Too Much Choice Is Making You Anxious

by | Dec 9, 2015 | Stress & Anxiety Relief | 4 comments

A Story About Salad Cream Will Illustrate My Point

I am American by birth, but have spent the past 30 years living in London. My landing in 1985 from the land my forefathers escaped was not without some culture shock. I remember going to the local grocery store (which is now a one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK) and I was looking for salad dressing.

Now to put some context around this, even when I left the USA in 1985, you could walk into most medium sized supermarkets and find an aisle dedicated to salad dressing. I fully expected to find a selection of dressings that might take me the best part of an hour to choose from.

There was no salad dressing! There WAS salad cream. Another name for salad dressing in the UK. To my surprise and disappointment, not only was there only salad cream, but there was only one brand.

So, you either had salad cream or you didn’t. Simple.

Shops at that time were closed on a Sunday. So there was no option to spend the day seeking some retail therapy.

We had 4 television stations. FOUR. I grew up with at least 13 from my childhood (although who REALLY watched PBS?) You know what? There was a beauty in the simplicity of the lack of choice.

Today it’s a very different story, the UK has caught up with the USA in terms of the volume of choices available to us. With the greater volume of choice comes greater anxiety. Somehow there seems to be a belief that ‘more is better’. Having too many choices becomes a burden and creates anxiety. Don’t just take my word for it, Psychologist Barry Schwartz will concur, he also notes the absurd amount of salad dressings in his local supermarket in his TED talk on ‘The Paradox of Choice‘.

Think of all the areas of life where you have to make a choice:

What car? Partner? Diet? Parenting style? Clothes shop? Phone network? Electronic device? Holiday to take? You are not even free from choice when you die – burial? Or maybe a cremation? And if so, where shall we scatter your ashes?

The list is endless…and if all these choices send you looking for a therapist, well then there’s a whole other minefield of choices!

Challenge: I say stop the madness. Three really is the magic number. Whenever you’ve got a choice, limit yourself to three options. Decide your criteria and stick to it.

When you’ve got your three, hold each one in your thoughts and attention for enough time to get a sense of which one seems like the best decision. You’ll know, and in the event you don’t know, leave it for a few days and revisit the decision.

The world was more stress free when I only had to choose salad cream.