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Why Too Much Choice is Stressful and 7 Simple Ways to Limit It

“Every day brings a choice: to practice stress or to practice peace.” ~Joan Borysenko

When I bought my car, I visited only one showroom. I’d made the decision that this was the car for me in around one hour, and chose not to spend more hours or days of my time going from one place to another to check other deals and different cars.

If I hadn’t have found this car, I would have gone to another dealer. However, I’ll never know if I could have saved money by haggling elsewhere, and I don’t care.

I’ve had my trusty and reliable vehicle for over six years now and so far, I’ve never had to pay more than general maintenance and upkeep. So it was worth every penny.

You may be shocked that I made such a large and important purchase in this manner (and I’m not a wealthy person by any means). But I was confident it was a good deal when I found it and it’s never let me down.

I now make most of my purchases like this. I’ll give myself a single option (like shopping at just one store), or will limit them (such as browsing four vacation brochures instead of fifteen), and once I’m happy with the decision, I’ll stick with it.

Why? Because I think too much choice is stressful. And you can quite literally send yourself crazy with it, like I did.

Choice anxiety!

At one time, my need to “shop around” and my desire to keep options open before making decisions was bordering on obsessive. I dithered. I wore myself out. I got confused, and even anxious, when I needed to buy stuff, even if it was just a new winter coat.

If I was making a life decision, I’d go backward and forward in my mind, keeping myself awake at night. If I was shopping, I spent hours and days searching and comparing, until I was exhausted.

It wasn’t until I started working for myself I saw just how much energy it took up. Then, I no longer had the time available to give myself so many options.

Buying my car was a turning point for me because I realized that I could limit my choice and nothing bad would happen.

We’re bombarded with seemingly infinite choices in today’s consumer culture, whether it’s from dazzling offers at competing supermarkets, from blaring, intrusive commercials on TV, or from just having too many possibilities due the nature of societal change and globalization.

And it overloads our brains.

But once I discovered how much stress I was under because of choice overload, and once I started to embrace and impose limitations, it felt like liberation.

While I’m not suggesting you might want to go and buy your next car in the way I did, if you do want to limit choice in your life in order to reduce stress, I have some tips to share with you.

7 Tips to Limit Choice and Reduce Your Stress

1. Ask what you’ll really achieve if you keep your options as open as possible.

By doing this, you can see that the time and stress invested to keep a wide range of choice isn’t likely to outweigh the benefit of possibly saving a few dollars.

2. Cast your net small and decide your limit on where you’ll shop/search/compare.

If you’re buying insurance, choose one or two comparison websites at the most. If you’re finding a new gym, pick three in the locality to look at and leave it at that.

3. Unless your budget is extremely tight and every penny counts, stop worrying about saving just a small amount of money.

It’s rarely going to be that much, or worth the stress you cause yourself in order to save it.

4. Once you’ve made your decision, stick with it.

Don’t allow yourself a “safety net” of being able to take it back or swap just because you’ve changed your mind. Know that this is the right choice for you, right now.

5. Let the other “choices” go.

Whether it was a possible other date for the evening, or a new sofa, don’t dwell on how wonderful the things you didn’t choose might have been. And don’t regret not choosing them.

6. Ask: do you really need it anyway?

If you already own several pairs of boots, how will another pair affect your happiness? Focus on what adds meaning to your life, rather than material gain.

7. Trust yourself.

You know what you really need, and what is right for you. Be happy with your choice when you’ve made it, and know that the world will not explode if, by the slightest chance, this was the wrong choice.

What helps you deal with choice overload?

Photo by Danboot

Avatar of Andrea Wren

About Andrea Wren

Andrea Wren is a UK-based freelance journalist, travel writer & blogger. She blogs at Butterflyist.com, which inspires people to push their comfort zones and see the world. Here you can also find her free eBook "Travel More, Work Less and Live Life." Find Andrea on Twitter via @thebutterflyist.

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  • http://theconsciouslife.com/ WP @ The Conscious Life

    The plentiful of choices available to consumers nowadays can indeed be a source of stress and anxiety. This reminds me of my last trip to an IT mall for a simple keyboard that took me 2 hours. Ha, ha. I guess it’s the perfectionist in me acting up. The trip just left me drained and tired. But I’m also glad that I found something I like too. :)

  • http://jaredakers.com/ Jared Akers

    Great outlook. I love it! I can so relate to analysis paralysis.

