expand my horizons?”

That thought seems a little silly to me now, because that is exactly what the problem of too many choices is.  We are constantly wondering whether there is someone or something better out there, while we are already possessing another thing.  I think about the amount of times I am doing a task online while going back and forth with 10 other tabs of websites.  There are too many options for me to focus and work hard on one thing.  Instead of getting one thing done fully present and with focus, I do many tasks halfheartedly while thinking about other things I could be doing.  We give up when focus, attention, and thinking gets tough (aka our logical thinking).  With more options, we move on to the next rather than sticking to the first task.

I also notice it is harder to even try to commit now because nobody else is trying to commit to anything.  It is so much easier to say you are attending an event on Facebook and then not actually showing up.  Maybe you decided to attend another more desirable event that just popped up a few hours before.  Maybe you simply did not want to attend, and since you are basically allowed to be non-committal, you stay home and watch Netflix instead.  That is the biggest trouble I have experienced in friendships and dating.  I find that I can no longer allow people to be non-committal or dishonest, or they will keep thinking it is acceptable.

I don’t think people decide to be dishonest or flaky.  I don’t think it’s a conscious decision not to work hard on relationships, feel emotions (even seemingly harmless ones such as boredom), and compare our lives with others.  We are simply not aware we are doing it, because we generally think we are rational human beings that want the best things for ourselves.  Self-sabotage is pretty rampant because it is easier to get away with being dishonest with ourselves.  We steal pens instead of robbing people’s homes because it is easier to get away with.  It is harder to see the value of what you are stealing when you can justify it.

Instead of justifying, we need to deal with discomfort.  In order to become strong, we need to build each other up.  That means, the next time someone decides to halfheartedly commit to a task, let them know.  When you feel yourself self-sabotaging, make the decision not to.  We are stronger than we think, and that means we can handle some discomfort if that means we can finally make a choice and commit to it.

I end with a quote from Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior:

There is a saying when you sit, sit. When you stand, stand. What ever you do don’t wobble. Once you make your choice do it with all your spirit. Don’t be like the evangelist that thought about praying while making love to his wife and making love to his wife while praying. It’s better to make a mistake with the full force of your being than to carefully avoid mistakes with a trembling spirit. Responsibility means recognizing both pleasure and price, making a choice based on that recognition, and then living with that choice without concern.”