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How to Deal with Too Much Choice: Stress-free Decision-Making

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How to Deal with Too Much Choice: Stress-free Decision-Making

Written by
Sarah O'Neill
November 2016

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When it comes to travel, there is a world of choices to be made, but too much choice can be overwhelming. Here is our guide how to embrace and emancipate yourself from the stress of too much choice.

My husband and I were recently on holiday in the USA. When we ate out, we were surprised at the sheer size of the menus. It took about 15 minutes just to read it all through, and then once we’d finally waded our way through all the options and resurfaced with our long-deliberated choice, the waitress gave us more options, “Which sauce would you like with that?” she rattles off six or seven. “Grilled or battered?” “Choice of sides – we have seventeen options”...

“Spoiled for choice” the saying goes, implying choice were some kind of special indulgence, a secret pleasure, a box of chocolates. Choice is marketed to us as “empowerment”, it’s supposed to be liberating, enfranchising; a way to define ourselves as individuals and secure our own happiness.

The paralysis of choice

When it comes to travel, there is quite literally a world of choices to be made, and that puts us in a predicament: we may have the power to make all the decisions, but we also have the responsibility to ensure that those decisions are good.

That’s stressful, because we feel ill-equipped to make good decisions. We don’t have years of training in the travel industry, we don’t know every tip and trick of the trade. Therefore in order to equip ourselves to make good decisions, we spend hours doing research online.

Research by Kayak shows that nearly 80% of UK citizens plan their holidays this way, meaning we spend hours, even days, trawling through prices, reading reviews and, literally, overwhelming ourselves with information.

Instead of feeling empowered, we often feel robbed. Robbed of time, robbed of energy, and, like my husband and I trying to order our meal, more than a little stressed out.

The truth of the matter is, trawling our way through too much choice is often baffling, crippling, time-consuming and overwhelming.

European professor Renata Salecl and American psychologist Barry Schwartz have independently published books entitled ‘The Tyranny of Choice’ and ‘The Paradox of Choice’ respectively. They find that dealing with too much choice makes us anxious and stressed. 'We are losing valuable time doing research on which provider to choose […]' writes Salecl, 'then stop short of actually making the choice.'

Perhaps you regularly book your holidays through the Internet and can identify with that feeling of total exhaustion and exasperation at the multitude of choice. If so, before you jump ship, unplug the Wi-Fi and run down the street to see if there’s any travel agents left open, take a moment to gather inspiration from our ideas of how to embrace and emancipate yourself from the modern multiverse of choice.

EMBRACE YOUR CHOICES

Your research is done! Your next holiday is planned, booked and paid for.

Now is the time to embrace your choices and enjoy them for what they are.

When we embrace someone, we hold them close, we focus on them. We’re not staring over their shoulder to see what everyone else is up to. But this is exactly how many of us behave when we’re on holiday – instead of embracing our own holiday experiences, we’re flicking through social media to see what our friends are up to, or constantly thinking about the other choices we might have made.

Fear of Missing Out

Fear of Missing Out has become something of a buzz word in modern life. In fact, the expression has become so wide-spread that its acronym, FoMO, was even added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.

When it comes to holidays, FoMO means the nagging worry that all those options you rejected during your travel plans could have been much more enjoyable than the option that you chose. Perhaps that other hotel had a bigger pool; perhaps if you’d searched just a little longer, you could have found a better deal on your rental car... FoMO consumes all of our energy, worrying about the choices we could have made, instead of accepting and enjoying the choice we did make.

On the same US holiday, one of the highlights of the trip was supposed to be the Grand Canyon in Arizona. We had decided to travel there at the end of September, to beat the summer crowds (and the desert heat!) and as we drove into Tusayan the night before our visit, we were hungry with anticipation of the feast for the eyes that the next day would bring...

What the next day brought was rain. Rain, oppressive humidity, and when we arrived at the rim of the canyon, a thick wall of cloud that obscured everything, literally everything, from sight.

