Choosing to Choose
We are regularly faced with choice in our daily lives. As free and rational beings, our ability to make a decision is what sets us apart from many other living things. This decision could be as simple as what to wear today, or as complex as “what do I want to do with my life?”. The process of making a choice can be either liberating and taxing: sometimes it’s an experience to be relished, other times a chore that bogs us down. Some people love making choices, while others ask their friends to make choices for them because they don’t want to deal with the process.
Those who fall in the latter categories, who would prefer not to be forced to make a choice, can take solace in knowing that a remedy exists. We can learn how to choose, and we might even learn how to enjoy it.
First comes your perception of the process. Making a choice CAN be enjoyable. Think of a time when you enjoyed choosing from a number of options. What was unique about that situation? Oftentimes we enjoy making a choice when we are either a) feeling confident in our judgment, or b) are satisfied with the options available to us. But what if neither of these conditions exist? Doesn’t matter. We don’t need them to. What we do need is a process to fall back on when we do not feel compelled choose. Sometimes making a choice may not seem enjoyable, but we can learn to make it tolerable.
Author Barry Schwarz wrote an entire book on this subject entitled The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. I will summarize and expound on some of his points here and give you two different plans, one for our more trivial daily choices and one for our larger, life-altering choices.
Plan #1 for Choosing to Choose (For Trivial Choices)
- Reduce the number of options you consider. Look at the options you have available to you. Do you like them all? Odds are there are a few you won’t even consider, so eliminate those. Now look at what’s left. How do the options stack up? Can you eliminate even more? The goal here is to get your options down to a manageable number.
- Be a SatisficerLINK rather than a Maximizer. This comes back to your perception of you. Satisficers think about options they can be satisfied with; Maximizers think of what they will miss out on or how they will be perceived if they choose the “wrong" options. Do you need to choose the absolute correct option? “Satisficers” think about long-term goals and set minimum standards for achieving those goals. They create a “good enough” threshold. Sometimes "good enough" will do because sometimes there is no perfect option available to us. And no amount of time spent thinking on it will change that situation.
- Allow for serendipity. Allow for something (or someone) to interject into the process. Take advice from a friend. Ask a stranger. Flip a coin. Sometimes we just need to allow the universe to make something happen for us.
Plan #2 for Choosing to Choose (For More Important Choices)
- Choose when to choose. Choose when to agonize over a choice, and when to just get it over with and get on with your life!
- Be a ‘Chooser' not a ‘Picker'. Choosing is active. Picking is passive. Acting helps us feel in control, rather than being along for the ride.
- Be a Satisficer. What options will we ultimately be satisfied with? Which options are “good enough”?
- Think about the Opportunity Costs of Opportunity Costs. Limit how much time we think about the attractive features of the options we reject.
- Make your decisions non-reversible. Choose, then choose to not think about the choice you made anymore!
- Practice an “Attitude of Gratitude”. Be grateful about the opportunity you received to make any choice at all! Some people don’t get that opportunity. Relish your free will!
- Regret less. Realize that you always make decisions with the best knowledge you have at the time. Opt to avoid any feelings of regret that may result from making “the wrong choice”.
- Anticipate adaptation. How you feel about a decision later will be different than how you feel about it now. Anticipate that you will feel differently about your choice and accept that feeling now and later.
- Control your expectations. Our evaluation of experience is substantially affected by how it compares with our expectations. Not every choice we make will drastically alter our life. Remember that we are doing the best we can with the information we have available.
- Forget about social comparison. Choose not to evaluate the quality of your experience by comparing yourself to others.
- Learn to love constraints. Choice within constraints, and freedom within a limited environment, is what allows us to see all the possibilities in what we have. Society provides us with rules, standards, and norms for making choices. And our experiences make our habits. Follow these rules and habits in order to free up time for us to live the rest of our lives.