Monday, January 3, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

In the U.S. our DNA rings with freedom. We think, freedom = choice. The more choice, the better. But that’s not true. Of course, some choice is better than no choice. But MORE choice leads to paralysis and disappointment according to Barry Schwartz, author of, The Paradox of Choice. I experienced some of the pain Barry describes when apartment hunting. But my belief system conquered in the end. Here's a synopsis of his research-based theory, followed by a TED video of him demonstrating it beautifully, and then my two cents:

The more choice you have, the higher your expectations. (I want high ceilings, lots of light, easy walk to subway, new appliances, etc).

The higher your expectations, the more you pay attention to what’s “missing” in a particular option. (Oh, this place doesn't have enough closets. That one there is a walk-up.)

Because nothing is perfect, you’re inevitably stuck choosing something that clearly doesn’t meet all your expectations. (Well, the lobby sucks and looks like a dungeon, but pretty much everything else is amazing).

You choose. And yet, you remorse. You think about what you’re missing and lost out on by making the choice you did. (Shoot...if I would have kept on looking could I have found a better deal or should I have gone downtown and suck up living in a closet?)

You’re not satisfied. Because the opportunity cost subtracts away from the total benefit. (Not really true for me...keep reading and I'll tell you why).

And worse, you blame yourself. Because YOU made the choice. (I experienced this for like 10 minutes).

More choice make us feel like there’s always something better. (Of course there are better options - there always are. But a)they are not perfect, also. b)if you don't make a choice, you got nutin'. Given my timing of having to move in by December 15th and my budget - I made the best choice at that time).

Barry's work...and I told him depressing. Why? Because given the state of our economy, culture, and access to information - more choice is what's being created. Here's some additional personal perspective that is true for me and saves me from being a complete victim to the paradox of choice.

1. In a certain dimension of reality, there are no mistakes or bad decisions (because we learn from both) and that helps us grow.

2. I believe that we are exactly where we need to be doing exactly what needs to be done. Even if that means messing up.

3. You don't control everything and have no way of knowing everything - once you know that, you're free.

4. Okay, say your choice sucks. Just choose again. That's what experience offers. I know you want a short cut to the best choice. But sometimes, it's not available.

5. The best way to shortcut, however, is to know what you really, really want. To be crystal clear on what's most important to you. Barry advises sitting in a dark room, alone, and thinking hard about that. Once you know what you want exactly, you'll not be taunted by the possibilities.

I trusted that I would find a great apartment and I did. It has high ceilings, exposed brick, and outdoor space. Sure, it's not perfect, but I'm happy.


  1. How interesting and very true. I am very intrigued by what you do and have to say.