By Dayna Mason
Life’s greatest gift is choice. Choice is the ability to select one course of action over others to direct our experience.
Whether you hate your job, are unhappy in a relationship, or long to travel the world, the choices you make will either take you closer to fulfillment or farther from it.
Decisions cause mental fatigue
According to a study on mindless eating (Wansink and Sobal, 2007), we make over 200 decisions about food alone each day. In an article published in the Wall Street Journal the author speculates that we may possibly make “35,000 remotely conscious decisions per day.”
That’s a lot of decisions.
It’s no wonder by the end of the day the last thing we want to do is make another decision, even choosing something as simple as what to eat for dinner.
Making decisions causes mental fatigue. The more choices we make throughout the day, the more our brain struggles to make them and eventually begins to look for shortcuts. Without a mental break, this can cause us to choose impulsively or to do nothing due to exhaustion. This is why we make better decisions in the morning and are more susceptible to bad decisions (eating ice cream for dinner) later in the day.
Apple cofounder Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day, which preserved his energy for more significant decision-making. When possible, we can eliminate the need for everyday decisions and save our energy for more important decisions by establishing rules for ourselves. I will go to the gym Tuesday and Thursday. I will not have more than two cups of coffee. I will prepare my clothes for tomorrow before I go to bed.
Too many choices can overwhelm
When making a decision, the more options we have, the more prone we are to make regrettable decisions due to “choice paralysis.” To avoid this, we can minimize the number of options for consideration by reducing our must-have criteria. Then, stop searching once we’ve found a solution that meets our needs.
There are no perfect solutions. Instead of wasting valuable time and energy searching for them, potentially leaving us with little or no time to make a good decision, we can make good enough decisions.
Make good enough decisions
The author of Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More, psychologist Barry Schwartz, argues that people who spend the most time and energy obsessing over making exactly the right choice end up less happy with their decisions than the people who make a choice that’s good enough.
In choosing good enough, we aren’t saying we don’t care about the choices we’re making. Instead, we’ve limited our criteria to what’s most important, and once our criteria are met, we make our decision quickly and move on with our lives.
People who settle for good enough are consistently happier than people who must choose the best possible option. Seeking perfection can also lead to indecision. Good enough is almost always good enough. If it doesn’t work out, we can simply make another good enough decision.
Failure is a beautiful necessity
When we make decisions, we’re motivated not only by the opportunity for gain, but also by the fear of loss—of failure.
Failure is part of life and with proper perspective can be seen as a beautiful necessity. How many times did we have to stumble and fall before learning how to walk? What if after the first couple of failed attempts we’d simply given up? We’d still be crawling instead of walking. Great innovation and proficiency are often the result of trial and error.
Fear of making a mistake—fear of failure—can keep us stuck. Scientists fail every day. Failure is an essential part of scientific research. Setbacks don’t have to be the end of the story. A setback might be exactly what we need to get to where we want to be.
We can train ourselves to be comfortable with discomfort by looking for small challenges we can take on where the stakes for failure are low. The more we practice this the less scary failure becomes.
Taking our power back
In the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, neurologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote, “We are self-determining. What we become—within the limits of endowment and environment—we’ve made out of ourselves. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”
We always have a choice. Even in a concentration camp we can choose how to respond to our circumstances.
Psychologist Marsha Linehan, who created dialectic behavior therapy, teaches radical acceptance. Radical acceptance means that we acknowledge what IS rather than fight or reject reality and at the same time figure out what to do about it to make the situation better—not by changing other people, but by changing what we are thinking and doing.
Sometimes we may not like our current options, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a choice. It simply means we don’t see a good choice. Choosing to do nothing is also a choice.
There is great power in acknowledging our choice, especially when we feel stuck without good options. We can acknowledge, “I choose this.” I choose to stay at this job I hate. I choose to stay in this unhappy relationship. I choose to put off traveling the world. We may have good reasons for choosing to stay at a job we hate, but denying our choice makes us victims. As long as we stay stuck in “Why is this happening to me?” or “Why is he/she doing this to me?” we give away our power. When we take ownership of our choice and say, “I choose this,” it empowers us to make a different choice.
Choice is our chisel
Our most powerful tool for navigating our circumstances is choice. The decisions we make have the potential to positively contribute to our wellbeing, carve out our experiences and move us closer to the realization of our dreams.
“Choice transforms us into artists. Each of us becomes another Michelangelo, for choice is the chisel we use to sculpt our life.” – Gary McGuire
You hold the chisel for your life. Go forward and choice by choice, sculpt a beautiful future.
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