The Challenge of Choice - 180 x 600

It happens at the same time every year. Shortly after Thanksgiving my attention turns to buying gifts for people to whom I want to show my appreciation. No sooner do I begin to look around – online or in a store then I start to feel overwhelmed. Just today, I was in a shop chock full of lovely gift items, chocolates, festive candles, snowmen cookies, flavored olive oils, etc. etc. Did I leave with anything? No sir!

Social science to the rescue

Am I the only one who feels this way, I wondered? Much to my relief, the research of business professor Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University and psychologist, Mark Lepper of Stanford answered my question. Too much choice, they found, is demotivating.  

Whether choosing cereal from the grocery isle or a new career, the same holds true. Too much choice raises the expectation that the perfect choice is out there, which may make even a good decision feel bad. When Proctor and Gamble narrowed its offerings of Head and Shoulders shampoos from 26 to 15, sales increased by 10% according to Iyengar in her book “The Art of Choosing.”

How to escape the prison of indecision

1 – Think of a past success. Remember a time you said yes to something you were unsure of and it turned out to be a great decision.  What was it?  Why did it work out so well? What strengths did you use in your decision-making? How did you overcome your fear?

2 – Narrow your choices. When considering a job change; whether with your current employer, or a more extensive transition to a new career, limit your choices by first selecting those options that align with your skills, interests and values.

Let’s say you have excellent organization and project management skills, are interested in healthcare and want to work for an organization that contributes to society.  You might target project management roles in a biotech or healthcare software company.

3 – Develop a plan. Target 10-12 companies that meet your criteria.

Find people in your network who work for these companies. Set up networking meetings to find out what they like, what they find challenging and the skills valued by their organizations.

4 – Volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to test-drive a new role and the fit between you and the organization. It also provides an opportunity to get to know the organization, its mission, people and show what you’re capable of.

5. Set small goals. Sometimes we get so focused on the big goal that we forget that there are many steps along the way to getting there. Authors don’t write a book in one sitting and artists don’t paint masterpieces in a day. Follow your plan and celebrate successes along the way.