Save Time, Be Happier, Eliminate Choices
Thewirecutter.com is an electronics buying site that presents what they consider the best option for various categories. You want a laptop? Buy a Macbook Air 13″. Want a cheap digital camera? Buy the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7. And so on.
The site runs counter to the notion that more choices leads to more happiness. Whether we’re choosing a TV, car, job, home, husband or wife, there’s an assumption that more options means we can get the thing that’s just right for us. When we have that right thing, all of problems will disappear.
But what happens? There are 30 different 30″ flat-screen TV’s at the same price; 10 mid-sized sedans, all about the same price and performance; several attractive partners. Because there’s such a bounty of options, many of us get what is called analysis paralysis (also called option or choice paralysis). We either make no choice at all or take ages to choose. When we do choose, we are often beset with doubt, wondering whether we chose the right thing. In this way, more choices can lead to wasted time and misery, not a trouble-free, tailor-fit, happy life.
This phenomenon was made popular with Barry Schwartz’s book and subsequent TED talk called the “Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.” In a nutshell, Schwartz asserts that the myriad choices modern life presents us more often lead to anxiety than liberation.
This phenomenon holds true even when the increased choices do deliver a better, more personalized product. In his TED talk, Schwartz uses fitted jeans to demonstrate the paradox of choice. Sure, the newer, tailored jeans fit better than the stiff, ill-fitting, one-size-fits-all variety of his youth, but the amount of time spent finding the new variety, the amount of mental energy used choosing them and the amount of money spent paying for them undermines, if not negates, their benefits. In other words, psychological expenses often outweigh material gains.
In the ever-changing, option-laden world of electronics, The Wirecutter is a great tool for sparing yourself from analysis paralysis. The items are curated by expert reviewers who do a ton of analysis and know this stuff way better than most of us. They do present alternatives in case their main suggestion is way off base for a particular user.
The fact is that with any choice, there will be multiple “right” choices. An iPhone or a Galaxy S III will both ably fulfill your smartphone needs. There is no one right choice. At a certain point we must accept opportunity costs and make the best decision based on the information we have at our disposal.
Are you confronted with a choice? Here are a few suggestions to avoid getting trapped in vicious choice circles:
- If what you currently have works, consider staying with that. Sometimes the best choices are the ones we already made. Like a particular type of shoes? Get another of the same type. Like your laptop, get the newer version. Sure, there might be better ones out there, but finding them might be more trouble than it’s worth.
- Consult the experts. If you don’t know what to choose, find a reliable, robust source of data like The Wirecutter or Consumer Reports. Amazon reviews can be helpful, though not always; be sure to check out the one and two star reviews to see why people don’t like something. Remember, nothing will ever be perfect.
- Decide a set amount of time you have to decide. This is important. Sure, bigger decisions might require more time. You might wait more than a week to propose to that girl. But eventually decisions must be made.
- Make a choice and live with it. As with any choice, there will be better options we can’t make for whatever reason (insufficient information, finances, etc.). All we can do is make the best choice we can in the moment and get on with our life. Often the best choice is the one that is made.
This post originally posted October 24, 2012