Is there a link between boredom and too many choices? Does choice overload lead to boredom? Does it lead to longing for more simplicity?
No matter what decision is needed, there are many options to consider before choosing.
At the grocery store, the cereal aisle features box after attractive box of cereal. The varieties are endless, yet the choice I make usually is the ‘tried and true’ option. I choose the familiar and then wonder why I’m bored with the same taste every time I eat cereal.
Likewise, when looking at movies playing at the local cinemas, the choice is overwhelming. Staying home and watching something on Netflicks is boring, but easier. If the Netflicks choice is disappointing, changing to another movie is easy.
Futurist Alvin Toffler in his book, Future Shock, first introduced the term ‘choice overload’. His work, describing changes into a technological society, postulated that too much change left people disoriented and overloaded with information, hence the term ‘choice overload’.
Society has evolved since Future Shock was published. Urban alienation means that people have fewer close ties within their neighbourhoods. People involved with information work often have a broad network but fewer empathic connections with each other.
Smart phones allow effortless information seeking about product choices. Anybody can do brand research while shopping — but how often does this happen? Most often the familiarity and predictability of known brands becomes the default. This is particularly true when someone has spent the day working with too much stimulation or dealing with difficult life decisions.
The dark side of too many choices
Choice overload happens to everyone. It happens everyday.
Whether it’s a choice at the grocery store, a choice of how to spend time, a choice of a new vehicle, or a choice of an investment, it’s tempting to tune out and avoid considering the options.
Everyday decisions become overwhelming. Choice overload leads to frustration and stress even when the benefits of various choices are unequal. People fear that they will make the wrong decision which will lead to regret.
Selecting a television program from a menu listing too many sit-coms, police shows, re-runs, and reality shows often results in indecision. While it’s wonderful to have a hundred or more channels from which to pick a program, the array of choices leads to the conclusion that everything on offer is boring which, thankfully, means that I watch very little television.
In a time when there are so many choices for time utilization, it becomes difficult to stay interested and absorbed in any given activity. When choices overwhelm, paralysis and boredom result.
Boredom and Choice Overload
Too much stimulation often creates difficulty attending to any one thing. Motivation to assess available options before making a decision may exist and may lead to product research or decision analysis. However, exhaustion from assessing the merits of what is on offer soon occurs, especially if the options are of similar or equal value.
Too many choices bring monotony. The feeling is similar to boredom. There is difficulty focusing attention. The over-stimulation of choosing among options that are different, yet quite similar, leads to postponing a decision or resorting to a default position — perhaps the lowest price, or the easiest to install.
Managing Choice Overload
It’s important to learn to recognize and manage choice overload as it affects behaviour. In most situations we neither want nor need numerous choices.
By narrowing the decision to essential components, many choices can be eliminated. If you want a certain make or model of car and it has the components you need, then there is no point in visiting other car dealers.
Sometimes the choice is inconsequential. For example, one brand name detergent will likely perform as well as another. When options look to be of equal value, don’t dither. Just pick one and get on with more important things.
Sometimes deferring an important decision is the best option especially if you feel tired. The advice of ‘sleep on it’ applies. Awareness of choice overload is important when making important decisions. When both my husband and I worked, we usually met our financial advisor after work. Meetings often lasted until late in the evening. As I look back at some of the decisions we made, I wonder how smart we were when both of us were too tired to give proper consideration to available options.
I’m interested in reader’s opinions. Do you recognize choice overload when faced with it? How do you deal with choice overload? Does it lead to postponing decisions? Does it lead to boredom? Do you spend too much time on inconsequential decisions yet hurry to a conclusion on important matters?