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May 1, 2013

More choice is not necessarily better

Research into self-determination theory has shown there is a strong connection between the degree to which people feel they can make their own choices and follow their own preferences and their well-being en healthy functioning.  Researchers argue that supporting autonomy of individuals is therefore a good thing (see for example here, here, and here).

The solution-focused approach also emphasizes individuals' agency and freedom of choice. In the solution-focused approach therapists and coaches help clients define their own preferred future and help them choose steps forward. Also, as much as possible clients' preferences are followed in the way therapist/coaches and clients work together. When clients are not self-motivated for therapy or coaching the therapist of coach deliberately emphasizes client-choice (see this article for why that is and how it works).

While more choice is generally a good thing a closer look shows a more nuanced picture. Both within self-determination theory and in solution-focused therapy and coaching it is recognized that autonomy and freedom of choice is limited. For instance, this article describes how to combine structure with autonomy. Also it is recognized that not every type of choice is good for a person and that a rethoric of freedom does not by definition result in more freedom.

The video below shows an even more detailed picture of the effects of increasing choice. Barry Schwartz explains that increasing choice by adding options can make us worse off for two reasons. A first disavantage of offering more choice is paralysis: we can become stressful and feel unable to choose. A second disadvantage is that when we have chosen we can feel less satisfied because we have chosen from a large set of options. Even when we feel we have chosen the best option we tend to keep on thinking about all the other wonderful options we have said no to.