Increase Enjoyment by Reducing Choice??

Ever wrap up a long, stressful day with that desire to stretch out on the couch and watch that perfect movie or new TV show?

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Yes, quite often in fact”, then you and I have one more thing in common.

So you start scrolling through Netflix or Rotten Tomatoes, checking reviews, looking at ratings, and watching trailers. Twenty minutes go by.

You’ve narrowed it down to 2 or 3 that look promising.


Finally, you take the plunge and click on one.

You watch it for several minutes. Then you think to yourself, “Man, this is kind of mediocre!” And you’re somewhere between bummed and irritated. You did all this research and still it doesn’t result in anything great to watch.

So you pull out your phone and start scrolling through FaceTwitt or Snaptagram. Or you pull up the other movie/show that you were thinking about watching. And any way you slice it you just can’t seem to find anything that enjoyable to do.

Bummer. I know right! 

So what happened? Well, your brain and modern media played a trick on you. Here’s the dealio:

#1: Let’s start with the brain.

We get overwhelmed by choice. Paralyzed in fact. A study from Columbia University by Professor Sheena Iyengar proved this point. They did their study on people purchasing jam from a roadside stand. They found that when presented with many choices, study participants are 50% more likely to stop by the jam stand. (Name of my next rock band btw.) Paradoxically, they are 1/10th as likely to make a purchase at the stand with lots of jams to choose from.

So let’s connect the dots. We think we like to have tons of options, eg. Netflix. But when presented with so many choices, we become so paralyzed that we have tremendous difficulty making a choice. Or don’t at all.

#2: Modern media makes us believe that it can help us find the perfect restaurant/app/entertainment for us to consume right now.

It presents us with a ton of options that are immediately available in our pockets or with the click of a button. Then it uses algorithms and recommendations and reviews and aggregators to help us decide which amazing thing to consume.

Trouble is, someone else’s opinion or review about a thing will likely not be the same as ours. Our moods, who we are with, substances in our system, what kind of day we’ve had, and a host of other factors are much more likely to impact the actual experience we have. Lastly, many great movies or widgets are only going to be a few percent “better” than the next one. So whether it has 241 reviews and 4.7 stars or 1,192 reviews and 4.6 stars, the actual experience is going to be fairly similar and more dictated by factors directly related to you (eg. mindset, who I’m with, how I feel today), thus not quantifiable by reviews.

So what can you do about it? Good news: there are a number of things you can do to avoid choice paralysis and get more enjoyment out of your decision.

  1. Keep the research you do fairly short. Whether you’re on Amazon or Yelp or Netflix, make your decision within a few minutes. That way you won’t get sucked into the belief that you have found the perfect widget/restaurant/movie – spoiler alert: it doesn’t exist. (Exception big ticket items: do a little more research for these on or
  2. Go in with an optimistic perspective but low expectations. A negative perspective will automatically reduce the joy you get out of it, plus put a damper on people around you. High expectations only have one likely outcome: disappointment.
  3. Try to forget about the other options you were considering. When you are just having an alright time watching the movie or eating the food, it’s tempting to begin to regret your choice and imagine that the grass would definitely have been greener if you had selected Applebee’s instead. This effectively reduces the enjoyment you are having, plus it prevents you from really being present in the moment to enjoy this right here.
  4. Remind yourself that the other thing probably was about equally as good and you can always try it next time. This way you are not fixating on what you are “missing out on” and in turn missing out on what’s right in front of you.

Love to hear how it goes for you. Let me know in the comments below or by shooting me an email directly.

(Columbia study referenced appeared in the New York Times article Too Many Choices: A Problem that can Paralyze.)

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus is a Relationship Therapist, Couples Therapist, and Author who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

About Jeremi McManus

I am a licensed psychotherapist offering individual psychotherapy and couples counseling in San Francisco. If you are looking for some therapy to address challenges in your life or to address challenges in your relationship, I welcome hearing from you at (415) 375-0311. Specialties: - Relationship Counseling - Psychotherapy - Communication issues - Couples Counseling - Dating and relationship challenges Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy San Francisco and Couples Counseling San Francisco
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