The Coffee Aisle – Decision Limbo

You’re out of coffee at home so you go to the supermarket to get some more.

You find the coffee aisle and a potent aroma off coffee beans wafts over you.

Mmmmm…love that smell.

You face the 25 foot long by 8 feet high coffee shelves and begin to scan.

You see light roast, dark roast, medium roast, organic, natural and local.

You see boring branding and colorful branding.

You see all the different countries they come from.

Prices range from 6.99 to 22.99.

You see cans, bags, and bulk beans.

You scan back and forth until your head hurts.


After 4 minutes of turmoil, you make your decision.

An organic, local, medium roast bag for $8.99.

You feel okay about your purchase, but know there was probably a better option for you somewhere in that massive collection of coffee brands.

You get home, roast your first cup and take a sip.

Not bad, but not great either.

You are left unsatisfied with your purchase because you had 132 other options.

If there were only 3 options, studies show you would be far happier with your purchase.

Another angle of this phenomenon was discovered when a photography class was split into two groups.

They were both going to get to pick 3 pictures to keep at the end of class.

One group was told that they could swap them out for different ones if they didn’t like their decision.

The other was told that once they made their choice, the other pictures were sent away and they would never have access to them again.

The group that had to make a final decision on which 3 pictures to keep was far happier with their decision than the group that could swap them out whenever.

This proves that we must make a final decision. We mustn’t linger in decision limbo when it comes to most things.

In fact, let’s look at the word decision.

Decision, to cut off,” from de “off” + caedere “to cut.”

The Latin of the word decision literally means, “to cut off.” Making a decision is about “cutting off” choices – cutting you off from some other course of action. Now that may sound a little severe and limiting, but it’s not. It’s liberating.


There are simply too many options in the coffee isle. It makes making a real decision challenging.

It makes being happy with your decision borderline impossible.

Choices are good, but too many choices can be bad. If you don’t know what you like and how to find it, you’re screwed.

Here are Some Tips

Try different types of coffee, dark, medium light, from different parts of the world.

Do some research online about coffee and how to choose the best for you. Ask friends and peers what their favorite is and why.

Once you have enough data, you can make the best decision. When you know what you like, walk in with confidence and buy that shit!

And don’t be afraid to try new things with this new mental model.

This concept applies to most of life.

  • Try things/collect data
  • Figure out what you like/want/need
  • Eliminate distractions/optimize your time
  • Reevaluate every now and then

Your future successes (2020 and beyond) are likely correlated to your ability to focus in a distraction abundant world.

Much love.