Last night I watched the TED Talk by Barry Schwartz called The Paradox of Choice. In it, he talks about how in western industrial societies, we have a plethora of choice when it comes to so many things due to modern progress. In our culture, we assume that having a lot of choice allows us to have better things, which in turn will make us happier. But Schwartz challenges that assumption.
In the talk, we are given the example of shopping for a pair of jeans, and how not too long ago you would go to a department store to buy jeans in the one style that was available. Now when you go shopping you’ll find boot cut, skinny, baggy, tapered, high waist, low waist, etc. All in all, if you go to a store today to buy a pair of jeans, you will probably find ones that fit you better than you could have found 20 or 30 years ago. However, the consumer usually leaves the store wondering if they could have made a better choice had they bought a different type of jeans, as if there were some opportunity cost they had to pay by walking away with the jeans they did, even if their decision was a perfectly good one.
He also makes examples of decisions we must make in life that don’t involve purchases, but that are important life decisions. We are often left on our own to make decisions, without any preformed ideas of what is the best course of action. This leaves people confused, depressed, feeling as if the decisions they have made in the past were all wrong. They have chosen a wrong identity, are unclear about questions about family and career. We constantly have to make decisions and become consumed by them. We are always connected and wondering if we should answer a call, write an email, do some work, and are not present in the activities in which we are involved in that moment.
So in the end Barry Schwartz says that some choice is good, but all this choice we have now creates paralysis rather than liberation. People find it difficult to choose at all when given too many choices. People are more depressed than when there were less choices.
As I continue my self development process, I’m trying to consider how this has affected my own life. I’ve found myself questioning decisions, even when they were minor ones. I’ll give an example. I’ve been on a skin care kick lately after running into a website dedicated to it. I decided I want to look radiant, too, and realized after reading people’s posts that it’s not necessarily the most expensive products that work the best. I thought that sounded great, and rather than trying by trial and error a hundred products over time, I can read their posts. It became obvious which products were the most recommended and the price was right, so I bought them. Within a few days, I already felt like my skin looked so spectacular. Yet, I still find myself visiting the site to see what other products people are recommending, just in case I didn’t buy the best of the bunch. Why would I do that when the price was right and the results have been great? It only consumes my time, my energy, and takes me away from being present with whatever else I’m doing.
I guess the lesson here for me comes back to the meditative mindset. I need to remain more present and enjoy or be focused on what it is I am doing. I can stop being consumed by things and wondering if there was a better deal, because it’s only giving me paralysis. In some cases I am so paralyzed by thought I can’t make a decision, and so a decision is never made. It’s the micro-decisions in life that lead to wonderful things, and I don’t want to pass those up because I was like a deer in headlights, caught in a cycle of fear about making the wrong choice.