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Coaching and the Paradox of Choice


[Guest post from Ann Holm]

Who feels overwhelmed by all of the tips and suggestions out there about how to be more effective in work and in life? Blogs, books, and articles. Recently, I saw an article titled, “100 Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask”.  That’s a lot of questions! Another article offered, “9 Time Management Tips to Maximize Productivity!” What am I supposed to really do?

A book written in 2004, The Paradox of Choice  by Barry Schwartz, opens with the author looking to purchase a pair of jeans.

He tells the clerk: “I want jeans.  Size 32-28.”

The clerk replies:  “Do you want stone washed, acid washed, or distressed?  Button fly or zip?  Slim fit?  Easy fit?  Low rise?  Medium rise?”

A certain amount of mental fatigue goes with evaluating a wide array of choices.  Choice is valued, especially in the coaching profession.  However, choosing without solid criteria can be paralyzing!  Helping the client define his/her criteria for choosing might be the most critical role a coach can play in serving the client, especially in this world of expanding options.

If we think of our brain like a computer, we can easily see that too many open programs compromises bandwidth and thus makes it less efficient.  Likewise, if we are entertaining any and all options at every turn, we are much less likely to move forward with any action.  “On the other hand” thinking can be enticing, but unless there is actual movement toward trying out a few well-sorted choices, we won’t get the feedback we need to take the next step in our journey!

The following decision making steps might seem obvious.  However, this exercise in self-awareness lets us see if we are actually going through each step with intention:

  1. Define your goals.
  2. Evaluate the importance and motivation of these goals.  This step taps into the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain, home to our future selves.
  3. Array the options.
  4. Select best option based on goal criteria.
  5. Use the consequences of your choice to modify the goal and to generate other possibilities.

Possibilities are often the easy part.  There are many of them out there- multiple ways to skin the cat, to use the expression.  Setting the what and the why sets us on the course to make decisions– which is choice coupled with commitment and action.

How do you navigate the Paradox of Choice?

Ann Holm, MS, ACC, draws on 25 years of experience as a speech pathologist to help clients achieve maximum personal potential using brain-based principles and a broad base of individual assessment tools. Ann is an MBTI Master Practitioner, Intentional Leadership Master Coach; she is also certified to use the MBTI Step III and the EQi 2.0. Learn more at

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Great Post! Reminds me of a returning veteran home from Iraq. His wife sent him on an errand to the grocery store to purchase a jar of peanut butter. He nearly had a full meltdown in the aisle when he saw all the choices: crunchy, no stir, creamy, unsalted, salted, etc
    Overseas there was only one choice, decision paralysis set in!

    1. Kevin, that’s so true! Helping clients put in place a few parameters can be one of the biggest services coaches can provide.

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