Too Many Choices

Too many choices. Ever felt that way? You turn on your TV and there’s over 300 channels. You go to the grocery store and there are at least ten different types of anything you’re looking for. And if you go out to eat, there are more choices than you could possibly, get around to trying.

We typically think the mores choices we have, the better off we are. But that’s not necessarily true. In a book entitled The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz points out that having a large variety of choices can actually work against us. (You can also see a TED talk by Barry Schwartz on this topic.)

When there are too many options, it can overwhelm us. We begin to agonize over making the “right” choice. With a large number of options, we worry we’ll miss something. Even if we think we’ve made a good choice, we’ll second guess and doubt ourselves to the point that we’ll regret the choice we made. Because of all this, we wind up not be happy with our choices.

It turns out that having a smaller number of choices makes the decision making process clearer and easier. If you’ve ever taken a child to a toy store and said, “Here’s some money. Buy whatever you want.” You know you’ll spend most of the day there as the child agonizes over all the possible choices. But if you take a child to the toy store and tell them, “You can either get a baseball or a truck.” then things go better.

I know adult decisions can be much more complicated then trying to figure out what toy to choose from the toy store, but what if there were a way to intentionally and quickly narrow down our choices? We all know people who seem to be able to do this. We all know people who face complicated circumstances and make good decisions relatively quickly. How do they do it?

Though not every decision is simple, every decision can be simplified. Try taking the following steps the next time you have a difficult decision to make…

  1. Try to boil down what you’re facing to the simplest, foundational decision.
  2. Once you’ve done that, try to boil down that decision to just two basic options.
  3. Next, choose the best of those two options.
  4. Then move to the next base decision that needs to be made and repeat the process.

Let’s look at some examples of how this might work…

  • Buying a car. – Start with the simplest, most basic question. “Is it imperative that we buy a car right now?” If the answer is “no,” then you have more time to think things through. If the answer is “Yes,” then you repeat the process with the next base question. “Will we buy a new car or a used car?” Once that’s settled, perhaps the next question might be, “Can we pay for it with existing funds or will we finance it?” From there, you might ask “Are we willing to stay within our existing budget constraints or are we willing to change the budget in some way?” And you keep proceeding in this fashion.
  • Whether to take a new job. – Start with a question like, “Do I have to have a new job right now?” If the answer is “no,” then this releases some of the pressure. If the answer is “yes,” than perhaps the next question is, “Will this new job provide for our needs financially and in other ways?” If that answer is “yes,” then the next question might be, “Are we willing to make the changes necessary to take this job?” And you keep proceeding in this fashion.
  • Whether to stay in your marriage. – You could start with, “Do I really want to be divorced?” if the answer is “no,” your next question might be, “Is my spouse currently willing to work on the marriage with me?” If the answer is “no,” then you might ask, “Is there something I need to do that would help my spouse and my marriage?” If the answer is “yes,” then you have to ask, “Am I willing to do that?” And you keep proceeding in this fashion.

When you feel overwhelmed with choices, this is a way to boil things down into more bite-sized decisions with just two options. I’m not saying this will work for everything, but the more things you can boil down this way, the easier things will be over all.

Give it a try. Start small. The next time you go to the grocery store and are overwhelmed by choices to make, see how this works for you. Again, I know that not all your decisions are simple, but perhaps some of them can be simplified.

But there’s another level to this…

Scripture often boils things down to two basic options: obedience to God, or disobedience to God. This is what Joshua was talking about when he said, “Choose today whom you will serve…” (Joshua. 24:15). This is what Isaiah is talking about in Isaiah 50:10-11. There’s no other brands or varieties. There’s no other shades or hues. Irregardless of age, gender, socio-economic status, circumstances, or outcomes, every moment of everyday comes down to just two choices…obedience to God or disobedience to God.

Though it sounds restrictive, it’s actually very freeing…but it’s not always easy. Obedience is always more difficult than disobedience, because disobedience takes no discipline, no sacrifice, and no self-control. But over the long haul, choosing obedience promises the greater return.

From God’s perspective, we have two basic choices. Let’s choose well.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think about this.

Copyright © 2015 Bret Legg

Leave a Comment