Olive Oil, and the Paradox of Choice

Picture yourself in a grand supermarket. Filled with options; in what seems like hundreds of aisles. Dozens of different options of olive oil imported from Southern Italy. Virgin, extra-virgin, with truffle, light, cold-pressed, stone milled, organic… It really is spectacular. And just like the options in olive oil there are dozens of different types of bread, crackers, chocolate bars, cereals. Sounds great right? You almost want to take a picture…and maybe you do.

Now what? You are in a supermarket, you probably didn’t come here with the purpose of a sightseeing trip. You are there to buy your groceries and leave. Buy what you need. Shouldn’t take too much thought. Suddenly you find yourself overwhelmed with possibilities. Which olive oil do you choose? Which loaf of bread? Do you just grab one without a second thought? Do you look at the price? Calories? Amount of sodium? Do you just stare in quiet desperation while your brain slowly explodes? These are all possibilities.

Even though this could be a totally realistic post about the experience of going to a hyper-supermarket; I am only illustrating the Paradox of Choice. Which exists in many aspects of our lives. From going grocery shopping, to picking a movie on Netflix, to the even scarier life decision of picking a career.

We think having a infinite amount of choices is great. And yes, it is, for a short while. Until we get to the point in our life where we can’t make a decision. Or we avoid making one with the expectation something better might come along. Keeping our options open. Forever…

The reality is that the more options we are given, the less satisfied we are going to feel with whatever we choose. And no, this isn’t just me saying this; there are several studies that back this claim. This could mean that after a choice is made, you could spend years second-guessing yourself. Did you make the right choice? As I mentioned before, many of us simply resort to not making any type of choice at all. We keep our options open by avoiding any type of commitment. This can be true in both our careers and our personal lives.

Should I go into marketing? Or should I be a writer? Or maybe an actress? Maybe I could be a speaker. The list goes on…

The truth is, as Mark Manson puts it: pursuing a breadth of experience denies us the opportunity to experience the rewards of depth of experience. The truth is, commitment to a choice can give you even more freedom than you imagine because you are no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous. Making a choice hones your attention and focus, as you are directed to be more efficient at what actually makes you healthy and happy. And achieve even more success.

The rejection of alternatives can feel quite liberating, you just have to understand the benefits and step away from the all the marketing hype and the shiny objects that will distract you for a short while. Go to a farmer’s market perhaps. Choose an olive oil out of the 6 options you are given, not out of the 50+. I guarantee your dinner will be more successful.

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