The Paradox of Choice

I’m just finishing a skim read of Barry Schwartz’s book The Paradox of Choice. I’m sure if I read the entire book it would be very good. But appropriately, with everything going on in life right now … I chose not to really dive into this particular book.

Instead, I did my usual “skim” method on the book …

  • Speed read the first chapter to get a feel of the writing style and perspective of the author
  • Bold type “skim” until the last chapter (or summary chapter)
  • Read the last chapter

As far as I can tell, it was a good method for this book. The last chapter seems to be a pretty good summary and offers what I’m really after in a book like this anyway – tips and suggestions on “what to do”. They are some good tips and so I thought I would include them below for reference.

As background, the book argues that increased choice in our society has not made us happier, healthier or smarter. In fact, much research shows that we are declining on all three and some of that research pinpoints abundant options as one of the fundamental problems. So what to do?

  1. Choose when to choose. Think back on some recent decisions you have made (buying clothes, a car, etc.) and figure out if the time invested was really worth the end result. Could you reduce the time spent on your decision making and still end up in a “good enough” spot? Or, could you eliminate some decision making processes altogether?
  2. Be a Chooser, not a Picker. Choosers reflect on what is important and take their time on those things that are worth it. In other words, they are thoughtful and careful. Pickers jump from one decision to the next without ever pondering if what they are picking matters or not.
  3. Satisifice More and Maximize Less. Maximizers are always trying to get more out of everything they do. Satisficers learn to accept good enough as way to simplify decision making and increase overall satisfaction.
  4. Think about the opportunity costs of the opportunity costs. Learn to think less about the features you?ll miss out on by rejecting certain options. If you have decided that a given option is best – don’t worry about what you might be missing out on.
  5. Make your decisions non-reversible. Especially important ones that affect life deeply. Schwartz gives the example of marriage. He quotes a minister that once stated, “Yes, the grass is always greener – you will encounter people who are younger, better looking, funnier, smarter or seemingly more understanding and empathetic than your [spouse]. But finding a life partner is not a matter of comparison shopping and trading up.” Pour energy into making the relationship better, instead of wondering if you could have done better.
  6. Practice an “Attitude of Gratitude”. We are happier when we recognize those things that are good in our lives. Practice with a gratitude journal whereby you keep a daily record of 5 or more things that you are grateful for each day.
  7. Regret less. Practicing the suggestions above will help us regret less. Just understand that life is complex and that compromise is a part of the program.
  8. Anticipate Adaptation. That new car smell will not be the only thing that will lessen in a couple of months. You also won’t love the car as much – you’ll be “getting used to it”. Understand that and expect it when making decisions.
  9. Control Expectations. Our evaluation of actual experience is hugely influenced by our expectation of it. In other words, if you think that night out is going to be the best ever night of your life … it probably won’t be. Worse yet, you’ll start to color legitimately great things with a worse brush because you expected perfection.
  10. Curtail Social Comparison. Don’t worry about what George Clooney, your neighbor, brother, friend, etc. get out of life. What do YOU want from it and are you moving in that direction? If so, be elated! If not, get to the hard work of making it happen.
  11. Learn to Love Constraints. Sometimes we feel like the fish in a fishbowl … all life choices constrained and withheld. But that same fishbowl offers safety and regular food “out of nowhere”. Learn to love where you’re at and use the constraints to make life interesting.

After going through those tips and the book I think I can further summarize …

“Be happy with the good you have and learn to simplify your choices by being thoughtful about what you really want.”

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