Too Much Choice Making You Miserable?

“None of the Crazy you get from too much Choice” – Joni Mitchell

Personally I find when I have too many options at my disposal – be it in choice of types of peanut butter at the supermarket or brands of watercolour tube paints – I get overwhelmed and eventually debilitated and finally dissatisfied.


WHY? Because you cannot have everything and knowing all of those options are there makes you feel as though you may be missing out.

I leave the peanut butter aisle with a feeling of doubt and exhaustion at having to deliberate and decide over so many options. Now – if there had been one little perky jar sitting there I would have just picked it up with a smile and popped it in my basket – happy days. No feelings of “what if that one is better” or “well there are so many types I simply must try them all”.

Simplify – sometimes just black and white decisions are what our frazzled minds need!

Simple is best – less is more. (As seen in the image below – when planning a painting most schools of art INSIST on a tonal study of no more than 3 tones in order to establish the main areas of light and dark – simple!)



There is a power, calm and sanity to be found in limitations I find.


In my art life I can easily get overwhelmed by the options I have regarding

1 subjects

2 styles

3 media

What happens – and I don’t think I’m alone here – is that I get all fired up with some subject and then research images online etc and then get distracted by some other media and style that appears more attractive and before you know it I have done zilch regards actually drawing my initial chosen subject – have done no preparatory tonal studies or even small painting. No – I have spent half a day surfing the net – scrolling and clicking my way ever further from my initial choice. It is debilitating as nothing that I sit down to paint seems quite good enough. But I persevere and know that given time, single focus and deep seeing I will finally get “into” my choice and enjoy doing the work. But oh what a struggle to get there!

No subject/medium/style is perfect – we just have to do the best with what we have and what our skills will allow.

When I visited the US back in 2005 I spent 3 months experiencing overstimulation on many fronts. This was all too much for a simple Welsh girl. By the end of the trip I had become a nervous wreck while ordering food at fast food outlets. The relentless plethora of options that were fired at me by the counter staff just sent my brain somewhere very nasty and unhappy. Types of cheese – too many, types of bread – too many, ways of cooking eggs – too many. And then the beverages – let’s not go there. Could someone just make me a normal tea!!!

My friend Jude thrashing out her tonal study BEFORE launching into a watercolour of the same subject

Now as with everything there is nothing wrong with a bit of choice but it is always, as the  Zen Buddhists know, about balance, moderation – the middle way. A bit of Yin and a bit of Yang.

Too much choice can send us scatty and too little can leave us feeling lack.

I think in general we are now entering a world where we have way too much of everything and the proof is all around us that it is not making people happier or more contented.

So – to steer my way through the seas of life as we know it I am becoming more minimal in my thinking and actions in order to try and offset some of the excesses.


What excesses add to or take away from your sense of happiness and peace? Or do you find it all fine?


5 thoughts on “Too Much Choice Making You Miserable?

  1. LOL I can so relate to this blog, Alison! Having retired I thought I’d take up watercolours in earnest and I thought an iPad would be useful too, but I spend more time on YouTube watching other people paint, which can be as frustrating as it is inspiring! I love your videos as much for your commentary as your relaxed instruction – your accent and expression reminds me of home; I left Wales to live in Somerset 34 years ago. My biggest stumbling block is motivating myself; finding inspiration or at least a subject I feel confident about tackling. Once I get going I’m happy and completely absorbed, but it’s that ‘knowing where to begin’ which causes the anxiety. Crazy!

  2. I find I’m a lot more likely to draw if I have some scraps of paper and a fineliner than if I go out with a range of sketchbooks and a plethora of art supplies! I dread to think how much I’ve spent on supplies, always thinking they’re the magic bullet that will improve my art, yet given half a chance I’d rather draw on newsprint with a whiteboard marker! Limitations are liberating.

    1. Yes – there is less at stake then Icy isn’t there? You’re right about the Magic Bullet syndrome we all fall in with – no such thing is there – it’s mostly about getting to be good at using less equipment and materials:)
      Thanks for your comment x

  3. Hi Alison, I have enjoyed your paintings for many years, and being a watercolourist myself I understand the many dilemmas we face in our artistic journeys, as you express so well in your blog. I was particularly struck by your most recent message which I received today, where you talk about the plethora of choices which assault us, and prevent us artists from settling on one thing and pursuing it, for fear of missing something more worthy. I wanted to say how much I appreciated that message – unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a reply box on the bottom of that post so I have put it here and hope you will see it! Thanks again for the inspiring words, and I hope you are feeling much better now xxx

    1. Hi Diane – for some reason the comment was not live – I have corrected it now – so if you want to copy and paste your text then I will put my comment under it so everyone can then see both what you said and how I replied – if you want to! I think people do like to be heartened by hearing that others may feel as overwhelmed as us – thanks again – what current projects are you wanting to settle on – go deeply with? I am wanting to paint naive folktale scenes in gouache of animals doing faring tasks etc and it all be very cozy and elemental and SIMPLE! LOL X

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.