Imagine getting a call from a friend. She tells you about her frustration at work and wants to quit, then asks, “What should I do?” Unlike the Super Bowl, where several referees, line judges and armchair quarterbacks determine the outcome, our personal choices are not always objective decisions.
Making decisions is a part of life, even though I’ve heard myself say, “I didn’t have a choice.” It has been said (depending on who and what you count) that the average adult makes up to 35,000 decisions each day. No wonder we’re so tired.
Ruth Chang, in her Ted Talk,“How to Make Hard Choices,” divides choices into two categories: easy and hard. An easy choice is where one option is clearly better than the other: Would I like fresh coffee or stale coffee? A no brainer.
With a hard choice, each alternative has some positives, some drawbacks and some unknowns: Should I keep my house in the country where it is peaceful or move to the city so I can be closer to the mall? Shall my breakfast consist of healthy scrambled eggs or a tasty donut? Or both? Shall I wear traditional black shoes to my interview or fire-red sandals that make me feel more comfortable?
There are so many ways to look at decision making, I had a difficult time deciding where to begin. Maybe there’s wisdom in my five favorite quotes about choice:
1 “Our lives are a sum total of the choices we have made.” In this statement, Wayne Dyer eludes to the domino effect of each step we take. If you’d made another choice, that choice would have led you down a different path, maybe a different life. “What if…” thinking can bring unnecessary regret. Sure, you could have married Ron Kennedy, instead of Tom Nixon, but you may be trading problem A for problems B,C and D.
2 “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” J. K. Rowling may have been comparing high school transcripts with real life accomplishments when she made this observation. Maybe we love movies because our own lives are reflected on the screen. We are inspired by the courageous choices made by our favorite movie characters who: give up a child so she’ll have a better life, travel to a strange land in search of the lost friend, brave the elements to get back home—the list goes on. Ordinary women and men who make extraordinary choices give a better example for living than brainy people who sit around weighing options.
3 “When people have too many choices, they make bad choices.” Yes, Thom Browne, scientists report that our society burdens us with so many options, we’re paralyzed. When we get to the coffee shop, we need to decide: hot? cold? caf? decaf? skim? soy? whipped cream (why not?). To avoid overload, the seasoned customer simplifies life by getting the same thing each time. According to Sheena Lyengar, three things happen when we have too many choices: 1. we procrastinate, making no choice; 2. we worry about the choice; 3. we regret the choice. Costco embraces the philosophy of less is more by offering fewer options. If you’re in their store looking for a bathroom scale, you can buy scale #1 or scale #2—and statistically, we usually make a purchase. When my kids were two, I used the same method. I’d say, “Do you want to sit on the right side of the car or the left side?” This trick worked perfectly until they turned three when, unfortunately, they decided they didn’t want to get into the car at all.
4 “A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.” Tony Robbins reminds us that action is important in committing to our plans. Personally, I feel committed to a vacation only after I make the plane reservation. The action closes my options (a little scary), yet taking that courageous step, I have a clear direction. Action expands our confidence. In my book Rock Solid Confidence, you’ll read: “Confidence is the self-assurance and boldness we posses to make decisions, take risks, ask for what we want, feel sure of what we’re doing and live with zest.”
5 “Bad decisions make good stories” is a funny line by Ellis Vidler, and also gives us the perspective that sometimes we fuss too much over our decisions. In the mid 90s I was coaching speakers and giving presentations so I knew that when my students were in the audience, they’d be judging my speaking. In order to alleviate some of the pressure, I’d tell myself, This will either be good or I can use it as an example of what not to do. It helped me through each event. When you write the story of your life, make sure you include bad decisions because it will give you a chance to celebrate your courage, perseverance and problem solving skills.
At the end of the day, when a friend asks what she should do, sometimes it’s helpful to have a stack of tried and true sayings, to ask what brings her joy, or go over the pluses and minuses of each option; yet she may not really be asking for your wisdom at all. She may simply need a safe place and an open heart to verbalize the facts, unpack her conflicting thoughts, and sort her emotions. It takes maturity and finesse to be a friend, without blurting out what YOU would do. Hold her up, remind her of Lee Ann Womack lyrics, “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”
And if that doesn’t work, you can always flip a coin.
May your self-trust build confidence,