Clever Carly: This or That? How to Combat the ‘Paradox of Choice’

How to make better decisions while planning events

Hello, superplanners! It’s Clever Carly here. 

From clothing to coffee type to cardio, we each make a multitude of decisions even before leaving for work––some naturally more influential than others. When we arrive to our office or hotel property, our decisions become less trivial and more impactful. While the internet (namely MeetingsImagined.com, of course) makes it easy to find a bounty of fresh menu ideas, experiential presentation methods and unique décor trends, oftentimes that bounty actually obscures the right choice for your meeting (not just a choice). It’s an idea called the “paradox of choice,” coined by psychologist Barry Schwartz, who argues that having an abundance of options provokes anxiety instead of relief, making it difficult to land on a single approach. 

Although there are (and always will be) a million and one ways you can approach a Celebrate, Network, Ideate, Decide, Produce or Educate event, there are ways to approach the decision-making process from a more centered psychological perspective. Here, I’ll outline methods to make the right choice––every time. 

Adopt a More Holistic, Mindful Mindset 

Of all the meeting trends we’ve covered in the past year, a gravitation toward mindfulness may be the most pervasive. And just as the transcendent mental state can help high-stress attendees relax and focus, mindfulness can also help you make stronger decisions, according to an article from HuffPost. As the article explains (based off a study from the journal Psychological Science), a focus on mindfulness (aka shedding technological distractions and transitioning toward a meditative state) helped research participants make more rational, beneficial decisions. In that same vein, a recent study found that holistic thinking (mindfulness’ sibling) can also lead to more successful decisions. 

The key as a planner, of course, is arriving at that state. If you need to make a serious decision, consider eliminating digital distractions, taking a break (exercise or painting, possibly), napping or meditating, to name a few of the methods we’ve highlighted in the past.  

Keep Rushed Decisions to a Minimum

Although we are often encouraged to trust our gut instinct when making a major decision, taking a moment to contemplate all options––even just a fraction of a second, according to one study––can make all the difference. 

According to the study, postponing a decision by only 50 to 100 milliseconds meant that an individual’s brain could process the most relevant information and shut out distractions. Although this advice probably isn’t applicable to planning months in advance, consider all the last-minute emergency decisions you might face midevent, from menu mishaps to inclement weather. While your gut instinct is certainly valid, consider taking a moment to breathe and weigh your options. 

Opt for a Change in Scenery (or Lighting, Rather)

From social-inspiring yellow to educational-friendly green, we know that lighting can have a substantial impact on mood and help to set the tone for any event. But as one study found, accounting for the lighting in your office (or wherever you make the majority of event planning decisions) should hold equal importance. 

As the study from the University of Toronto and Northwestern University found, lighting can have a major impact on mental clarity and emotional response. But here’s the kicker: The same type of lighting (bright, not surprisingly) was associated with both majorly positive and majorly negative emotions. Your best bet? Opt for emotional neutrality in your lighting scheme (while planning, anyway) and save the mood-altering ambiance for the meeting itself. 

Be sure to check back in another two weeks for more helpful tips and insight, and follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

Helping you make the best decisions possible,

Clever Carly