Paralysis by Overanalysis? Overcome Choice Overload

Overcoming Choice Overload for You + Your Business

Paralysis by Overanalysis? Overcome Choice Overload

The average adult makes more than 35,000 decisions per day. From the moment we wake up, we’re bombarded with choices. Some are small like what to have for breakfast, others are more important, like considering a career change. In tandem, they can weigh heavily on our mental state and quality of life. This is known as choice overload, it causes decision fatigue leaving you emotionally distraught, irritable and paralyzed. 

 This level of mental wear can make even a benign task like picking up toothpaste seem exhausting. An average grocery store has over 39,500 items, and this one in particular, while conveniently located on your way home from the office, has over 40 types of toothpaste, all of which swear will give you white teeth and a (winning smile).

In a Ted Talk, Barry Schwartz, author of Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less, gives a great example of choice overload:  

Barry tells the audience about a study done on investments in voluntary retirement plans, Barry got investment records from Vanguard for about a million employees and 2,000 different workplaces.  

“For every 10 mutual funds the employer offered, the rate of participation went down 2% – so if you offer 50 fund options – 10 % fewer employees participate than if you only offer 5 fund options.  

Why? Because with 50 funds to choose from it is so hard to choose which fund that most people will just put it off. This means making the decision is so hard that employees pass up significant money from their employers. Paralysis is a consequence of having too many choices.”  

On the other hand, businesses often unconsciously put consumers in a state of decision fatigue. Business owners can remedy this problem by categorizing and narrowing down their products and options, alleviating choice overload for consumers.

Too many choices - choice overload - overcoming choice overload

In The Jam Study, by Sheena S. Iyengar she experimented with a jam stand offering samples in a grocery store. One stand had 24 choices and one had six.  40% of the shoppers tried the jams and 30% made a purchase. With more options, 60% tried the jams, but just 3% made a purchase. The conclusion: “choice is alluring but confusing”. Customers given too many choices are ten times less likely to buy. 

Dealing with choice overload is a responsibility both consumers and businesses have to share. Consumers can make themselves more resilient toward the daunting number of choices in their day by practicing some of these tips: 

Tips to overcome choice overload:

  • Be mindful about your choices 
  • Narrow down to what is important  
  • Categorize items into groups  
  • Set a time limit on decision-making  
  • Practice on the small stuff  
  • Decide and commit  
  • Make some choices automatic 
  • Go with your gut

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