The online store of one of Australia’s leading supermarkets sells over 200 types of pasta sauce. Think about that, and try not to feel overwhelmed!
Modern capitalist democracies are built on the idea that choice is good; the more choice we have the better because that’s “freedom”.
And this is true, but only to a point. At one extreme, having no choice at all equates to feeling like you have no control which equates to negative emotions associated with helplessness and even hopelessness. At the other extreme, however, excessive choice can (as just hinted at) contribute to decision fatigue which is overwhelming, and which can be distinctly negative and unhelpful.
Psychological research clearly suggests that the ideal sits somewhere in the middle. Some choice is good; too much choice is bad. It’s a bit like oxygen – we need it to breathe and to live but an overdose can, quite literally, be deadly.
So how do we find the right balance in a world in which we’re not only faced with hundreds of pasta sauces from which to choose but also, a world in which we have pretty much anything we could possibly want available any time of the day or night via our smartphones or internet-connected devices.
We love having so much choice; but we might be making ourselves miserable with it.
Because choice can also lead to regret; when we ultimately make a selection, we can be plagued by thoughts about whether or not we made the right selection.
What if I’d ordered that other meal?
Are these really the coolest style of jeans?
There are 34 new shows on Netflix I could watch but…
Maybe we can learn a lesson from a group of very wise people. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to spend time and to converse with a very wise (and even famous) Buddhist monk. We discussed all manner or weighty issues but at one point I asked something about which I’d wondered for some time; a simple, practical issue I thought might have an interesting back story.
Why, I asked, do monks wear robes? And why are the robes all the same colour?
To be fair, his response included a number of reasons but at the heart, he said, was the fact that for him and his colleagues there were far more important things to think about than what to wear each day. By removing that decision-making process from each morning, the monks were able to remove a common cause of worry or stress and something which ultimately contributes to time lost and wasted for many people.
The answer, in short, was in simplifying.
And this got me thinking; if simplifying our wardrobes might be helpful and might create more happiness then what else could we simplify? What would happen if we limited our decision-making and choice options in other areas of life?
The answer, I can tell you from personal and professional experience, is … we enjoy more happiness and a better quality of life. Because rather than having to take time to weigh up relatively meaningless and insignificant decisions we can save our “mental energy” for more important matters.
My challenge to you, therefore, is to reflect upon those areas of your life where you can eliminate or significantly reduce excessive choice and/or unnecessary decision making. Could you, for example, simplify the number or type of clothes you own; what you eat for breakfast; where and when you shop and what you shop for? And if you did so, would this be helpful?
Some areas of life will always be complicated. And some areas of life will always require complex choices. But if we can simplify in as many areas as possible, the dividends we reap could well be quite … Zen!