The Paradox of Choice: How Too Many Options Causes Decision Paralysis

Having options can be a good thing. It allows you to maintain some control in a situation. It also means you can choose the option that works best for you in any given scenario. 

But the power of choice can quickly turn into the paradox of choice when you’re given too many options. 

When that occurs, you might end up facing what is called decision paralysis. 

The paradox of choice, a phrase coined by Barry Schwartz, refers to the idea that having too many options to choose from doesn’t actually make life easier. In fact, it can cause extra stress and turn decision-making into a problem. 

With that in mind, let’s dive deeper into the paradox of choice, types of decision-makers, and why sometimes less is more. 

Too Many Selections, Too Many Questions

Having too many options that could all lead to positive results seems like a good thing, right? But you’ve undoubtedly heard of having “too much of a good thing.” Having a large selection, even if most of the choices are fairly even when it comes to benefits and drawbacks, makes it harder to choose. 


First, there are still going to be some selections that are better than others. But with so many options, it becomes harder to narrow those down. So, it’s easy to second-guess yourself. Or you might spend too long analyzing each option until you get overly stressed. 

Additionally, too many options will lengthen the decision-making process. What should be a simple choice often becomes a complicated one. Not only does that cause extra stress, but it makes it easier to choose the wrong thing, or something you may not have originally picked just because you become frustrated. 

Types of Decision-Makers

Schwartz likes to reference Herbert A. Simon in suggesting that there are two types of decision-makers in the world: maximizers and satisficers. 

A maximizer is an individual who always strives to make the best possible choice, even to the point of perfection. That typically means that they do a lot of research and analyze all the choices as much as possible. 

Unfortunately, even after a maximizer makes what they think will be the best choice, they could be left second-guessing their decision or wondering if someone else made a better one. 

A satisficer is someone who is usually happy with just about any choice as long as it meets their basic needs. They don’t overthink things and don’t regret their choice once they’ve made it. For satisficers, too many options aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can still feel overwhelming. 

Everyday Choices Leading to Decision Paralysis

You have to make thousands of choices each day from the moment you wake up in the morning. If you go to your closet to get dressed and you have 10 shirts to choose from, you’re going to have a harder time picking the “right” one than if there were only two there. 

While choosing your wardrobe isn’t a life-altering decision, it’s an example of how much easier those decisions can be when there are fewer options. You can be more confident in your choice, knowing the other one wasn’t correct. 

With too many choices, you might start to feel paralyzed, pressured into choosing, worried about making the wrong choice, and regretting your decision later. 

If you want to learn more about the paradox of choice or more of Schwartz’s theories on the matter, feel free to contact Integrative Psychotherapy Group. If you’re having trouble making your own choices when there are too many options available, we can go over ways to narrow those options down and feel comfortable with your selection(s).