The Conundrum of Choice

which wayWhat a wonderful world we live in, full of choices and opportunities. Our ancestors would be astounded by the sheer number of things we choose, in our work and personal lives. Sometimes so are we!

A conundrum is an intricate and difficult problem as defined by Merriam Webster. Why then would choices result in a conundrum? Wouldn’t more choices mean more options and opportunities to solve our intricate and difficult problem? Therein, lies the challenge. There are two major “choice” factors that can influence our decision-making process, leading to overwhelm, an inability to choose or simply poor choices.

First is the availability of choice. Is it better that we have more options to choose from rather than less? On the surface the answer would seem to be yes, however studies have proven that more choices can also lead to fewer or no decisions. In research conducted by Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper, shoppers were provided with 6 choices of jam or 24 choices of jam. Of those provided the limited choice of 6, 30% of the shoppers purchased a jar of jam. Of the shoppers provided with 24 choices, only 3% made a purchase.

If that study is not astounding enough, consider what happens when we add in the influence of decision fatigue. Decision fatigue results when one is continually forced to decide between options. These can be options of choice, as in “I decided to make that many options available”; or a result of circumstances, such as having to weigh every choice at the grocery store to make the most of the money available for the week’s groceries. As the number of decisions to be made grows, the quality of those decisions declines.

While our world of choice is one that is seen as desired and favorable, we may not realize how the simple presence of so many choices impedes our ability to choose or results in poor choices as a result of making so many.

How do we choose from the many options we have? More importantly, how do we limit the impact of choices and decision fatigue?

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