This is the point where FoMO struck, after all, we were missing out, weren’t we? Instead of the spectacular photos everyone else takes home, we would be coming back with drizzled, grey pictures of each other in rain ponchos, with walls of cloud in the background. This is the point we could start guilt-tripping ourselves, questioning the decision to come in September, the fact that we’d chosen to orient our trip around an itinerary and not the weather...

Instead we chose to visit the beautiful Hopi House full of aboriginal artwork, and extend our hotel stay in the hope that the weather would pass. Whilst we were never quite “cloud free” during our visit, we were able to see some gorgeous views of the canyon in the moments when the cloud lifted, and I really feel that the persistent clouds added a magic all of their own. A very unique visit to the canyon.

Qualify, rather than quantify your holiday experience

When we think about our holidays, we often unconsciously use the same language as we do when we think about business. Our holidays are an “investment”, we intend to “capitalise” on every moment. We talk about holiday “successes” and holiday “flops”.

When it comes to your vacation, try to see your choices as something that you embrace and talk about them in terms of how they make you feel. Think of a holiday as something that is “enjoyable” rather than “successful”. In short, holidays are experiences that we can qualify but should not attempt to quantify.

Maximizers and Satisficers

In his book the ‘The Paradox of Choice’, Schwarz distinguishes between “Maximizers” and “Satisficers”.

A Maximizer wants to get the best deal in every situation. The Maximizer will plan her travel by sitting for hours reading reviews and doing price comparisons. Her flight must be the best value, her room has the best view, and if she later finds out she could have stayed somewhere closer to the beach for less, she will be disappointed.

The Satisficer accepts the decisions she makes and lives in the moment. Once her choice has been made, she doesn’t compare it to the “could-have-beens” and “if only’s”. She simply enjoys what is and not what might have been.

Choosing to embrace the choices that you make is the first step towards a satisfying, fulfilling and enjoyable holiday experience.

EMANCIPATE YOURSELF

Choice can be liberating. Choice can be crippling.

The key to enjoying choice is recognising at what point it begins to overwhelm you. Then emancipate yourself from the paralysis of choice by choosing to limit your choices.

There’s a line to walk between embracing and eschewing all choice, but to what extent you limit your choices depends on you and how many decisions you are willing and able to take.

Obviously some service packages, like the all-inclusive holiday, let you truly surrender most of the decision making; whilst DIY planning, where you make all your travel bookings yourself, requires time and lots of deliberation.

Yet it doesn’t have to be an extreme decision between all choice and no choice. More and more, providers are switching on to the fact that yes, we do want the power to choose. We just don’t want choices bombarded at us from all directions for every little thing.

There are online tools to help you: indeed only this year, Google launched a travel itinerary app called Google Trips, but my personal preference in this area is to choose to limit my choices. I tend to choose a few highlights in advance: the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Palace of Knossos in Crete, a Rhine river cruise from Strasbourg, and for the rest of my itinerary - I ask the locals.

Our guide on a river rafting trip in Arizona gave us great tips on what else we could see in the area. Most hotels have friendly staff at reception who are happy to provide insider tips along with plenty of pamphlets to peruse. Some hotels even put together their own holiday itineraries or travel guides with self-drive tours and recommended destinations.

The beauty of this approach is that it’s often fuelled by local knowledge and insider tips from people who’ve lived in the area their whole lives. You have a range of options, but not overwhelmingly so.

Unlike an Internet search, where you might generate pages and pages of information, you can focus on a smaller range of choices.

What’s more, you can make your choice with added confidence, because the options come recommended by a real person. Instead of the anonymity of Internet advertising, you have the accountability and authenticity of a real individual.

For more detail on a step-by-step approach to structuring your choices in your travel planning, see our advice on How to Deal with Too Much Choice: A Step-by-Step Guide.

Choice can be intimidating, and navigating the multiverse of choice out there may seem a daunting task. But we hope you take encouragement from our advice on embracing the choices that you make and emancipating yourself to make choices freely, unashamedly and without regret.

Written by Sarah O'Neill

A passionate traveller, linguist and writer, Sarah has visited over 20 countries around the globe. She loves immersing herself in new cultures, learning the language, and getting to know the local people.

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