We’ve all been there: sitting in front of the TV, looking for something to watch on Netflix, but eventually just giving up and doing something else. You’re experiencing choice paralysis, but don’t worry because there are ways to unfreeze yourself again.
What Is Choice Paralysis?
Also known as “analysis paralysis”, choice paralysis happens when we have too many (apparently) equally good things to choose from. Since there’s no clear choice among your options, you end up making no choice at all!
This type of brain-freeze (sadly not the delicious ice cream kind) is made worse when you have too much information about all the choices. This makes it hard to clearly decide which option is the best. Alternatively, your goals might be so vague, that it’s not clear which choices are the ones you should be making.
In the case of Netflix, if you’re just sitting down to watch “something” and have thousands of options, that’s a recipe for extreme indecision. Now that we know the symptoms, what about a potential cure?
Make Decisions With Less Information
One of the reasons choice paralysis happens is that you have too much information on each choice, so you spend a lot of time trying to pick the best option by processing all of that info. So why not use ignorance as a weapon?
Pick something to watch based purely on the title and thumbnail image. You’ll learn more about whether you want to keep watching a show in the first few minutes of watching it than you will reading the descriptions of dozens of shows before pressing play on anything at all.
Narrow Things Down From General to Specific
The key strategy to defeating choice paralysis is to limit the number of options that you have. A practical way of doing this is to decide between a small number of things in order.
As an example, you could start off by just deciding whether you want to watch a movie or a series. That already removes a large number of options.
Next, you might decide whether you want to laugh, cry, be excited, or would like something scary. Broad choices should eventually boil down to specific genres and titles, like sci-fi, comedy, or superhero movies.
The most important thing is that every time you make a decision between two or three choices, you don’t spend any time thinking about the ones you decided against.
Let Someone Else Decide
If you can’t decide for yourself, why not give the responsibility to someone else? It might sound weird, but you’ll find it much easier to watch something on someone else’s recommendation than trying to overthink your way to a decision.
Here at How-To Geek, we curate lists of our own recommendations, including best movies overall, best horror movies, best romantic movies, and best TV shows, Simply pick a genre and start from the top.
If even our lists offer too many options, ask someone in the house to pick a show for you from your shortlist, or just make a recommendation of what they think you’d like. You can do the same on social media, like through a story on Instagram. if you have a fairly active account you should have a response in a few seconds.
The important thing here is to commit to watching whatever you’re told. At least one episode or at least 30 minutes if it’s a movie. If you’re not hooked at that point, it’s probably not for you. At that point, you can ask again!
Use Random Chance
If you don’t have any friends or social media buddies to ask, why not leave it up to the hands of fate? Use randomness to determine what you should watch.
You can also use random chance combined with the technique we first mention to narrow things down from broad to specific. You can use dice or a coin flip to decide between options until you hit upon an actual show.
Pick Something From the Trending or Top 10 List
The “wisdom of crowds” is the idea that groups of people tend to make the right best decisions collectively, so why not try trusting the zeitgeist to pick your next show? Netflix has introduced lists to show you what’s trending in your region.
The first is a category called “Trending Now” and the other is the “Top 10 TV Shows in X Today”, where X is the country where you reside. These categories tend to have a variety of shows that aren’t similar enough to cause choice paralysis. So either choose one at random or pick the one that’s closest to your general taste and start watching it.
Use Uncommon Criteria
Using standard criteria such as “sci-fi” or “reality TV” to narrow down your options might still leave you with choices that all seem equally good (or bad). So why not use your own off-beat criteria?
Set your own rules, such as only choosing between movies that star Nicholas Cage or ones that are set in a specific time or place. You can even throw a few random criteria in a hat and come up with your own categories. Chances are the movies and shows that match your wacky criteria are so different from each other that you’ll have no trouble picking the one that appeals to you most.
Watch Things You’re Close to Finishing
You can try fighting your choice paralysis by using a compulsive psychological trait—completionism. Instead of looking for something new to watch or getting stuck in a loop in your own queue, why not watch the shows you’ve already started in the order of which is closest to being done.
Not only does this mean you can get those shows off your list, but it also forces you to decide whether you’re actually going to watch your unfinished programming. If not, delete that show from your list and move on to the next one!
Netflix Is Trying to Help
The folks at Netflix are quite aware of how human psychology makes it hard to make decisions when there are too many choices, so their interface and algorithm are designed to help you out. Whether it’s the “play something” button on the Netflix TV app or the creative categories, there are many features meant to get you watching shows instead of flipping through the menus.
One quite useful feature is the “More Like This” section at the bottom of a show’s description page. If there was a show you really liked in the past, it’s a good idea to limit your choices to just these suggestions. It also means that you don’t need to pick one. Just start with the first suggested show and work your way through, skipping the ones you don’t like after watching a few minutes.