The Paradox of Choice: Why too many options makes you unhappy

Have you ever walked into a gas station to pay for fuel and thought you might grab something sweet, only to be totally overwhelmed at the massive selection of every single candy bar that had ever graced the shelves of human kind? It probably didn’t help that they were all strategically placed around you, and probably brightly lit.

Well if you did feel overwhelmed, you wouldn’t be alone. Its called the paradox of choice, and it happens when we are overloaded with choice. We make thousands of decisions every day and sometimes we reach our limit, and don’t want make one more. Sometimes this is called decision saturation, or being ‘maxed out’ when we reach our acute saturation limit, and decision fatigue when we reach our chronic saturation limit.

It is honestly a big reason why we are all so fatigued by the end of the day, and why most people would rather reach for the remote to be passively entertained as opposed to undertaking further education, self development or working on side-hustles. The sheer amount of information our brains need to take in and process in the modern world is just overwhelming, and we were not meant to do this.

To draw a parallel, this can make the task of dating in the modern world very daunting. Especially with the advent of social media and dating apps – which force us to make instant decisions as we ‘swipe’ away. How could you possibly ever choose a partner when thousands more are just a swipe away?!

When I discuss this with my older friends and family, they all hastily remind me that it wasn’t too long ago that I would have been the outlier; 29 years old and without a wife or child. Even just one generation ago, it was the societal norm to marry and start a family as young as 20!

Gee, getting married and having kids at 20 – to me that sounds a lot like leaving a party at 9pm, just when its starting to get good. Don’t get me wrong – I can’t wait to be a Dad, but holy shit there is no way I could contemplate being one at 20. Which is ironic, because my father actually had a 4 and 2 year old when he was that age.

So, how can we overcome the Paradox of choice?

It’s easy – you just simplify and automate your life!

Let me explain – Simple is always better. When you simplify your life, you spend less life energy keeping track of everything, and you worry less. In the world of investing, this can mean adopting an index fund strategy, rather than trying to pick individual stocks.

In our everyday life, this can mean adopting some of the principles of minimalism – de-cluttering and removing excess objects from our life. It can even be as simple as winding back our commitments to our ‘extra-curricular’ activities such as our side-hustles, studies, sports, social groups, church or volunteering activities.

Simplifying your life is wonderful, words cannot describe just how good it feels when you remove the weight of unnecessary expectations and responsibilities from your shoulders. Everything becomes easier, you have more time, you feel more energetic and its easier to ‘get on top’ of everything.

A great way to simplify your life is to switch off the TV. Turn off the media and ‘unplug’ from the matrix. Realistically, this information overload isn’t doing anything to improve your life, and we are constantly bombarded with depressing news, negative headlines and fear-mongering. Between the stress inducing (Adrenaline and Cortisol creating) headlines, we are bombarded with advertisements telling us to buy more and feel guilty about our inadequacies. Do you really need this in your life? Adopt the low information diet and watch your stress melt away – Your mental health is worth it.

Secondly, automating your life provides a buffer from decision saturation, both acute and chronic. By automating the easy little nuisance decisions and tasks, you can buy yourself back plenty of time and brain-space.

A great example is very simple tasks like your regular bills. Automate those suckers: build up a buffer in your checking account and then set up automatic payments for your rent, mortgage, utilities or phone bill (just make sure you’ve optimised these costs first!). This means you never have to worry about missing a payment again, or pay any late or overdue fees.

This is especially important when it comes to investing. Pay yourself first! Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account into your emergency fund, savings accounts or ‘sinking funds’, as well as into your brokerage account.

Sinking funds are really important, so when your irregular or lumpy bills come across (which could be car registration, maintenance or even an annual holiday) you have the money waiting to go.

Automatic transfers into your brokerage account are important, because then you never have to ever think about where to get the money to invest. It just automatically slides across every payday. Then when it builds up and hits your pre-determined ‘buy’ figure, log in to your broker and buy your ETFs.

Automation doesn’t just have to relate to finance though; I set up an automatic watering system for my balcony ‘frugal’ food garden on a timer. Every day a pre-set amount of water is metered out to the plants, which thrive and produce me masses of yummy, fresh organic produce. I never have to stress or worry about watering the garden, which free’s up so much brain space for other activities. I just go out there and pick food when I want to eat it, and occasionally I sprinkle seeds directly into the pots or into my sowing tray in my mini greenhouse (which is just a clear plastic storage tub).

I get asked ALL the time, how am I able to be so productive. I do somewhat burn the candle at both ends to stay so productive, but I think its more about how I use automation and simplicity to make my life more efficient that helps me to get everything done. Because I don’t have to worry about the ‘naff’ shit, I can focus my effort on the decisions and information that really matters.

Try adopting the two concepts of Automation and Simplicity and applying them to your life. See how much your life improves and how much happier you are – I guarantee you’ll feel much more capable to make the important decisions!

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3 thoughts on “The Paradox of Choice: Why too many options makes you unhappy

  1. from someone who has trouble choosing off the menu all the time, I totally agree. I also love having a rotating meal plan and shopping list so I don’t have to think about what we’re going to eat. I can save my energy for more interesting or important things (Like reading finance blogs!)

  2. It IS freaky thinking about previous generations marrying and having their children so early, isn’t it? Many years ago I worked with a guy who got married at 19 (his wife was 16 when they married) and they had their kids early. I found it a bit shocking, but he said that by the time the kids leave home at 18 or so, he and his wife will still be relatively young (in their mid-late 30s) and they’ll then have plenty of opportunity to do things like travel or whatever. It’s not a bad perspective.

    1. Now THERE is a freaky story! I can’t imagine how hard that couple would have worked to make ends meet – Can you imagine the struggle of being 19 and 16 and affording a wedding, and then raising kids while you yourself are a teenager! oh my gosh. I guess for many of us, we go to university so don’t earn for another 3-4 years after school, which makes the wealth engine take longer to kick in. But to be running a family that young must be so tough, both emotionally and financially. My plan was always to try and build a wealth snowball, and then at age 30 when I am work optional to be able to use that wealth snowball to give myself greater flexibility at work while trying to be a parent – as in, if work sucks and I want to prioritise my kids – I will just go part time (or quit). Quite an interesting situation through being mid-late 30s and having had their kids moved out already haha!

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