Spoilt by choice? Simon, InterNations member and “expat trying to decide whether to run back to motherland or stick it out in the fatherland”, muses on how the plethora of choices we are faced with every day can get in the way of our really big decisions…
I was sitting with a friend by the Isar the other day and we were discussing choice. She informed me that Tesco’s had recently conducted an experiment where they took the over 30 different brandings of jams they had on sale in their stores and reduced the number of choices to just four. The result was a uplift in total jam sales for Tesco’s. The conclusion must be that in some way too much choice had been a barrier to purchase for Tesco customers.
Too many choices is a frequent complaint of many people in the modern world, perhaps expats in particular, who are often in a perpetual state of indecision about whether to stay or go. Big decisions like this often seem to get postponed as our minds get preoccupied with the hundreds of small choices we have to make every day. This is especially true of purchasing choices that if we’re not careful can take up far larger amounts of mental energy than they deserve. Meanwhile we may not be taking the time out to really evaluate and focus on the big decisions we have to take.
For example, all that time and research we might put in to deciding which bike, car or holiday to purchase; have we devoted that much time to evaluating where we want to live, what we want to do and how we want to be?
Despite Tesco’s heroic efforts to demystify the world of jams, their track record on choice is not all so clear cut. I remember one hung over morning stacking shelves in the Cosham branch of Tesco’s, near Portsmouth, I caught myself daydreaming in front of a long line of toilet paper packages. I counted how many different brands were available. That mid sized branch of Tesco’s had 43 different options of what you might want to wipe your backside with! Imagine the wasted hours that Tesco’s inflicted on its customers by imposing such an unnecessary multitude of options!
Surrounded by such ceaseless demands for decision making on issues entirely trivial and banal, no wonder we don’t have time to really get to grips with the big stuff.
I have been reading a famous book that a friend gave to me for my birthday. How to stop worrying and start living by Dale Carnegie. It’s a fantastic book to have in your library and one I would recommend to anybody. If you’ve ever caught yourself in a state of paralysis over which toilet paper or pot of jam to buy from your local supermarket then this is a book you should not live without. It is a recipe for taking the angst out of decision making large or small. One of the many ways it achieves this is by lending context to our own decisions with a vast range of personal decision making stories, some small, but many of life or death seriousness. Every time, the protagonist overcomes his or her fear by accepting the worst possible outcome. What is the very worst that can happen if I make the wrong decision? A sore posterior? an oversweetend palate? death? (It should be said none of them do die, obviously or they wouldn’t be around to tell us how they went about making such a great decision…)
The key to making a decision according to Dale Carnegie is good research, an acceptance of the worst outcome and a firm resolve to stick to the decision once made. As an expat trying to decide whether to run back to motherland or stick it out in the fatherland, I would add one additional criteria: a timeline.
To make the big decisions requires not just the right approach to decision making, but also a firm timeline and a solid commitment to step back from the daily clutter of small choices and really take the time for thinking about the bigger picture.
Thank you Simon Goodall for your contribution to our blog.
Photos by Sebastian Grünwald (1), Eurico Zimbres (3), Dominik Hundhammer (4), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.