The paradox of choice

Is freedom of choice a good thing both at work and personally?

At every opportunity we are encouraged to compare prices, quality, value for money etc and human rights lobbyists  tell us we should have freedom of choice but……is it really such a good thing both at work and personally?

In his book – the Paradox of Choice – Psychologist Barry Schwartz explores a central tenet of western societies – freedom of choice. In Schwartz’s estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

The average British supermarket now carries 48,750 items, and a leading supermarket brand stocks 91 different shampoos, 93 varieties of toothpaste and 115 options of household cleaners.

Coffee is no longer black or white – it is tall, short, regular, or large, skinny, decaf, flavoured, iced, spiced or frappé. Jeans are flared, bootlegged, skinny, cropped, straight, low-rise, bleach-rinsed, dark-washed or distressed.  The internet has provided options beyond dreams –absolutely anything you could want.

After a training session a delegate told me her husband had supermarket phobia – he couldn’t go into a supermarket without having a panic attack.  He came to see me in my capacity as a therapist and it became apparent that his issue was with the extent of the choices presented – he found it bewildering and excessive.  A sparse upbringing with very limited choices, had set up a belief system that excess was bad and this was now resulting in his emotional response at the supermarket.

There are many lifestyle and workstyle choices  in our existence in the 21st Century and it can be helpful to appreciate that for some, it liberates whilst for others, it debilitates.

About Ann McCracken

Ann McCracken is a Director of AMC2 and the vice president of the International Management Association (ISMA UK) – the professional body for stress management Practitioners.

She specialises in developing a positive and resilient working culture in organisations by introducing effective strategies in performance and wellbeing at all levels. The effectiveness of such a positive working culture is measured and assessed using AMC2 Corporate Diagnostic innovative surveys which include measurement of psychosocial factors, stress and wellbeing. Having initially trained as a scientist, she carried out research with DEFRA and consultancy in the NHS.

She spent 10 years in Education before retraining as a stress management practitioner in 1996. She is the author of Stress Gremlins©, regularly writes/broadcasts and is an external lecturer at Westminster University. She is also a Key Note/Motivational speaker/Conference Chair.

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