Too Many Choices

I was working with a client today around her bedside table. There was quite a big collection of things piled around the table. I noticed a lot of them were books. I asked her to get all the books and put them on her bed. She asked if she could just put a couple at a time on the bed. I sensed that it would be daunting for her to see them all at once. I think it was easier for her to have them hiding in and amongst things, that way it didn't seem like there was a lot. I said, "No, let's take them all out where we can see them."

She grabbed handfuls at a time and piled them on the bed. It filled up the entire bed and it was a couple of layers thick. She didn't look too happy with the lot.

She said, "I can't believe I have so many books. I'm stunned."

I said, "We like having lots of choices. We like having lots of possibilities and options. But the thing is, we don't do well with having too many choices. It makes it harder for us to make actual choices. We end up doing less. We do better with a small amount of choices. It's simpler for us. The simplicity makes us happy. That goes against what we've been taught. More seems better. But watching your face right now, you look like you're in pain. It looks like you've seen a ghost. I wanted you to see all your books so you can see the effect it's having on you. I don't think this is a feeling you want in your life."

I found it's better to get right to the point of how the presence of the things in a person's life is affecting them. Intellectually they are going to want the things. But they can't hide a strong feeling of discomfort.

I said, "Let's go through these one a time. We'll pretend we are shopping at Borders. You'll decide which ones you want to buy today." She agreed.

I picked up the first book. I asked her if she would buy it today. She hesitated. I asked her again. She said, "Well, it says, 'This book will change your life'". I said, "Lots of products say that. It's part of the marketing. The thing is, do you want to read this book tonight as you lay in bed?" Her confusion went away. She said, "No, let's give it away."

We continued going through one book at a time. It was clear when she came across a book that she did want to read, and when she didn't want to. I also noticed that she got more confident as there were less books to make decisions about. The clarity factor was taking over. As there were less things vying for her attention, she was getting more of herself back. Towards the end, she said, "When we first started, I focused on the pain I'd feel if I had to say no to something. Like I was losing something. But then I started thinking, what am I gaining by keeping it? Nothing. It was all in my head."