Indecision is a problem everyone faces. Recently, some have taken to call it “choice paralysis,” with the explanation being that it’s “too much choice” that leaves us paralyzed and afraid to make a mistake.
My explanation is that choice paralysis has two separate causes: first, a lack of information about the products; and second, a lack of information about our own preferences.
For an example of the first case, think of the familiar situation of deciding what to get at a Chinese restaurant. A thick menu, written in a foreign language, leaving you unsure what anything actually is. You know you want something that isn’t spicy and doesn’t have fish guts in it. But the menu is not helping you decipher this information.
A high-end coffeeshop might face the same problem. While experienced customers might confidently ask for a tall-blonde-mocha-chai-latte-with-two-pumps-of-vanilla, someone new to the experience might try to individually decipher all 85,000 different combinations of roasts, toppings, and sizes.
The telltale sign of this sort of indecision is that the decision-maker is asking a lot of questions. Questions that are not answered simply by looking at the menu. The solution here is simply to design a more informative menu. The key here is to break up the decision making process into a series of steps (“first, choose a size. Second, choose a roast. Third, choose how much foam,” or “first, choose your meat. Second, choose your veggies. Third, choose how spicy,” etc.).
The second type of indecision, which is caused by the decision-maker not knowing what they want, can be witnessed in fast food restaurants when someone is struggling between the Coke or the Cherry Coke. They know what both are, but they can’t decide which one they want at this moment. The reason for this is because they actually value both things equally.
Think about it. If the choice was between Coke and cyanide, would they struggle as much with the decision? No, because a thirsty person would get a lot more out of life with the Coke than the cyanide. So the only logical reason a person would struggle with such a decision is because both choices are equivalent.
Thus in this situation, any choice will do. So if you recognize someone in this situation, you can try to create some dichotomy between the two options. For example, if you know the person likes to change things up, you can remind them of what they picked last time so they choose the opposite thing this time.