• Kath Gigg

The Paradox of choice - chapters 1 to 5

It is amazing how much reading you can get done when it is too hot to do anything else! That is a choice in itself – now there’s a paradox!

Yes, Sunday afternoon was spent on the patio in the shade. I was feeling good even though I wasn’t doing jobs because I was reading all about the Paradox of Choice.

My initial impressions were mixed if I am honest. The first chapter or two is very American – I found myself wondering if it was too ‘American’.

It is written in about 2004 and the more I read the more I realised how much has changed since then. Particularly the overload of things to choose from and all the information available.

That said I still connected with a number of Barry’s comments using my wonderful stickies….

For example in chapter 2  he looks at new choices of which there are many because we have more freedoms and a lot more information. He suggests that ‘people can never relax and enjoy what they have already achieved. At all times, they have to stay alert for the next big chance.’ Quite exhausting!

Later in this chapter he purports (with thanks to Albert Camus) that everything in life is a choice. I get that – and we automate many things so we don’t have to use any brain power or energy making a decision which doesn’t matter. For example, during the week many people have a ‘get up routine’ that gets them to work on time. I just wander down the drive to my office. It struck me that I don’t have a regular morning routine. Sometimes I walk the dog first, sometimes at lunchtime, sometimes later in the afternoon.

Maybe I need to establish a set routine to save my precious brain power. It might also help me actually get on the gym equipment which has been waiting for me to use on a regular basis since Christmas. Get into a routine – limit the choices you have and get more done. The paradox of choice! This also linked to chapter 5 which discussed second order decisions. In order to ease the burden that freedom of choice imposes just decide when to make decisions.

Chapter 3 took us into deciding and choosing. Some of us are pickers and some are choosers. A chooser actively thinks about the possibilities before making a decision, reflecting on what’s most important in life, the consequences of this particular decision and how important it is and so on.

In contrast, a picker grabs what’s on offer and hopes for the best. Not a problem if it is just what to have for breakfast but for important decisions not such a good idea. This proliferation of choice can make it hard to recognise which decisions have important consequences as we are all so busy making choices that don’t really matter.

Chapter 4 developed this further and introduced ‘maximisers’ – only the best will do, and ‘satisficers’ who will settle for the merely excellent as opposed to the absolute best.

It brought to mind a great friend of mine who wrote down the criteria she and her husband wanted to meet when they bought their new home. The agent selected a number of properties for them to view. The second one they saw met all the criteria – so they didn’t look further. The estate agent was astounded. They were satisficers in action – and they are very happy with the house too.

It is the way you think about what you have that makes the difference rather than the house, college or sandwich you end up with. Now that connects with some earlier reading from Jack Pransky amongst others.

So, I am chuffed that I am ahead of myself and have read the 5 chapters for August already. I will happily read on as the book is easy to read and rather interesting and relateable to everyday life.

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