“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”
The Beauty and Beast of Choice
In everything we do, from yogurt to cars to pants, from university to profession to location – we have to make difficult choices.
While it’s nice to have options, it’s stressful, difficult, and often overwhelms, leading us to skip choice and accept default. We become passive, crippled by options.
Industrial growth and market economics built a worldview assuming that more choice equals more freedom and more happiness. As the more is better cliché continues to mingle its way through society, it’s becoming evident that more is not necessarily better and certainly does not make things easy.
“Everything was better back when everything was worse.” ~ Unknown
We have a tendency to romanticize the past. When everything was “worse,” life was simpler – there was less choice – and an essence of enlivened spirits resonates into our overloaded modern lives sparking nostalgia for simplicity.
Lucky for us, and lucky for the planet, simpler choices lead to boosted energy, a greater sense of well-being and steps toward a sustainable ecosystem integrating human life with the natural ecosystem that supports it.
Innovation, however, is easier to feed with increased gadgetry than increased simplicity. When we attempt to make things simpler, we find more task-based technology cluttering our everyday that actually creates less time. When we create more options, we actually hinder selection.
More choices, more problems.
Increased choice instigates choice paralysis, which is why we feel overwhelmed, stressed and unhappy about nearly every choice in our lives from yogurt to profession.
There is always something else that could have been a better choice, something we’re missing out on because of a poor decision.
Barry Schwartz speaks about the paradox of choice in his TED Talk. He asks if our distress is a product of too much freedom of choice, and signs are pointing to yes.
He defines four symptoms of too much choice:
- Regret. Because you imagine you could have made a better choice, which takes from your ability to enjoy what you choice whether or not it was in fact a good decision.
- Opportunity costs. When there are so many alternatives, the attractive features of what we didn’t choose takes from our satisfaction and makes us feel as though we are missing out instead of enjoying what we have.
- Increased expectations. We expect more choice, we expect more quality, we expect the best. In turn, our satisfaction is sabotaged by any choice we make instead of making do with confidence.
- Self-blame. When we make a decision the only person to blame is ourself, and when our expectations are unrealistic and there is always something that in our imagination could have been better, we are emotionally distressed.
Do note that these symptoms only apply to affluent society. I like to think of it as a fortunate dilemma.
How Do We Overcome The Paradox of Choice?
The ultimate decision we need to make is how we choose to choose, meaning how we adjust our perspective to increase satisfaction and simplify the process of choice.
The simplest solution is to lower our expectations, but that isn’t so simple.
At the heart of the matter, we suffer because we are victim to outside influence. When society dictates how we view ourselves, we’re left insecure in what we choose.
Autonomous, strong-willed people who have a coherent sense of self don’t distress over choices, they own them, take responsibility and make the best of that decision.
The real solution is far more complex. It incorporates self-awareness with autonomy, confidence, values and purpose in the greater context.
Not so Easy, But Easier Than You Think
As decreased self-worth results from stressful decision paralysis, increased self-worth results from owning our decisions and it goes both ways.
When we put forth the necessary effort to overcome awkwardness with self and become a unified one, we increase our ability to choose what we want and own it with pleasure.
On the other hand, if we consciously pick something with full awareness that it’s foolish to regret or blame ourselves for that choice for any reason, that it is a good choice, then we begin to unify our inner essence with our adapted socialized self.
While it requires a bit of mettle to be resilient to choice paralysis, the effort will improve your happiness and lead to abundant confidence, purpose and passion that is certainly worth the focus. Once you get more practice and more in tune with yourself, you’ll naturally narrow your options and be happy and secure with lesser difficulty.
Deciding on a bag of chips or yogurt are simpler decisions, but lend good practice toward bigger decisions to come.
I struggle with choice paralysis like no other, but always right at the point of decision and especially if there are other shiny options in front of me or known.
I didn’t define my major in college until mid sophomore year. Even then I wasn’t sure and still feel the residual pains of regret, opportunity cost, expectations and self-blame that haunt all decisions – if we allow them.
If I had waited to go to school until I knew exactly what I wanted to study and why, would it have helped me? Probably not. It probably would have led to more decision paralysis and postponed learning and growth.
I’ve gotten to know myself and learned to view the positive significance of every event and every choice, whether in or out of my control. By taking responsibility for where I am and what I choose, I embrace life rather than dwell. Enthusiasm and enjoyment replace paralyzed depression.
How we decide is a choice. You choose how you choose.
Lower your expectations, forget what could have been and commit to embracing what you have, because most of the time, it’s pretty damn good.