Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, delivers a TEDx talk in Amsterdam in 2011. BILL HOLSINGER-ROBINSON FLICKR VIA CC BY 2.0
Barry Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice,” delivers a TEDx talk in Amsterdam in 2011. BILL HOLSINGER-ROBINSON/FLICKR VIA CC BY 2.0

We live in a world where top 10 lists fill our newsfeeds and every product has endless variations. It’s great, we can get the best of anything. Why get a toothbrush when you can get the best toothbrush? Not only does it vibrate but it also plays music. Finally, I can get my dose of Hannah Montana while I get rid of my stinky breath. Now picture yourself sleeping over at your friend’s house, with your brand new Hannah Montana toothbrush, go to set it down on his (or her, we don’t discriminate) sink. What do you see? A beautiful toothbrush with interchangeable heads! It can be a water flosser or a vibrating toothbrush (which I’m sorry to say vibrates much better than yours.) Now don’t you feel awful? You thought you bought the best toothbrush, but you didn’t.

So, is having more choice actually better? One would think that having more choice is freeing, right? With more options we can choose from so much more. But that may not be true, more choice may in fact be paralyzing. Economist Barry Schwartz talks about this in his book, “The Paradox of Choice.” He goes on to say that too much choice leads to anxiety and regret in shoppers. The anxiety stems from choice overload, this is when people have a difficult time making a decision when they are faced with many options. The regret stems from the feeling of choosing the wrong option, finding out that one of the options we thought to forgo was actually a better one.

Sheena S. Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia Business School wrote a paper in 2000 called “When Choice is Demotivating.” In this paper she runs different studies to show how more choice can actually be paralyzing. In one of her experiments, she offers students in an introductory social psychology class the opportunity to get extra credit if they are to write a two-page paper. Easy enough, right?

There were two groups of students, one group was given only six potential essay topics while the other group was given 30 potential essay topics. The results? “Of the 70 students assigned to the limited-choice condition, 74 percent turned in the assignment. In contrast, of the 123 students assigned to the extensive-choice condition, only 60 percent chose to complete the assignment.” That’s a massive drop after being given more options. Since having more options gives us anxiety, regret and paralyzes us, are we sure it is best to live in a world where we are flooded with options?


Now, I am not preaching that we should all start wearing uniforms and eating pre-packaged meals delivered to our homes, all I am saying is that we should be aware of the risks that come with too much choice. It’s easy to get paralyzed when thinking of situations with too many options, such as one we all know too well, what our careers will be after college. When the quantity of options gets too high there are a few things you can do to deal with the stress that comes with it.

First, try to limit your choices into a smaller group. Limiting your choices will keep you from getting overwhelmed by all the possibilities. Pick a set of rules or guidelines that the choice must satisfy for you to choose it. Next, when you do pick an option, see it through. Don’t worry about what could have been if you picked another option. Finally, if after sticking with the option you realize it wasn’t what you wanted, remember you can always pick something else later on. You don’t always need the best, just what is good for you.

What I am saying is, buy that Hannah Montana toothbrush. Don’t worry about your friend’s ultra-cool multi-head toothbrush because if your toothbrush does the job well for you, it is the toothbrush for you.


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