Everyday we’re confronted with a barrage of choices. We make choices about the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the appointments we schedule, the people we meet, the time we turn up to work, which bus we catch, where we sit on the bus, what we do after work, and so on. Living a rich and satisfying life means making good choices on an ongoing basis.
What is a good choice? Good choices are decisions that keep you heading in the direction in which you want to go. Bad choices, on the other hand, end up being counterproductive and can quickly begin spiraling into stress, confusion, and despair.
Some of the trickiness of choice-making arises with options that may be pleasing in the short-term but may incrementally steer us off course over the longer term. Just taking that one extra serving of dessert or staying in bed for only half an hour more can be choices like this. Conversely, some decisions can be a bit dreary or difficult at the time but lead to better directions down the track. Staying home and studying or completing another grueling session at the gym are examples of short-term discomfort for longer-term benefits.
Perhaps the most fundamental consideration with choice-making is to ensure the choices you make are congruent with important goals you have. If you have a quiet, distant goal of being financially independent one day and building a successful career, then making decisions to party excessively with late nights involving lots of drugs and alcohol will likely lead to later discontent and misery regardless of how good it all feels now. Perhaps the partying is related to an important goal of being accepted and liked by others but is at odds with career and financial goals.
Understanding the dynamics of choices can help improve the decisions that you make. Essentially, any choice involves at least two options, both of which have pros and cons associated with them. It might seem, at first, that one of the options doesn’t have many things going for it at all but the very fact that you have paused before pursuing one course of action over another suggests that not everything is humming along synchronously in the machinery of your mind. Taking a moment to reflect on that aspect of your inclinations and wishes that made you hesitate can help you understand the situation more clearly. From this perspective, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision.
Any choice is made, sooner or later, by considering goals that are more important than the two choices currently in view. At a workshop recently, one of the participants explained that she had made a choice in the morning between having breakfast and lying in bed for longer. She made the choice by deciding that self-care was a priority at the moment so she opted for the extra time in bed. Clearly, “self-care” is a more important aspiration than either a morning’s breakfast or an extra few minutes in bed. By becoming aware of this more important goal, which option to choose became obvious. Another participant described choosing between wearing slacks or shorts to the meetings of the day. As she to’d and fro’d between both items of clothing she realized that she hadn’t seen anyone else wearing shorts so she decided to go with the slacks. So, for this participant, becoming aware of other people, and having her “fitting in” goal highlighted, quickly resolved the decision-making that had been occurring moments before.
Whenever you find yourself pausing over a choice you’re about to make, consider both options in some detail and find the important aspects of them. Pay attention to more highly valued goals that you might become aware of as you’re considering your options. If you can find the higher-level goals that are in the background of your deliberations, the path to take will be evident.
Choice making is an integral part of our daily lives. Ordinarily, we’re very good at making choices and we do so efficiently and seamlessly. Now and then, however, we come up against a decision that gives us a moment to pause. When that occurs, look for the merits in both options and notice the higher-valued goals that appear as you’re considering the choice you’re pondering. Once the important goal is in view, your decision will be clear and you’ll know that the path you’re about to take is consistent and congruent with all that it means to be you.