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It’s official: too much choice can be bad for you

19 Dec 2017

We’re bombarded by decisions every day. Just think how many you made before breakfast. What to wear, what to eat, whether to have tea or coffee – it all adds up. But too much choice can be bad for us. In a famous TED talk, Psychologist Brian Schwarz argues our modern lives are so full of choice, we’re paralysed by indecision. And when we do force ourselves to make a decision, we feel less good about the choices we make.

Fussing over which strawberry jam to buy at the supermarket (a quick Tesco search brought up 17 options) might seem like freedom, but it’s a microdose of stress, and whatever you choose tastes bittersweet. Of course, small decisions are easy to make, and can be avoided if necessary. If you’re losing sleep over which brand of jam to buy, you could start making your own, for example – but it’s not always that simple. It’s the big decisions that keep us up at night. The kind we normally put off until tomorrow.

Why do we put off decisions?

The problem is that delaying decisions means you worry more. You stay preoccupied with the decision, instead of enjoying a clearer mind. The longer we leave things, the worse they might be, so why do we do it? We asked YouGov to find out.

Survey results: Why we put off decisions

Over half of our respondents (55%) were too worried about making the wrong decision, they didn’t make one at all. That’s not surprising, really. With so many people, ideas, and services vying for our attention – often shouting the same thing – it’s easy to be overwhelmed. We’re more contactable now than ever. Smartphones have brought the outside world to within a tap away, and with it, more ads, content, and opinions to sift through.

Either there’s too much choice (30%), we need more information to decide (27%), or we want advice from people we trust (18%). But our daily lives are so busy, we rarely find time (19%).

Unsurprisingly, it’s those decisions with the most at stake, such as our health and our finances, that we’re most reluctant to commit to. In third place, we put off changing suppliers (18%) – and if you’ve ever tried moving switching your gas and electricity, you’ll know just how stressful that can be. The result? We let money, work, and health matters keep us up at night.

Survey results: What decisions we put off

But it’s not all bad news. Octopus is determined to make those difficult, worrisome decisions easier, by rethinking the industries people care about most. Here’s how:

First, we care about the same things that our customers do. We focus on the big stuff, like financial security, family, health and wellbeing. We try to create an atmosphere of trust and certainty, which hopefully helps to relieve some of the burden of responsibility.

Second, because we understand how painful the decision-making process can be, we try to make life as simple as possible for our customers. To give you the confidence to choose, you need information that’s simple, honest, and jargon-free. Because knowing your options is the first step to choosing the right one.

Third, we question the way things are to make them better. Take the energy industry, for example. Its reputation has suffered for years, thanks to unfair energy pricing, outdated technology and poor customer service. Octopus Energy began by challenging conventional wisdom of what an energy company should look like. After that, taking care of the customer and offering more competitive prices for renewable energy was simple.

The biggest decisions in life should be hard to make. But there’s no excuse for companies to make the decision-making process even harder. Which is we try to make every decision as clear-cut as possible. Because that’s the way it should be.

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