    My wife and I love to travel and try to take a vacation every 6 months. We have a savings account that we put a few bucks in every week, then in 6 months we usually have enough (or at least a budget) for a vacation. But I’ll often start looking for something before we even leave for our current vacation! Spending countless hours online searching for just the “right deal.” It’s exhausting.

    Thankfully we’ve recently found a place we love and so going back there is an easy choice. But I still do this comparison shopping a lot online, searching for the best product, service etc.

    Another anxiety point for me is “entree envy.” I get stressed I’m going to order the wrong item off the menu when out to dinner. I’ll usually narrow it down to a couple, then as the waiter comes I’ll just pick something, many times something completely different then what I’d originally wanted. It’s crazy, but I try to take it easy on myself.

    My wife and I have this routine when we shop. We’ll go around the store, throwing things in our basket, then before we go check out we go through everything and ask, “do we really need this?” Often times we’ll put a lot of the stuff back. If I’m still thinking about that item after a few days then I’ll go back and purchase it. Although we’re also trying to stopping acquiring so much stuff and have actually started getting rid of a lot of things (clothes, furniture) to make it easier for when we finally decide to just pack up and retire on a beach somewhere. :-)

    Thanks for a great post.

  • http://dharmajunkie.com/ DharmaJunkie.com

    Awesome, I love it. Great post

  • Damurrica

    I used to work with a guy who was fond of saying “people are dying” in a funny & exasperated tone whenever the topics of discussion got too fussy or melodramatic. I always thought that was a great way of summing up the shortcomings of leisure problem neurotic impulses.

  • http://butterflyist.com/ Andrea – Butterflyist

    Thanks!

  • http://butterflyist.com/ Andrea – Butterflyist

    Damurrica, seems to me that’s a good philosophy to have!

  • http://butterflyist.com/ Andrea – Butterflyist

    Thanks Jared. I had to smile at your description of ‘entree envy’! It really reminded me of my boyfriend, who finds choosing from a menu excruciating because he’s so worried he won’t love the dish as much as another (mine!). It suits us better to go to a restaurant that has one of those trendy, limited menus ;) My way of dealing with the menu is often to just pick as soon as the waiter does arrive, so I don’t have the option to dither!

  • http://www.christineadnani.com/ Christine Adnani

    Yes!! In every situation you have a choice. There’s no reason to worry about what you have no control over right now. Just do the best you can in this moment and that’s all that matters. Say, “Right now this is the best I can do but sometime in the future I will understand it and I will be able to conquer it.”

    Awesome article. I love it! Thank you.

  • http://butterflyist.com/ Andrea – Butterflyist

    Yes, it’s the being drained bit that got me down in the end. But I do have some areas where I DO allow myself an expansion of choice. For me, that’s looking at and choosing hotels – I just love it, and it doesn’t stress me, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for reading, WP.

  • Kristin

    Thank you for this, it was such a wake-up call! I always had problems with choosing the right thing and since I do live on a very tight budget, I spend a lot of time comparing. Reading this article made me realize how much stress I add to my life by doing so. Since I’m working hard on reducing this stress at the moment, I will try your suggestions starting now:-)

  • Kalypso Kent

    I have fought my “shopaholicism”  (mainly books and clothes) as much as I can. I work online, and my inbox fills with tempting “offers” Lately finally I gave it up, realizing that it is just an outlet for tension and instant gratification. So I just send all offers to junk now. Far from sight…

  • holly klump

    This is such a great post.  I feel the same way about things I buy.  I’d rather have time on weekends than shop around.  For me, time almost always outweighs money, and I too am on a very limited income.  And most times, I end up figuring out that I don’t really need the item anyway!

  • http://butterflyist.com/ Andrea – Butterflyist

    Ha yes Holly, I remember that – shopping around for something I didn’t need in the first place!

  • http://butterflyist.com/ Andrea – Butterflyist

    That’s a good idea Kalypso! Avoid temptation :)

  • http://butterflyist.com/ Andrea – Butterflyist

    Thanks Christine, I’m glad it resonated with you!

