Skip to content

What Is The Paradox of Choice

What Is The Paradox of Choice

It’s great to have options, right? That is, until we’re faced with a choice where there are literally too many options to consider. STRESS! ANXIETY! CHOICE OVERLOAD!

While this isn’t something that happens to everyone, the paradox of choice is a super common source of stress and anxiety to some people. Like, how do I know which option to choose? Which option is best? How will I know if I made the right choice? And now we’re in a downward spiral. 

In today’s modern world, this is actually becoming a serious issue / problem of concern. Like we already mentioned, having too many options and not knowing which to choose can cause serious AND compounding stress and anxiety. 

But more than that, it can also cause general dissatisfaction in life, symptoms of depression, and social anxiety. All things you don’t want to be dealing with on a daily basis. 

So, if this sounds like you or someone you know, stick around. Because today, we’re going to break down the paradox of choice and learn how to identify this phenomena in everyday situations. Then, we’ll discuss some common examples, & go over some practical and actionable tips for overcoming it. 

Lot’s to cover, so let’s go.

What Is The Paradox of Choice?

So basically, the paradox of choice is a phenomenon where instead of being happy with having a plethora of choices, people are becoming more stressed and less satisfied with the choices that they make. And it totally makes sense.

When there are fewer choices, you just feel better about your decision because you don’t have to think so hard about all the options. However, when you have to consider many options all at once, the doubt starts creeping in. 

Did you miss something? Did you make a decision too quickly? See what we mean? It’s like more options leaves more room for error, and thus, worry. 

For a more detailed explanation of this concept, we recommend going straight to the source. The paradox of choice was coined and popularized by American Psychologist Barry Schwartz, in his ultra-popular book: The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. Give it a read! 

Barry Schwarz is the Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College. And his work focuses on the effects of economics on human psychology. He also wrote another bestseller which you might be more familiar with, called Why We Work

Other professionals, such as Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, have conducted experiments that further support the reality of this phenomenon. Similar to what Barry Schwarz argues in his book. 

So since this concept is a little abstract, let’s walk through a couple of examples. 

Paradox Of Choice Examples

♡ Buyer’s Remorse

Let’s say you’re shopping in a department store and there are just so many shirts to choose from. After hours of indecision, you finally choose a shirt. But now that you’ve purchased it, you’re feeling all weird and stressed. Wondering if one of the other shirts would have looked better, or fit better, or anything. 

This is that paradox of choice stress creeping in. Because there were so many choices, you no longer feel confident about your purchase. Whereas, if there had only been a couple of choices, you would have had more confidence in your final choice. 

♡ Consumer’s Attitude

This time, let’s say you’re still in the department store, stressing over all the options. But in this scenario, the stress of the paradox of choice causes you to literally not buy anything at all. Now, you might feel like you’ve wasted your time and your energy.  AND, you still didn’t treat yourself to that new item. 

This is a super unfortunate situation because the paradox of choice has left you with a lingering feeling of regret. Maybe you should have bought something? Maybe not? Still, the paradox of choice caused you to feel stress and anxiety during what should have been a fun shopping trip. So in a way, this phenomenon is indirectly influencing your consumer psychology. 

♡ Opportunity Costs

This is one we’ve all experienced before. When you are forced to choose between many options, you may find yourself going through the opportunity cost of each option in your head. This, friends, takes a ton of mental capacity. Plus, it can leave you feeling like you’ve sacrificed one thing for the other. 

Basically, instead of being 100% happy and confident in your choice, you’re left wondering if the sacrifices you made for the option you actually chose are better than the costs of the other choices. Now you’re going around and around in your head, possibly experiencing buyer’s remorse as well, and you’re most certainly experiencing less satisfaction in your choice. Not fun. 

How To Overcome The Paradox Of Choice

How To Overcome The Paradox Of Choice

Now that you understand what the paradox of choice is, and you can see how it could be a big issue in simple day to day activities –  let’s go over some ways you can overcome this phenomenon. 

Reduce the number of options.

If you have a big decision to make with tons of options, try to reduce the number of choices right off the bat.

Start by developing some criteria, and immediately weed out any options that don’t meet this criteria. You can repeat this process several times, until you’re down to just a few options. 

Choose based on values.

When given a mass amount of options, it’s likely that many of the options can quickly be removed by considering your values.

So, think about what’s most important to you, and choose the product, service, etc. that best aligns with your beliefs and values. 

Consider the opinion of those you trust.

Some choices don’t have to be made all by yourself. Especially if you know someone who has recently made the same decision – like say on a car, or a shirt, or something similar.

Instead of racking your brain for the right answer, ask someone you trust. Their honest feedback will help you shape your decision. 

Lauryn mirror selfie

Think of choices as experiments. 

Instead of thinking of every. single. choice as life or death, think of your choices as experiments. Some of them, at least.

This way, if the experiment goes badly and you regret your decision – it was just an experiment! An experiment that you learned from, and that will help you make a better decision next time. It’s like trial and error – not life and death. 

Think out loud. 

Thinking out loud has a ton of benefits, including that it can greatly enhance your decision-making process. 

Seriously, sometimes just saying something out loud (whether to yourself or others) is a fantastic way to clear your mind. It gives you the mental capacity to think through your choices and allows you to get out of your own head.

Sometimes, an abundance of choice is just too much.

Sure, there are times in which a large number of choices is great. But other times, it can just be too much. We understand how stressful the paradox of choice can be, and how it can leave you with tons of not-so-fun residual feelings. 

So, we hope these examples and tips will help you better understand how to identify this phenomenon and stop it in its tracks. 

Another super helpful tip is to snag the HOT MINUTE PLANNER. If you’re overwhelmed by decisions – like too many things you could do/get done in a day, this planner can really help you lay it all out. It’s intentional, has a purpose & the prompts are so well thought out. Give it a try and see how quickly you run the day instead of the day running you.

x, The Skinny Confidential team.

+ learn more about the best planner ever.

++ check out these money saving tips for couples. 


Questions, Comments, Thoughts?

Get the Skinny

Stalk Us

This is the best way to stay up to date with The Skinny Confidential. Be the first to know when episodes drop, new blog posts, and product launches.