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The choice effect


One of the things I value most about my life is that I have options. I have the luxury of choosing what I want to do, where I want to live, who I want to date, in a way that many people around the world don’t.

But the trouble with having choices is having to actually make a choice. It’s the old parable of the fig tree, where choosing one means losing all the rest. There’s a part of me that wants to have it all and do everything, be everything.

This is what Amalia McGibbon, Lara Vogel and Claire A. Williams call ‘the choice effect.’ According to the theory laid out in their new book, The Choice Effect: Love and Commitment in an Age of Too Many Options, our generation is full of ‘choisters’- people for whom the possibilities of the world seem limitless, who love having choices and hate choosing just one. The world is our oyster, so we are hypnotised by our choices, and can’t quite imagine turning any of them down. So we delay the big decisions, and keep searching for the perfect job, the perfect city, the perfect partner, trying out anything and everything along the way in case it turns out to be the right one.

In an interview on Lemondrop, co-author Amalia McGibbon explains that the choice effect isn’t so much a matter of being paralysed by our options, but rather choosing to explore several before committing to one. ‘It’s not that we’ve been stopped in our tracks- it’s just that we’re heading down five at the same time,’ she says.

It’s something I definitely relate to. Writing it down like this, there’s a part of me that thinks maybe it’s just about selfishness. Another part thinks it’s inextricably linked to the myth of having it all, and the way we conceptualise success. McGibbon says, ‘I think we’re trying to engineer the future we’re told we could have, and I think a lot of young people have gotten as far as they have because they’ve been perfectionists and exerted a lot of control over their lives, and it’s served them well so far. We have an idea of the life we could lead, and we really want to make that a reality.’

But is it a good or a bad thing? On the one hand, it means we might be a lot slower in settling down. And there’s the danger of never choosing at all and ending up with nothing. But at least we’re thinking about our choices, and really considering all the options of what might make us happy. And as McGibbon says, ‘rather overthink than underthink it.’

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