philosophy

The Paradox of Overchoice: How to Navigate in a World of Too Many Options

FIRST PUBLISHED:

September 27, 2021

“People of the future may suffer not from an absence of choice but from a paralyzing surfeit of it. They may turn out to be victims of that peculiarly super-industrial dilemma: overchoice.”

— Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (1970)

It’s been said that having too much choice can be its own sort of poverty, as we become increasingly unable to make decisions when the number of choices multiply. That phenomenon was first coined “overchoice” by futurist Alvin Toffler, in his 1970 book Future Shock, as he foresaw the impact of technology, with its easy access to abundant information, products, and opportunities.

If you’ve ever felt paralyzed by choice in deciding on which subject to major in at university, where to live or work, which brand or style of jeans to purchase, or what to order off of the restaurant menu, you’ve experienced the paradox of overchoice. It can be overwhelming, and even paralyzing at times.

“People of the future may suffer not from an absence of choice but from a paralyzing surfeit of it. They may turn out “When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable…But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear…the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates.”

— Barry Schwartz, Paradox of Choices

The answer to this paradox lies not in turning back the clock to a time when we had far less choice, but in learning how to live in a world with an ever increasing amount of overchoice. 

Beyond the practices of fasting, meditation, and exercise, all of which help to protect our brain and body from the overload—there is also cultivating the ability to choose in a world of unending choice. This discipline becomes crucial in keeping life at a lovely pace.

In the interest of adapting to this phenomenon, we’ve come up with our own solution, and that is to compare only two things at a time, and go down the list using only this technique, as I’ve found it’s much easier to choose between two things than it is to choose from a long list of items.

And I’ve also found that if you have two that seem to be in a tie, flip a coin, as they probably compare quite closely in reward, ease, and outcome, and you can often course correct to the other option, if you find you need or want to.

Examining our core relationship with money, and finding ease, stillness, and quiet around one’s financial Here are a few further articles relating to the paradox of overchoice, and its impact on our wellbeing, as well as, ways to build skill in using choice to our advantage:

It’s important to note that having choice is an extremely valuable advantage, as not everyone does, and many of us have known times when there wasn’t much choice to be found – college ramen days anyone?

In understanding the benefits of choice, and in learning how to harness the unbelievable options we have at hand today, we can continue to cobble out the richer, calmer, happier and more enjoyable lives we long for, rather than becoming a prisoner of choice.

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