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Ground control to Major Tom

This article originally published in The Northern Daily Leader on 23 November 2012.

Not long ago I had an excuse to do what every man enjoys – go shopping for expensive electrical goods. Our television had suddenly dropped one of the primary colours, which meant that everything on the television had a sickly shade of blue. After a few days of feeling as though we were watching television from the bottom of a swimming pool, we decided it was time to join the flat screen revolution.

As the Controller of the Remote Control (a title my wife disputes), it was my job to research and purchase the new television. Naturally I began with a search on Google, wanting an answer to the easy question of ‘what television should I buy?’. Google told me that it had found 3,690,000 results in 0.36 seconds. And Google wasn’t wrong. The options, features, models and brands seemed endless. Did I want plasma, LCD or LED? Would I prefer 800Mhz or 1000Mhz? Was I interested in a television which promised ‘anti-aliasing’? What about 1080p or HD or 3D? Must it have HDMI, DVI, or VGA D-sub support?

The reality is that, when deciding to buy a television or really any product today, we are often faced with a bewildering array of choice. Sociologists believe that having so many alternatives may be a problem – when we are faced with too many choices, we have trouble making the right decision and this can cause anxiety, unhappiness or indecision. Having too many options to choose from can lock us into a state of decision paralysis, where we try and avoid making the wrong choice by opting not to choose at all. This has important implications for how we manage our finances. There’s no exact figure, but it is estimated that there are over 10,000 managed funds in Australia competing for your business. Even your own superannuation fund probably has dozens of different investment options and configurations. Faced with this vast number of alternatives, many of us simply choose to do nothing and leave our superannuation in the default allocation or fund, often to our own detriment.

If this sounds like you, the best way to deal with decision paralysis is to take steps to limit the number of choices. Find trustworthy people to either make the decisions for you, or to simply reduce the number of options to just the few best ones. If it’s about investing or superannuation, talk to a financial adviser. But if it’s about televisions don’t ask your brother-in-law, or like me you’ll end up with a television with so many features it’s smarter than the computer out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.