The liberating effect of constraints

Much of recent human development has been driven by the quest to create more and more options in all aspects of our lives. 

From the ability to easily travel to any part of the world, to having access to a diverse assortment of food, shops, entertainment, gadgets or education, the world is flatter than ever and we have access to the widest range of everything – certainly more than we have ever known in our history.

Does this abundance of choice make life better?

Probably not.

More choice can prevent us from moving forward and less choice helps us to walk out the door. 

In his book Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz cites numerous studies showing that where there is too much choice it can lead to unhappiness, and can even prevent someone from making a decision. (Schwartz, B, 2003). In a study called “When Choice is Demotivating,” a gourmet food store in an upmarket community typically set up tables with new products that people could sample and buy. Using this environment, researchers set up a line of exotic, high quality jams for customers who, after tasting the samples, could get a one dollar coupon should they decide to buy. Setting up two scenarios, the researchers offered six varieties of jam in the one and 24 varieties in another. In both scenarios the full 24 varieties were available for purchase with the same discount. The 24 varieties attracted more people to the table, although in both the scenario with six and 24 varieties about the same number of people tasted. The real difference however came when measuring who actually bought the jams. Thirty percent of this exposed to the scenario where there were only six jams bought while only 3 percent of those exposed to 24 varieties bought. 

Setting ourselves some constraints, removing some of the options off the table, is more likely to get us out the door than adding more possibilities. 

“I’m sorry I wrote such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one”
– Blaise Pascal, Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln (take your pick)

The liberating effect of constrains. Reducing our choices is more likely to get us out the door.

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Author: Dale Williams

Dale is based in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa from where he maintains connections with people all over the world through his portfolio life.