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The Problem of Choices

The Problem of Choices

. 4 min read

I might draw ire of many when I say this. I don't prefer eating at Subway. Before you judge me, let me tell you why. There is just too much of permutations and combinations and I have to decide those. I am sorry, if I need a sandwich, you make one and give me. Don't ask me what combination of sauces and meat I need.

I hear you. "Isn't it good to be able to decide what you want?", "Isn't it easier when you make all the choices?", "Having greater freedom of choice is always good". Well, it depends.

At my workplace there is this restaurant  where they serve various salads, burritos etc. Food is wonderful, but the problem is that you have to decide the ingredients. I walk in and the conversation goes something like this:

"Regular or large?"

"Large" I had no clue how much regular is and I didn't want to starve later so went with the choice of large.

"Salad or Rice?"


"Barbecue chicken, spicy chicken or peri peri chicken?"

"Peri peri"

"Normal sauce or spicy sauce?"







"Well, okay sure" after some considerable though as to what would the combination of all this taste like. It's cheese so let's roll with it.

"Cheese would be extra"

"Okay" not realising what that meant. Would be clear in a minute. Regretted it.

"Extra mushrooms?"

"Sure?" who doesn't like some extra shrooms?



"Extra chicken?"


The bowl finally reached the billing counter. The bill was considerably more than what I had been calculating in my mind during those hard choice battles in my mind. That is when I realized that "extra" meant it would cost extra. I was fine with that but 40/- for a few tiny (I mean absolutely tiny) cheese cubes?

I'd rather head to a Shawarma place and pay 100/- and get a Shawarma. No questions and I know exactly how it tastes like and I know how much I am paying for it. This is why it is easier for me to make a decision when I don't have a whole lot of choices to make.

I was recently thinking of changing my car. After some online research and consultation with my friends, some of whom are in the wrong profession, they should be in automotive industry to be honest. Well, as if I am doing what I want to do.

Anyway, during my search I was shocked by the sheer number of choices in the market. Not just on the variety of the car, but also on the trim available. For the same car you get a normal version, a GT version with monstrous power highly unsuitable for Indian roads and single digit mileage, a version with sunroof. Some of us are obsessed with sunroof. Single best feature of your car especially in polluted cities.

Maybe about three decades back, the choice was much easier. There was Hindustan Motors Ambassador for a regular man (I mean someone who could afford anything more than a motorbike), then for luxury you had Fiat Premier Padmini, and if you wanted something nimble and sporty, you buy a Maruti.

Today, you pay 3k for that matte finish carbon fibre waste basket than has the logo and colour matching that of your car's. Then you have these review websites and videos where they compare multiple cars and you end up confused more than ever. Would you sacrifice better suspension for that little increase in horsepower? Decision making is hard you see.

Finally I decided to wait. The car I drive now is perfectly fine. Recently got a set of new tyres and handling has significantly improved. I have decided to push it as much as it can, just investing to make this car better. When I start my career as a full time traveller, I'll get that SUV. But who knows, I may change my mind.

Having many choices could be one of the reasons for putting off things for later. It means that when you have many choices, you end up not making any one of them. I am absolutely guilty of this. Back when I was learning programming, I remember spending days trying to research and find out the best language, platform, IDE and framework to learn for my next side project because I wanted to learn everything.

I remember watching The Social Network and trying to figure out what version of linux Zuckerberg uses so that I could program like him. Younger days, I thought he was cool. Sorry about that! I was working on a side project and just to get started, I installed and tried about four different IDEs. It was just a waste of time and I realized that I wasn't moving forward.

Same happened with blogging. I wanted to start a blog and I ended up trying Blogger, WordPress, and some other CMS based in .NET about 11 years ago. Easiest thing would've been to start a free blog on or something, but I had to be on the best. So tried everything. It was a good one year before I started my first blog. Until a month back, this one was on Jekyll, now running on Ghost.

This means that for some of us, it becomes a way of procrastinating by wasting time on trivial things like choosing the best way to do something. Although I believe that having the best tool or process would help, if it is coming in the way of you getting started then that is counterproductive.

If you are interested in the science of choices, head to TED and listen to Barry Schwartz's talk on the paradox of choices. It sparked the idea behind this blog post.

Sometimes, it is better to live within constraints. Sometimes it is better to settle for something that isn't perfect. With the number of choices for everything, one might just go insane before a decision is made.

Risky business.


I am a software engineer and podcaster from Bangalore, India. During my downtime, I dabble in photography, little music and making YouTube videos about lifestyle, productivity, tech etc.

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