How to Make the Best Decision When You Have Too Many Options

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Research has shown that when people are faced with too many choices, it can produce a crippling anxiety that actually makes us less likely to choose, and thus less likely to succeed.

A new study from the Georgia Institute of Technology analyzed three different decision strategies in order to find out which was best when confronted with a large number of choices.

The study’s lead author, Tibor Besedes, said:

“We know from all the studies that we’ve done that if you have a smaller choice set, you tend to do better. There is a lot of information that you have to go through, and you have to understand what all of those things mean, and from that information, figure out what’s best for you. You can’t do that while choosing from 16 options at a time.”

So, the best strategy? Sequential tournament, in which a large set of options are broken down into smaller groups of less options, and from which finalists are then whittled and ultimately placed into a finalist group.

The worst strategy was simultaneous choice, which is when all options are considered at the same time.

Besedes explained: “Standard economic theory will tell you that more choice is always better. Theoretically, that works out, but when you have to apply it, that’s very different. When you give people a lot of options, they can get bogged down and, at some level, become unwilling to consider anything because it just gets too complicated.”

Besedes’ advice to anyone having a difficult time choosing from many options:

“1. Divide the options into piles of four

2. Choose the best option from each pile

3. Put the winners from the first round into a new finalist pile

4. Choose the best option from winners of the earlier four selections.”

So the next time you are faced with a difficult decision, whether it’s buying a new car or hiring a new employee, remember to break one large group of options into smaller groups — it’ll save you time and anxiety, as well as prevent you from possibly making a costly mistake.

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