Choice is not always a good thing

a choice of pens

Choice is good, right? Most of the time, I’d agree with you. In NLP terms we talk about flexibility and choice as empowering. And they are!

But there are times when choice can slow you right down:

Here`s the scenario.  You are on your way to a meeting.  Perhaps it is work related, or a club committee, or simply catching up with a friend.  You’re about to head into the cafe, or the office and you suddenly realise that you haven’t got a pen.  You’re going to look a bit silly if you need to take some notes or jot down some figures, or even just put a date in your diary.

Just down the road from the venue for the meeting is a local supermarket – a pretty big one. They will definitely be selling pens.

So you walk in and you hunt for the pen aisle.

Stationery. That will be where they have it. ‘Aisle 24’, the helpful young man tells you.  There are probably about 40,000 different products in this store, so they will definitely have pens.


And they do. They have several bays of various pens.  There is quite a choice.

Choice is good, right?

They sell 6 different brands, including their own. 

They sell 3-packs, 5-packs, ten-packs and 50-pen bumper packs. They do deals where you get a free pencil, a free rubber, even a free pen.

There are biros, gel pens, fountain pens, cartridge pens, erasable pens, permanent pens, invisible pens, multi-nib pens, fibre tip, felt tip, roller ball, fine line, italic, calligraphic…

…possibly callisthenic and autogenic, but you may have slipped into a trance by this time.

Don’t even get me started on the colours!

You try to focus.

You just


a pen.

You want to write something, on paper (you’ve got paper, right?). Just any pen will do.

You reach for the first one that comes to your eye. It’s a roller-ball. Sometimes roller-balls smudge.

Maybe not. Just a simple biro – but they come in packs of 5 or ten and YOU JUST WANT ONE!

What are you going to do  with the rest of them? 

This one is a single pen on its own but it costs more than 50 biros!  What if you lose it?

This one comes with a 5 year guarantee and writes under water. How long is the meeting? Where is it taking place?

Did somebody find the lost city of Atlantis and hire a boardroom?

You stand there, frozen with indecision, for 15 minutes. You are late for the meeting. Finally you leave without anything.

You dash down the street and as you are about to enter the building you spot a little corner newshop and run inside.

Breathless you approach the counter “I…need…a…pen”. The startled shopkeeper reaches for a box behind the counter and pulls out a pen.

“Sorry, these are the only pens we sell.” He says.

“Perfect”, you say, with relief.

Sometimes life gives us too many choices. When there are options, we need to be open to the possibility that we don’t need options, we just need the one thing.

Need a new computer? Get one.

Need to find a Yoga teacher? Get one.

Need a pair of running shoes? Get one.

Need an idea? Maybe just settle for one.

Sometimes we limit ourselves, such as unhelpful beliefs and low self-esteem.

At those times we need more choices.

But sometimes it is good to set limits on ourselves, such as standards and values, so that the choices are not overwhelming.

What do you think?

Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.

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