The Art of Choosing

When I picked up Sheena Iyengar’s “The Art of Choosing”, I had hoped that her book would set out – step by step some ideas on how I can improve the way I make my choices. I was wrong. Instead of a step by step self-help book; the information in these pages examined the many influences that surround how humans make their choices and raises some questions about choice. In particular, it challenges the assumption that since choice is good, more choice must be better.

Perhaps my biggest take away from this book was that in order for one to reap the most benefit from choice, we must, in a twist of irony; commit to something to the exclusion of all other choices. As I reflect on this, I think of a line from “The Good Place” where the character Chidi, well known for his indecisiveness describes a dilemma at an ice cream sundae bar

There were too many toppings. And very early in the process you had to commit to a chocolate palate or a fruit palate and if you couldn’t decide you wound up with kiwi, junior mint, raisin, and it just ruins everybody’s night.”

 It’s funny when you can’t commit to a palate for a desert, but what happens when you can’t commit to a goal? A career? A partner?

Sure, you have many more options than people who do make these commitments, but is it worth it if the sum total of all your disparate, unrelated choices end up looking like the Chidi ice-cream special?

Many of the studies in Iyengar’s book continually prove that while choice is important, too much choice can be detrimental, paralysing and counter-productive.

So why do we continue to demand more and more choice? Iyengar explains this with behavioural heuristics – specifically “loss aversion”. Committing to a choice means saying goodbye to options that were previously left open to us – we are averse to losing choice itself.

In our society we are constantly told that there is no limit to who we can be, yet the limitations commitment imposes on us can bring order to chaos. They set a framework that allows us to better reflect upon the quality the options laid before us and how well they align with the person we have chosen to become.