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Too Many Choices Stressing You Out? Simplify Your Life

11/21/2013 12:27 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

I recently watched Barry Schwartz's TED Talk, "The Paradox of Choice," based on his book of the same name about "why more is less." He says that despite the common belief that freedom of choice creates happiness, when presented with too much choice, it can actually hinder our productivity, happiness and progress.

It's a theory I strongly believe in and I think it especially rings true nowadays when we are bombarded with images and messages that we can have it all, we deserve everything we desire and that opportunities are infinite. You hear people saying decisions used to be a lot easier; less 'stuff' meant fewer choices, with circumstances often doing the decision-making for you. Even when it comes to dating, we have the whole world at our fingertips with online matchmaking sites...like kids in a candy store!

So many aspects of our lives consist of an abundance of choice, from the major to the seemingly insignificant: settling on a career and degree path; choosing a life partner; deciding which one will take parental leave; picking a city to live in; selecting a cell phone model when we know an upgrade will be out before our contract lets us get a new one; choosing an item on an extensive restaurant menu (this place in Los Angeles has a 45-page water menu); deciding which Starbucks beverage to drink... the average American is faced with 70 choices per day. We tend to think that the more choices we have, the more freedom we have; however too much choice can stress us out, make us unhappy and unproductive.

The paradox of choice is an interesting issue to discuss, and despite its complexity, I believe it actually has an easily adaptable solution: simplify your life.

Conquer "analysis paralysis" by narrowing your focus. Consider how much time you spend each day making decisions: it can be quite exhausting and frustrating, leaving us wishing someone could just narrow down the options for us. Not only does the decision-making process occupy a lot of our time, we tend to shut down when presented with too much choice. This overwhelming feeling brings on what Schwartz calls "analysis paralysis": when having too much choice creates anxiety and indecision rather than liberation.

Instead of solving indecision, it can freeze us in our tracks. I am sure many of us have gone into a shop to buy a shirt, and found ourselves leaving an hour and a half later, completely unable to make a decision. The abundance of choice can actually be limiting and take away from our experience. The fact is, in today's busy world, none of us have time in our schedules to take an hour and a half to make a simple decision like buying a top. My solution is to narrow my focus; I use this approach with my clients too. Narrowing our focus allows us to see what's important -- the bigger picture.

Believe in the power of curation. Streamline your life as if you are a brand, what is authentic to you...what are your goals...what is most important to you: curate your meals, your closet, your surroundings. It's well known in the office that I am a "curator of stuff"; I designed both my home and the office with this mindset because I believe that simple, clean surroundings provide clarity. Even my wardrobe is streamlined; wearing all black makes shopping simple. I live by the mantra that an uncluttered home (or office) leads to an uncluttered mind. By limiting your options you will include only what is most meaningful to you.

Trust that less is more. A great example of the power of simplicity is Steve Jobs and his quest to design Apple computers. He truly revolutionized the tech industry by designing with the concept that less is more; more led to complexity, something people lean away from. His passion for simplicity helped create a design revolution beyond technology and into fashion as well: consider his infamous black turtleneck and round, wired glasses.

Be brave enough to take responsibility for your decisions. Another reason why too much choice can create paralysis is that it forces us to take responsibility for the choices we make. This can be scary! In the past when there were less options in a product, Schwartz says, we could "blame the company." But today, with so many models and versions, we can't blame anyone but ourselves for choosing the wrong thing. This looming blame can intimidate us, especially when we're unsure to begin with. I see this everyday; sifting through a plethora of options is one of the biggest causes of stress at home and the office for people. To counter this, my recommendation is -- try to focus on the concept of owning your decisions. I don't believe in mistakes; for me, everything is a key learning. This mindset can help me take responsibility for my decisions because the fear of making a mistake is removed.

Be present in the moment. It can also be hard to choose one thing over another because when we chose A over B it means we can't choose B as well. No matter how good something is, when we're doing it we aren't doing all the other good things we could be doing (like if we're at a family dinner but missing out on a cool movie premiere). In his talk, Schwartz highlighted this with a funny cartoon showing three men: one at his office dreaming about golf; one man playing golf, fantasizing about women; and the third man having sex, thinking about work. No matter what we're doing, chances are a lot of us are thinking about something else. At these times, it's important to remember to live in the moment by being present and letting ourselves fully enjoy the choice we did make.

Go with your gut. Finally, I believe in getting in tune with our gut feeling when faced with life decisions. Knowing your needs leads to a healthy body and soul. Take time to stop and tap into your emotions; practise consciousness and be mindful of why you choose certain things. Once you understand your motivations and intentions, it's easier to make decisions that are in line with the kind of life you want to create -- and the person you want to be. And don't worry about making mistakes; be confident with your decisions and if you mess up, learn from it and move on.

When faced with too much choice, the answer is, in many ways, simple. Simplifying our lives is not a new phenomenon; it's tried-and-true because it works! And it can help us curate a life that is authentic and truly represents who we are. What's more, it can be deeply satisfying; from an emotional perspective right down to an aesthetic one. Like da Vinci once said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." I'm sure Schwartz would agree!

xo Natasha

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