Tapestry

When more isn't always better: psychologist explains the 'paradox of choice'

Barry Schwartz breaks down why the abundance of options people have for every decision in life has serious repercussions on mental health. Too many options is leading to too much stress.
(Courtesy)

More choice isn't necessarily better? How can that be?

Psychologist Barry Schwartz is the mind behind the 'paradox of choice.'

Here's how he describes this 21st-century phenomenon:

"We all assume in modern western societies that since choice is good, more choice must be better; at every opportunity we should just be giving people more and more options. That turns out not to be true. The paradox is that when there are enough options confronting us, instead of being liberated we're paralyzed by them."

Barry Schwartz says that too many options leads to too many decisions which can be exhausting. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Schwartz divides people into two distinct groups when it comes to how they make decisions.

"There are people who want the best. We call them maximizers. The best jeans, the best vacation, the best university, you name it. Then there are people who want good enough. We call them satisficers. You could have high standards, but you want a good enough pair of jeans, a good enough school to go to."

Your decision-making style can potentially have serious effects on your mental health and well-being, says Schwartz. And maximizers are at the greatest risk.

"One consequence of having very high standards in a world of virtually infinite variety is depression, another consequence is anxiety and stress."

Maximizers want the perfect pair of jeans whereas Satisficers just want a good enough pair, and will be happier with their decision in the end. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Schwartz argues that our need to seek perfection in every decision we make is infiltrating not just the small day to day choices, but also big life decisions.

Forget what flavour of toothpaste or variety of sweetener in your morning coffee you're agonizing over. Try going online and deciding who you're going to spend the rest of your life with when there are millions of options at your fingertips.

"What happens when you're confronting all these options is that nobody seems good enough. It's always easy to imagine that the next swipe will produce the perfect partner."

So what does Schwartz suggest we do to take back control over our decisions?

1. Delegate Decisions: "Choose when to to choose," says Schwartz. "Instead of choosing, ask a friend who recently made a similar decision what they chose and just get what they got."

2. Set Limits: Schwartz says making arbitrary rules for yourself can save time and energy when it comes to an abundance of options. Only visit 3 websites or stores to limit your options.

3. Create Reasonable Standards: "Learn that good enough is virtually always good enough. If you go into a decision looking for a good enough result, the choice problem will take care of itself."

Schwartz says that implementing these solutions will be difficult and uncomfortable, but in the long run, people will be grateful for the time they've saved, the stress they've avoided, and will be content with the choices they've made.

Humble the Poet gets personal

When Humble the Poet signed on to guest host Tapestry this summer, he knew he wanted to tackle society's over abundance of choice. It's something he's struggled with ever since he left his teaching job to become a rapper.

"I remember wearing my reflective vest doing recess duty, getting hit in the head with a basketball and thinking to myself, 'I wonder what the other rappers are doing right now?' "

Click LISTEN to hear Barry Schwartz explain the nuances of the 'paradox of choice,' and how Humble has grappled with choices in his own life, including his constant FOMO. 

now