Less Is More In Decision-Making. How To Make Good Choices Without Stressing

February 7, 2022

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It’s 7 am and your alarm goes off. Slowly, tiredly, you stretch your arms and wiggle your toes. Stepping out of bed onto the cold hardwood floor, you open your kitchen cabinets, your fridge, your pantry, in search of that morning breakfast boost.

You could have toast, but you had that yesterday and aren’t quite in the mood. Cereal is always an option, but your corn flakes are stale and you’re looking for something a bit fresher. There are always pancakes, but those take a while to make and the thought of heavy carbs this early in the morning makes your stomach turn.

After running through several more options, you come to a decision. Oatmeal and peanut butter it is.

While that decision may have come quickly, there’s a lot of work behind that choice. Without realizing it, while you decided what to eat for breakfast your mind was already telling you what not to eat.

Burgers, for example. 

Considered a dinner food, your brain naturally gravitates toward the list of foods deemed acceptable for breakfast, and a burger simply isn’t one of them.

Researchers at Cornell University estimate that the average adult makes approximately 221 food-related decisions per day, not including the decisions we make every day about what to wear, how to act, and where to go.And with the world getting more complicated it’s no wonder decision fatigue is widespread.

America’s Decision Fatigue Epidemic

Every time Americans go to the store, they’re bombarded with hundreds of products only fractionally different in terms of taste, health benefits, and packaging. 

What once was an easy decision-making process of which zucchini to choose (aka the only type available), has now become an act of mental gymnastics for whether to get the organic zucchini, the baby zucchini, or the zucchini wrapped in plastic on a styrofoam tray. 

And although the American ideology centers around the idea that “more is always better,” studies such as the one by Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia Business School, demonstrate how that might not truly be the case.

When setting up a tasting booth with 24 jams versus six jams, the study showed that, although more people stopped to sample the jams when there were 24 available, more people purchased the jam when there were only six different choices. Compared to three percent of visitors purchasing jams from the 24-jam display, the six-jam display saw a significant increase of 30 percent making a purchase after sampling the available jams.

Decision Fatigue & Dating

Beyond the world of food-making decisions, young adults are experiencing decision fatigue within the dating pool as well, presented with so many options on dating apps that it makes informed decision-making all but impossible.

In a study by psychologists Alison Lenton and Marco Fancesconi, single individuals presented with a large and varied pool of candidates tended to be more dissatisfied compared to individuals in a smaller and more intimate setting. 

The reason?

When faced with a wide-ranging dating pool, the participants faced cognitive overload and tended to rely more heavily on heuristics or the mental shortcuts we create for ourselves to quickly solve problems or predict outcomes.

Prioritizing physical attributes (such as height, age, and weight), the participants in a large dating pool often overlooked emotional and value-based attributes compared to their small pool counterparts. 

How Heuristics Hinder Our Decision-Making Abilities

Although heuristics do allow our brains to make snap decisions, they have also been deemed inferior to rational thought, given the lack of actual analysis prior to making a decision.

Heuristics tend to rely more heavily on the senses, which is why marketers with catchy branding and junk food with dopamine-boosting benefits perform so well in our decision-overloaded society. 

To combat those snap-second decisions in a decision-fatigued society, here’s how you can curate habits and systems that can set you up for success.

Incorporating a Less-Is-More Lifestyle

Creating a less-is-more lifestyle is all about creating small yet sound habits and systems. 

This can look like creating a capsule wardrobe or an eating plan that rotates the same healthy foods so you are less tempted by high-calorie, low-nutrition foods in the store. 

The fewer choices you give yourself and the more choices you make automatically, the easier your decision-making skills will be. Use lists and routines to plan ahead for decisions you have to make, rather than letting yourself decide in the moment. 

Even more so, create rituals that set yourself up for success. By sticking to a daily plan, you are more likely to create daily habits that result in substantial change. Developing a signature style, a daily exercise routine, a preferred list of quality brands—all these small decisions can create a life with less choice and more quality outcomes.

Are you ready to live a less-is-more lifestyle?

You decide.

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Photo: Kaboompics.com via Pexels

Dana Drosdick
Dana is a marketer living in Saratoga Springs, NY with a passion for all things related to stewardship, faith, wellness, and personal enrichment. Her work has been featured in various Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, The Odyssey Online, and The Banner Magazine. Follow her at @danadrosdick on Instagram for foodie trends, her latest book recommendations, and far too many photos of clementines.

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