How Too Much Choice is Bad for Your Health

By on November 2, 2010

Some time ago, Barry Schwatz gave a talk on “The Paralysis of Choice: Why More is less”. The talk was illuminating in that it dispels some myths about providing choices to customers.

While the lecture was a general one on how providing choices affect decision-making, I will try to show how the general principles help a person improve their lifestyle and overall satisfaction with regards to health and fitness.

Many people are given the impression that being provided with a wide selection of exercises/diets/routines/classes increases the satisfaction. After all, we think, if we are provided with 10 different workouts in our Fitness Magazine there is more likelihood of finding a regime that suits their preference. Schwatz cited surveys using supermarket variables and when this was done in supermarkets it showed the reverse effect.

When presented with a huge selection of a certain item, fewer customers bought the item than compared to when fewer products (2/3) were displayed. The bigger selection led to a paralysis of choice – the customers could not decide which to choose. As a result, they went away without choosing any.

Interestingly, Schwatz also cited a study that showed that when presented with many choices (training regimes), where making a choice required juggling many complex criteria, people often subconsciously simplified the criteria by focusing on one. The criterion they chose was often the wrong one (Which toned their arms as opposed to improving health/posture/core strength)

When people have more choices, they expect more, because they expect that they will be able to choose the exact item that meets their needs perfectly. As a result, when more choices are given for a product, the chance of dissatisfaction with the product is higher. When no choice is offered, people either have no expectations or their expectations are lowered.

In health and fitness terms, I suspect they probably figured that since they had no other alternative but to run, it was unlikely to be perfect. They thus prepared themselves to accept running as merely “good enough”.

If a person’s current health/lifestyle requires them to make a decision or choice, you might want to see if you can reduce the number of choices you are being offered. I don’t think you need to remove all choice and decision-making from the equation though — offering a few choices may be useful, since you are likely to have some differences in taste.

However, offering, say 30 types of a particular cardiovascular training machine may be overkill. I as a member of a gym am not likely to want to spend half a day studying 30 machines to try to distinguish between them as to which one burns the most calories.

One way to avoid paralysis when making health choices is to listen to recommendations. The Instructor will make some assumptions about the type of members that come to their club and what most of them want. Then they will recommend the particular exercise that they think will suit you the most.

When confronted with too many choices, people are often crippled by the large number of variables they have to juggle to make a decision. Using some of the tips given in this article, people can make their exercise/diet/lifestyle more satisfying by avoiding this paralysis of choice.

For information on making positive improvements to your lifestyle/health contact Tom Ferguson Irvine on 07766 690 036.

About Tom Irvine

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