  • Laura

    Andrea, great post! I think many people become anxious when faced with too many choices. I knew a gal who had difficulties making decisions, afraid of choosing the wrong item. When she needed a new sofa, she bought 5-FIVE of them, because she couldn’t decide on the perfect one. Afterwards, she cancelled some, and refused delivery on others so she finally ended up with one. But, when she bought a home - MAJOR breakdown.

    Also I find sometimes it can be overwhelming to just go shopping – clothing is organized by maker and different designer sections in our major department stores.If you need a white blouse, they are all over the store!  Too many choices, in too many places. Shopping then becomes stressful, not easy. Sometimes, easier to shop by mail!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1510476268 Jodi Lowe-Register

    Great post! I really needed this today and I think I will forward to my husband!

    My husband is SO smart with his money when it come to the things that he personally needs, it drives me crazy! Then there’s me! Hardley wanting to save at all, throwing all caution to the wind, yelling at the top of my lungs “You only live once, you might as well enjoy it! Can’t take all that money with you!” My husband is great, he usually just rolls his eyes at me and tries to pack rat some money away. =)

    I never use to get caught up in the “too many choices”. I was never a picky shopper. I knew what clothes I would wear, what fit me best, what style I enjoyed and I walked right through all the other stores with out so much as one glance to get to my Abercrombie & Fitch. My girlfriends never asked me to go shopping with them, I didn’t shop! I only buy one type of gas; I have their company gas card and I don’t care what the price is any where else! I always thought I just had expensive taste (better than some) and that I just needed to give in to it on a certain level; as long as I didn’t overspend all the time. My husband is the opposite of me!

    He finds everything to compare everything to! It exhausts me just looking at all the educated decisions he makes! Although they are educated, I can’t stand the stress! He seems to be fine with it and feels that in the end it is worth it save $10 bucks! To me, I think his tactics are insane. Hey, I guess one of us has to be frugal =)

  • http://profiles.google.com/rose.johnson Rose Johnson

    I can take a very long time to make up my mind. I used to irritate people when they’d be at a restaurant because I’d always be the last to decide, often by a significant margin. Now I have default items that I order at different places, and if nothing else jumps out at me by the time everyone else has ordered I just get the default item.

  • http://butterflyist.com/ Andrea – Butterflyist

    Jodi your comment made me laugh with the difference between you & hubby :) Just leave it to him, and say “come to me when you’ve whittled it down to the last two options”!

  • http://butterflyist.com/ Andrea – Butterflyist

    Wow Laura – FIVE sofas?! When it came to me getting my sofa, my friend said “Would you like my old sofa?” and I said “Yes”. Done deal, haha, I agree – way easier to shop by mail.

  • http://10stepstofindingyourhappyplace.blogspot.com/ Galen Pearl

    Regarding #5, the Tao Te Ching says, “The sage chooses this and lets go of that.”  I have to remind myself of this when I’m having a hard time making a choice or letting go of the path I didn’t choose.  Great post!

  • Steph J

    I totally agree and thanks for saying it so well.  Our society has too many options along with a constant barrage of over stimulation. It can all be stressful and steal our joy.

  • http://twitter.com/ShonaEaston Shona Easton

    Great post Andrea! I know so many people who can’t make decisions; I shall have to share these tips with them. Personally, I am an instant decision person and I don’t worry about what might have been. However, if I’m shopping for something and I can’t decide between, say, 2 pairs of shoes, well, I just buy both (luckily they were in both reduced the sale!).

  • http://jaredakers.com/ Jared Akers

    Totally, i love those one pager menus.

  • rani Jayakumar

    Thanks for this – I find it applicable to the millions of projects I and others do in the hope that we’ll need it someday. Making a choice of what’s most important in my life and what I really intend to stick to is an ongoing lesson for me, and this helps.

  • Msmnpr

    I’m dealing with “paralysis of choices” right now – but not with things, more like with my life. One chapter is closing and another is opening..but what will that chapter read? I have so many options and its driving me crazy to the point I’m not doing anything. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sarah-Fischer/725916507 Sarah Fischer

    Great article! :) I agree choices can be so exhausting. One thing that’s helped me is trying to buy just as much as I truly need. I’ve never really enjoyed shopping. It always leads to more stress than happiness for me. One day I just realized if I don’t like shopping then why am I doing it???? I now shop very little and I give more than I consume and giving brings me more smiles than consuming and all the choices that come along with that.

    Love,
    Sarah

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