Why You Should Limit Yourself

I recently heard about a study where they presented an entire box of chocolates in front of people and told them to eat as many as they wanted. When presented with this choice, the average person ate one piece of chocolate. But when the people were presented with only six chocolates and told to eat as many as they wanted, the average person ate three pieces. What can we learn from this?

First of all it shows that too many choices can overwhelm people. We live in a world of nearly infinite choices. Consider the bookstore (assuming you still shop at the bookstore). You can find multiple books on nearly any niche topic. In fact, because of the amount of books out there, bookstores have begun to create little islands highlighting specific books to help focus your attention. It’s been proven to help boost sales because it limits the choices.

You would think all of this choice would be a good thing, but in fact it causes stress in many people. Let’s say that you want to buy a digital camera and you are one of those people who want to get the best one for your money.

When digital cameras first came out, you did not have a lot of choices. Only a few companies made them and they very expensive. Now that they are everywhere you have to struggle through finding the “best” one. You have to research the different brands and compare matrices of features to get the right one for the right price. Once you find the right one, then you have to pick the best place to buy it from.

All of these choices explain why searching and organization of information is so important in this day and age. With such a large amount of choices we need a system to help us find and sort through them. This is why Google has become one of the hottest companies because it provides such a valuable service.

The same principle of limiting yourself applies when trying to get tasks accomplished. If I have a list of twelve things to do for the day, I find that I’m much less productive than if I only have three.

When I only have three, I will get them done, but if they’re twelve things to do then it’s much harder to even start. The list seems too big and I’m not sure which task to focus on first, and even if I get through five of them I still don’t have a sense of accomplishment at the end because I have seven uncompleted tasks. You are much better to limit yourself to just the three most important tasks for the day.

The same holds true of big goals. I try to set about three big goals to focus on for the year. Much more than that and I find that I’m not able to make steady progress towards them because I’m spread too thin.

To do more, limit yourself.

Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them. -Albert Einstein

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2 thoughts on “Why You Should Limit Yourself

  1. I remember that in some parenting segment on 20/20 a decade ago they showed that giving kids too many choices was not good. Like if you ask your kid what toothbrush they wanted to use that night they chewed up a good 5 minutes thinking about it, then if you stepped in they whined that they hadn’t chosen yet. So give them just one toothbrush (seems obvious, yes?).

    And I like the chocolate analogy. I get kind of overwhelmed at Cheesecake Factory with their 245 page menu. But with chocolate maybe people knew they weren’t expected to eat whole box, and wanted to be polite? And if I were in that study I would have eaten a heck of a lot more than one. I might have even greatly skewed the findings. The real question is how do I participate in these studies.

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