When it comes to choice, we tend to assume that more is always better.  But is it possible to have too much freedom?  In this post, we look at the science behind making decisions and explore why sometimes, the best thing you can do is simplify your offering and make it easy for people to make the right choice.

People certainly enjoy the freedom of making their own choices.  When you face a decision that you understand well and have strong opinions about, it’s good to have many options because you probably know exactly what you want and can choose what’s best for you.  Sometimes, however, you have to make a decision where you don’t necessarily know what’s best.  Sometimes, you aren’t sure what you want or you don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other.  All you know is that you don’t want to choose poorly and regret your decision, so you have to research every available option.  That’s easy when there are just two choices.  But what about when there are 6?  Or 24?

What is choice overload?

In these cases, you might be tempted to just throw your hands in the air and make no choice at all.  This is the concept behind ‘choice overload’, also known as overchoice.  Choice overload is when the presence of too many competing alternatives results in decisions becoming more difficult and less satisfying.

The most famous study on choice overload was conducted by Iyengar and Lepper in 2000.  In this study, scientists set up a booth in a grocery store to sell jam.  In one case, the booth offered shoppers 6 different jams and the option to taste each one before making a decision.  In the second case, the booth contained 24 jams. (the same 6 from the first case plus an additional 18 flavors)  Although more people stopped to look and taste jams when there were 24 options, (so much choice!) the researchers found that the booth with only 6 flavors sold 10 times more jam than the booth with 24.  The conclusion was simple: more choice might attract more attention, but a simple, understandable offer is more likely to motivate people to action.

Research also shows that too much choice often leads us to be less satisfied with our ultimate decision because of the fear that a better option exists but we overlooked it.  Barry Schwartz, professor of psychology and author of “The Paradox of Choice” recommends coping with choice overload by becoming more comfortable with the idea of “good enough.”  Even in major decisions such as which career path to choose, trying to always find the perfect choice, “is a recipe for misery.”  Letting go of this idea and accepting that there are many wonderful options out there is a much surer way to satisfaction, because in the end, you can always change course later and perfect doesn’t exist anyways.

Too much choice paralyzes fitness newcomers

Some members, especially those who are new to exercise, feel overwhelmed by the myriad options available to them.  Should I get the deluxe membership or the off-peak?  Classes or open gym?  Weights or cardio?  Zumba or pilates?  For someone who doesn’t know a lot about exercise and wellbeing, these seemingly simple decisions can be quite taxing.  They might feel like they have to research every different option, and, what’s more, the trainer, their best friend, and the internet are all telling them different things.  If your club offers 12 different membership types and 26 different activities right from the start, you might be making it too easy for these members to choose none of the above and go elsewhere for a more coherent product.

The Power of Defaults

We often face decisions where we either don’t know what we want or we don’t have a clear preference.  In these cases, most people just choose the default option, because we tend to assume that the default option is the one recommended by people who know better or care more than we do.  In countries where organ donation is the default option, about 90% of people register to become organ donors.  Meanwhile, in countries where the default is not to be an organ donor and you have to actively opt in to donate, fewer than 15% of people register as organ donors.  This simple difference saves thousands of lives every year in countries that have put just a little bit of thought into how they offer citizens the choice.

For members who know what they want, more choice is better.  For those who don’t, it’s important to offer a couple of well-thought-out default options.  That means no more than 3 to 5 membership types and a similar number of beginner exercise programs.

The membership types should be highly differentiated.  Make the choice as easy as possible for members, and explicitly recommend the ‘standard’ or ‘default’ membership type you think is right for most people.  When you’re ready to make a purchase, there’s nothing worse than having to read the fine print on a dozen different offerings to find out which one saves 5% more.

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

The beginner programs ought to focus on teaching newcomers the basics and establishing consistency.  Although nearly every novice exerciser wants to do “the best exercise for ________,” (fill in the blank with their personal goal) the truth is that for the first few weeks, creating an exercise habit is more important than anything else since consistency is a prerequisite for seeing results, no matter the goal.


If our goal is to increase participation in fitness, improve societal wellbeing, or grow the membership base at our health clubs, we ought to reduce the barriers to entry.  Although sports science, nutrition, and health are deep bodies of knowledge, most people only need to know the basics to get started, and simplifying the onboarding process for new members can seriously reduce the intimidation factor.  Taking some time to design an appropriate welcome, induction process, and member journey can pay dividends as members will be more likely to stick with it, achieve their goals, and remain loyal members for the long term.

CoachAi simplifies the onboarding process and escorts members through a supportive and streamlined journey at your club. Learn more 👉