The Netflix effect and the paradox of choice


OPTION PARALYSIS With the modern world giving us more options than ever, making even a small decision can be more difficult, more stressful and ultimately unsatisfying.

Mental Health
Jannah Walshe

Anyone with a TV streaming service like Netflix, Amazon prime, Now TV etc, will know what it is to search for ages, and I mean ages, to find something to watch. Time quickly disappears as you scroll through endless TV shows and movies.
It is easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of choice available, and either give up completely or watch anything just to watch something.
The constant search for the ‘right’ option and still not finding anything truly satisfying is becoming known as ‘the Netflix effect’.
Whether it’s streaming TV, music, online shopping, picking what to eat for dinner, choosing a career path or finding a life partner, we have more options than ever before – and nearly all at the touch of a button. However, if we’re not careful, there’s a downside to the Netflix effect: This amount of choice can ultimately cause more stress, poor decision making, unhappiness with the final outcome and the possibility of missing out on simple pleasures because of the constant search for something or someone better.
This is similar to that old saying about the grass always being greener on the other side. But watch out, because if you’re always looking out for someone or something more perfect, you’re likely to miss out on something great.
This is what psychologist Barry Schwartz calls the paradox of choice. In his book, ‘The Paradox of Choice’, he maintains that far from making us happier and more prosperous, the consumer-driven choice economy is making us miserable.
He writes: “Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increase the expectations people have about how good those options will be. And what that’s going to produce is less satisfaction with results, even when they’re good results.”
So we might be better off with fewer options in life, or at least realising that more choice isn’t always better. Otherwise, we might end up never falling in love, never choosing a career, or unable to even choose what to eat for dinner.

Forget about 100 percent
If you feel highly anxious or even paralysed by making decisions try the following:
Cut back the amount of options. When there are a small number of options we are far more likely to use deeper processing to make a decision. Specifically we are more likely to examine more variables of each and consider the variables more deeply than when there are too many options.  This helps us to make a better decision.
Remember that decision-making is not a once-off activity, it’s an ongoing process that should allow for revision along the way. This allows for tweaking and changing, so don’t get too stressed if your decision is not turning out exactly as initially planned.
Forget about 100 percent. If something is 75 percent right that is good enough. Trying to achieve the 100 percent is both difficult and anxiety producing. And no one wants more difficulty or anxiety in their life.
Talk it out – not to have someone make your decision for you, but rather to get various perspectives to aid you in your decision making.
But ultimately remember to know yourself and follow your own gut instinct. The more you know your own mind and your own values, the easier it is to choose the right options for your own life.
Like it or not, our lives are built by the decisions we make, and the choices are ours and only ours. Even in not choosing, a choice is made; the choice to let fear make the decision. Even an imperfect choice you make yourself will be more satisfying than an unfulfilled possibility.  

Jannah Walshe is a fully accredited psychotherapist, course facilitator and mental-health speaker based in Co Mayo. More information about Jannah can be found at