Each of us is making hundreds of decisions every day, and every decision involves at least two or more choices. At its simplest, a decision is a choice between yes or no, but most of our decisions – even the little ones – are made between several available options. It takes energy and time to make a decision and to save us from having to attend to them all, we habituate decision making so that we no longer have to choose every time. Examples of habituated choices are the brand of coffee we buy, cleaning our teeth before bed, our route to work and the order we put our clothes on in the morning. These things require no thought, they are habits and they happen automatically, because we made a choice some time in the past and are comfortable with the outcome.
Why does choice matter?
Choice is essential for our well-being, as it allows us to feel we have some control over our lives. However, managing too many choices can be detrimental in terms of time, energy and focus. There is a large body of scientific study into choice and decision making, and the route to making good choices is well signposted. We are on average 22% more likely to make the (objectively) best choice if we can see all the options at once.
However, many people save time and don’t even look for the best choice. Rather, they will set their own standards for the decision, and will measure each choice until they find one that fits their standard. Then they stop looking. They may not even have considered the best choice at all. This is a useful shortcut for making a small decision, such as which food to buy, but in terms of innovation and advancement it isn’t helpful.
If you wish to become a person who brings fresh insights and innovation to your life, work and creativity, then you will need to learn to step outside of your own ideas and consider all of the other different perceptions. That way you can begin to see possibilities beyond your own decision making process. When asked “Why?” about a decision, “Because. that’s the way we have always done it!” is not a valid response if we desire progress.
Choice should liberate, not enslave. When faced with a number of good choices it is very easy to become paralyzed with fear, in case you make a bad decision. Realistically, all choices involve a trade off – for every road that is travelled, another isn’t. We need to understand that not all of our choices will be good for us; in that regard we all fail at times. But it is only really failure if we refuse to learn from the experience. The trade off can also be a “lesser of two evils ” scenario. Do we pick the healthy avocado, knowing it was grown on land that was once a rainforest?
Choosing the life we want to live
So, where does all this leave us in relation to making good choices in the bigger decisions of our lives? Firstly, I would like to point out that, often we get used to choosing between available options. You can have 10 flavours of ice-cream on offer and still not be able to choose your favourite. All you can do is decide between available alternatives, none of which is what you actually want! This methodology seems to fall short, when it comes to choices about the way we live our one life.
Real choice involves making a decision based on what our heart desires, and then removing obstacles, until what our heart desires becomes one of our available options. Obviously, there will always be some desires that are beyond the realms of possibility for each of us – whatever I do, I’ll never be 5 foot 8 – but most things, however distant they may seem, are actually within our reach, if we choose to pursue them.
If we don’t have any idea what our heart desires, it is good to begin by slowing down, engaging with what is going on around us, practicing gratitude and developing trust. We all have an “I just know” sensor. Some people would call in intuition, gut feeling, inner voice or instinct, but in terms of starting a business, writing a book, having a baby or getting married or setting off to walk across North America, “just knowing” comes up all the time. Learn to recognise, work with and trust your inner voice, and just as importantly, listen when you get that feeling that something isn’t right.
Let me end with a reminder that even the big choices aren’t forever. Choose for today and rally courage to support you, but don’t look too far ahead, because nothing is ever certain and today is really all you ever have. So as Dr Joe Arvai noted in his TED talk on decison making, you are not an archaeologist raking over the past, but an architect constructing a new decision. Design and build. Make it happen.