52 in 52 Book Summaries

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

book cover for The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

forces of habit book summary for The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz

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The Essence

As we bask at the amount of information now at our fingertips, we mustn’t forget that with great power comes great responsibility. One would normally think that no amount of additional information could be anything but a blessing. But as The Paradox of Choice shows, the burden of decision-making amongst a now infinite number of choices leaves us cognitively overworked and overall less happy with our choices. Research now shows that offering more choices doesn’t translate to better decisions. In fact, considering a saturated market, it is more likely that someone is choice averse from a growing number of options. So stop considering all the options available to you, and start taking an approach that looks not for the best, but good enough.

The Paradox of Choice Journal Entry Notes:

This is my book summary of The Paradox of Choice. My notes are a reflection of the journal write up above. Written informally, the notes contain a mesh and mix of quotes and my own thoughts on the book. Sometimes, to my own fault, quotes are interlaced with my own words. Though rest assured, I am not attempting to take any credit for the main ideas below. The Journal write up includes important messages and crucial passages from the book.

Most good decisions will involve these steps:

1. Figure out your goals.
2. Evaluate the importance of each goal.
3. Array the options.
4. Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet your goals.
5. Pick a winning option.
6. Later use the consequences of your choice to modify your goals, the importance you assign them, and the way you evaluate future possibilities.

● Every choice we make has an opportunity-cost associated with it.
● People won’t ignore alternatives if they don’t realize that too many alternatives can create a problem.
● Being forced to confront trade-off in making decisions makes people unhappy and indecisive.
● The options we consider usually suffer from comparison with other options. It is the weight of multiple options that when weighted against a single choice cause regret just from the sheer amount of choice that we have. We can only live one future, but imagining all others creates a beast of regret dealing with what could have been.
● What is most easily put into words is not necessarily what is most important.
● Any particular item will always be at the mercy of the context which it is found.
● We must decide, individually, when choice really matters and focus our energies there, even if it means letting many opportunities pass us by. The choice of when to be a chooser may be the most important choice we have to make.
● Second-Order Decisions: Rules, presumptions, standards, habits. These are all ways that mitigate the number of choices we make. Second-order decisions create a set of systems for choice making so we are not unnecessarily burdened by the choice of choosing. Make a choice about when to choose, thereby making life more manageable.
● Learning how to satisfice is an important step not only in coping with a world of choice but in simply enjoying life.

● Our culture sanctifies freedom of choice.

Three things that rarely lineup:
Experienced utility
Expected utility
Remembered utility


Analysis Paralysis:

More choices result in...
Decisions requiring more effort
Mistakes more likely
Psychological consequences of mistake more severe

● New choices demand more extensive research and create more individual responsibility for failure.
● Identity is much less a thing people “inherit” than it used to be

When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choice increase, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. As this point, choice no longer liberates but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.

● A choice may not always mean more control.

A Chooser …

● Is someone who thinks actively about the possibilities before making a decision.
● Reflects on what is important to him, what is important to the particular situation, and what the short and long-range consequences may be.
● Makes decisions in a way that reflects an awareness of what a given choice means about him as a person.
● Is thoughtful enough to conclude that perhaps none of the available alternatives are satisfactory, and he may have to create the right alternative.

What to Do About Choice

We make the most of our freedoms by learning to make good choices about the things that matter, while at the same time unburdening ourselves from too much concern about the things that don’t.
1. Choose When to Choose
2. Be a Chooser, Not a Picker
3. Satisfice More and Maximize Less
4. Think About Opportunity Costs of Opportunity Costs
5. Make your Decisions Nonreversible
6. Practice an “Attitude of Gratitude”
7. Regret Less
8. Anticipate Adaptation
9. Control Expectations
10. Curtail Social Comparison
11. Learn to Love Constraints

Reading Recommendations

If you liked what you saw. Here are 3 titles that I recommend based on what was discussed in The Paradox of Choice.

  1. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
  2. Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom
  3. Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

Find the book on Amazon: Print | Audio

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