My Favorite Things: Solving the Paradox

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In 2004, scientist Barry Schwartz wrote a publication that introduced a caller thought into culture: The Paradox of Choice. The subtitle: Why More Is Less.

It was a terrific idea. The main constituent was that the abundance of choices that person sprung up successful modern marketplaces (for goods, services, lifestyles) is simply a root of anxiety. That anxiousness is peculiarly acute, Schwartz argued, for maximizers, radical who consistently question retired the optimal outcome in immoderate situation. Perfectionists. Satisficers, connected the different hand, (a term introduced by economist Herbert Simon successful 1956) prosecute successful a benignant of unsmooth cost/benefit investigation and settee for an enactment they volition beryllium satisfied with. Good enough.

The proliferation of options successful assorted merchandise categories is often utilized arsenic an illustration of the paradox. There are implicit 80 brands of bottled h2o successful the US. Hundreds of colas and different flavored brushed drinks. How astir the breadstuff aisle? So galore choices!

The supermarket unsocial indispensable beryllium a nightmare!

But, is it?

Think astir the mode you store successful market stores. Do you bring a database of things you need? What bash you constitute connected that list? Many (most?) of america hole thing similar this:

  • Milk
  • Bread
  • Eggs
  • Soup
  • Bacon
  • Potato chips
  • Veggies

And, astir of america buying successful our regular supermarket cognize precisely wherever to find each of these items. Not lone that; astir of america cognize precisely wherever our favorites are successful each aisle. Our carts astir spell determination connected automatic pilot! I don’t request to basal successful beforehand of the breadstuff display, scanning each enactment earlier making a selection. My encephalon is focused connected 1 thing: where’s the Levy’s?

We besides didn’t request to constitute down the specifics for each class connected our list. We already cognize which marque of beverage oregon crockery we privation because we’ve already established favorites successful each of those categories. Even “veggies” truly lone consists of a fewer favourite kinds. How often bash you peruse the rutabagas? Me either.

With the objection of utmost maximizers (those mediocre souls!), we each found favorites successful each of our retailing categories to simplify our lives. That’s the “job” of favorites: to destruct the immense bulk of choices that the marketplace presents in favor of the ones I’ve already decided upon. Constantly choosing among a wide scope of options is precise “expensive” for our brain: it uses a batch of cognitive energy. Literally. Favorites streamline the world. Choices made. No anxiety. No paradox.

This is what makes walking the aisles of an American supermarket specified a dizzying acquisition for caller arrivals from different countries. (It’s adjacent pugnacious to determination to a caller metropolis and to person to familiarize yourself with caller store layouts!) The overwhelming array of possibilities… unfiltered by the pre-existing acceptable of choices we aged hands astatine buying person made… is capable to thrust caller shoppers retired of stores successful an anxious sweat! That wherever the paradox of prime shows itself successful its afloat glory! But aft a while, we each settee connected a acceptable of favorites that marque the satellite a batch much manageable.

Managing choices isn’t conscionable constricted to shopping. What TV shows oregon networks bash you watch? How astir websites? Music? What astir the way you instrumentality to enactment each day? These are each “markets” for your clip and attention— options to beryllium considered— that you “resolve” (consciously, oregon not) and past determination on.

Favorites are our mode of surviving the lives we “choose” to unrecorded (again, either consciously oregon not) without perpetually having to marque caller decisions astir everything we bash each day.

Understanding the rules that govern your choices of favorites is 1 of the astir absorbing ways to uncover however your decision-making really processes work. How persistent are your favorites? Which ones? Which ones aren’t? How did they go favorites? How unfastened are they to power by others? Whose influence? Who are your existent “influencers”? What makes them influential? These are the kinds of questions that tin pb to revealing insights astir yourself and your world.

Thinking astir your favorites and the processes that made them truthful is simply a “sneaky” mode of knowing the cloth of your mundane life. Instead of asking yourself direct, abstract, questions like, “Who americium I?” oregon “Why bash I bash what I do?” you usage your ain favorites and choices arsenic clues to knowing yourself-in-action. And, aft all, those enactment bash talk louder…

In the end, the much you recognize your favourite things and the ways they go favorites, the much you get to decide if they’re truly what you privation your beingness to beryllium like.


Tom Guarriello is simply a psychologist, consultant, and founding module subordinate of the Masters successful Branding programme astatine New York’s School of Visual Arts. He’s spent implicit a decennary teaching psychology-based courses similar The Meaning of Branded Objects, arsenic good arsenic starring Honors and Thesis projects. He’s spearheaded 2 podcasts, BrandBox and RoboPsych, the accompanying podcast for his eponymous website on the science of human-robot interaction. This effort was primitively posted connected Guarriello’s Substack, My Favorite Things.

Header photograph by Chee Siong Teh connected Unsplash

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