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This is the third in a series of posts about the psychology of making good decisions in the contexts of life in our twenties and thirties. In the first post we talked about the good and bad things of having much more freedom after college. In the second post we talked about the cost associated with an abundance of opportunities. In this post we will discuss how with every opportunity there is a cost and the more choices we explore, the worse we can feel about our decisions.
While many times it seems like the overwhelming number of choices today makes it impossible to know if you’re making a good decision, Barry Schwartz has come up with a number of psychological techniques that you can use to help narrow down your options and increase the satisfaction of the decisions you do make.
Set Limits on Your Choices
One way you can manage an excessive number of choices is by learning to set limits on the options you look at. It’s almost automatic to think, “The more choices I have, the better off I will be.” However, you have seen how the more options you look at, the more likely you will be unhappy about the choices you make due to opportunity costs and regret. Therefore, it can be healthy for you to set limits on the number of options you look at when trying to make a decision.
After discussing this idea with Deborah, a twenty-eight-year-old from Washington, DC, she told me that even though she didn’t consciously think about it at the time, limiting her options made her feel more satisfied about some of the major decisions she has made since leaving college. “When I was looking for teaching jobs, I applied to one in DC and one in Virginia, then chose the one I liked better.
"When I was searching for an apartment, I looked at two places then decided on the one I liked the best. I think because I spent time only looking at a few choices, I’ve been happier with my decisions because I didn’t wonder about other jobs or apartments. Instead, I’ve spent my time enjoying my current job and apartment and focusing more on the good things about the decisions I made. This is not to say that I won’t look for other jobs or a new apartment in the future. It just means I didn’t waste time worrying about all the other options out there.”
This may sound counterintuitive, but when you learn to restrict your options, you will limit the amount of extra energy you spend on looking at too many choices. By figuring out which choices really matter to you and which are less important, you can focus more time and energy on those decisions whose outcome can bring you happiness and fulfillment.