Category: Step 1: Confusion and/or anxiety

The unbearable agony of choosing



According to Aristotle, humanity means freedom and we are truly free when we have choices. Freedom of choice is not, however, indisputably a good thing. Psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that too many options causes paralysis instead of liberation. We are unable to make decisions, if we are surrounded by too many options. I, for example, hereby admit I only buy clothes during discount sales, not just to save money, but in order to reduce my options, because if all the products in the store were available, I would get paralyzed and not purchase a thing. Sound familiar?


Another effect freedom of choice brings is the fact that even if we manage to get over the paralysis and make a choice, we will be less satisfied with the result of our choice than what we would be if we had fewer options. When we have more options and freedom of choice, our expectations go up and even the smallest negative aspects of the results of our choice make us regret our decision, resulting in us blaming ourselves for making a bad choice. We imagine that there was a better option. In the end, this will decrease our feeling of satisfaction we get from decision making, even if the decision would have been good.

Freedom of choice → our expectations increase → we notice all the smallest shortcomings → we imagine there was a better option → we regret our decision → we blame ourselves for choosing wrong → we become less satisfied (-again, though the decision might have been good)

Hence for us to be satisfied, everything must not be possible. We must have some kind of boundaries in order to be happy.

What does this mean in today’s society where there are more options and freedom of choice than ever before? Should we go back to a time when there was only one local shop, only two types of jeans, when the telephone was only used to make phone calls, when career paths went according to family traditions, etc.? If we could go back, would we? Most likely not, and in any case, returning to something that once was, is at no time possible because the cycle must continue (with reference to Mass Effect 3 and the battle between organics and synthetics :-P).

What should we do then, when the 50/50 lifeline is not possible, calling a friend or asking a random audience does not bring certainty to our decision making and we ourselves are standing like a donkey between not two but innumerable bales of hay? Asking someone for advice could help, but no one, of course, can give a direct answer to the most difficult questions. A second opinion may be worth gold though, because it narrows down or highlights some of our options. Who knows, maybe in the future we all have personal consultants who advise us in situations where we must make the toughest decisions.


This article is based on the book and lecture The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. You can watch it on TED Talks.

Catching the train


© Roland Helerand

Have you ever felt like you’ve been standing at a train station nervous you’ll miss your train but at the same time unsure which train to take? Like there was a hundred trains going in every possible direction, but you’re incompetent in deciding where you’d like to go? Everywhere you look there’s people getting on and off. Some seem really determined and sure that they are on the right track; others rush to whatever train they can find, that more or less heads to the direction they are going to.

Watching all these people – where they come from, where they’re heading to – makes you weak and dizzy; makes you want to give up because you have no idea which train to take. And then, still standing at the train station – feeling as nervous as at the first day at school after summer break – a thought crosses your mind.

What if you will miss your train? What if not knowing, at this instance, which train to take means you’ll never get on the train you’d feel most comfortable being on? 

This thought makes you want to jump on the first train you see; for any train is better than being stuck on the platform, right? But right as you’re about to get on the train to… to nowhere actually… you hesitate. And then you’re back on the platform again. At this time you start thinking that maybe a train isn’t the way to travel for you. Maybe you’re destined to take the bus or, heck, a plane!

However, this only makes you forget the fact that you still don’t even know your destination – your destiny. Considering all the different types of transport methods doesn’t take away the real problem (it only adds another problem to the dilemma). So where to go? Looking around… Still a hundred options, none smarter than the other… Solution?

- Go home.

© C.S.I. 2008

PS. If going home, or in other words, back to square one isn’t enough for you, contact us. We’ll help you get on the right track!