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

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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