Why The Choices We Make Could Cost Us Our Freedom
For a while I viewed indecisiveness as a huge weakness. I once lived with a girlfriend of mine for a few months — during that slow, painful period of us falling apart, there is one episode that sticks out in my memory more prominently than the rest. The two of us lived in an awful little apartment in midtown, smack-dab in the middle of nothing worth mentioning. We had crooked floors, carpet in the kitchen and we were missing a wastebasket in the bathroom.
While I worked on some minor renovations, my girl at the time decided that she would take on the responsibility of purchasing a wastebasket. She went to Home Depot to pick one up, but when she got there she was presented with a large assortment of options. There were rows of wastebaskets of different sizes, colors, shapes and styles. Some were plastic, others were metal or hemp.
She called me frantically explaining how overwhelmed she was and how she didn’t think that she could make the decision and choose a garbage can for our bathroom. “It’s a wastebasket. Who cares which one you buy — just pick one.” But no, it wasn’t possible for her to choose one of them; I had to go pick one up myself.
We are presented with choices everyday — almost endlessly. No matter how trivial the task may seem, there is sure to be a bucket-full of choices that we will have to choose between. I have a friend that takes — minimally — half an hour to pick out his outfit. That’s right, HIS outfit. He has a limited wardrobe, but the combination of shoes, socks, belts, jeans, shirts and accessories is — apparently — endless.
Whether it’s deciding what to wear, what to eat, what to drink, where to go, what to do or whom to do it with, we spend the majority of our waking lives making decisions. This is what we like to call freedom. We have the freedom to decide what we want, when we want it and how we want it.
Our entire culture revolves around this concept of the importance of choice. Having our options limited or restricted feels as if our rights as human beings are being infringed upon. We have been raised to believe that the more options that we have, the better catered to are our needs and the happier we will be — the better off we will be.
All that having many choices actually does is make our lives more difficult. It forces us to put more effort into the most trivial of tasks and clouds our minds with decisions that we either need to make or have already made. The more options that we are given, the less likely we are to make a decision.
A lot comes into play when making a decision — just about all resulting in an elevated state of stress. If we know that the choice is ours, we understand that we are responsible for the outcome of the choice. If we make the right choice, great…but what if we make the wrong choice?
What if we don’t choose the best option? What if one of the possible options we don’t choose would have had a better outcome? When deciding on a particular choice, we are not only choosing one option, we are also deciding against all other options. Every time that we choose to do something, we are actively deciding against doing something else.
It really is no surprise to me that most women like having men that are assertive and decisive. I have met several women that all tell me the same thing: they prefer it when their man makes the decisions. Now, I’m not saying that all women feel this way or that it is the way things ought to be — I’m simply saying that I understand why. Having someone that you trust make decisions for you takes a huge burden off your shoulders.
The way our minds work is by giving value to things in relation to other things. Nothing but life itself is intrinsically worth anything — we give things and experience their worth. When choosing between options, we take into consideration not only how much we want that one option, we consider how much we want it in comparison to all the other options.
Because many a time there is more than one option that we find appealing; even after we decide upon a choice, we will often find ourselves going over our decisions and rethinking whether or not we made the correct choice. This causes worry, which causes stress, which causes us to enjoy the option we opted for less than we are capable of enjoying it.
With having more options comes having greater expectations. I mean, if there are 100 options to choose from, then there must be at least one that is simply ideal. If we choose the wrong one, we will blame ourselves for making a poor decision. And since we set the bar so high we are almost certainly going to feel as if our decision could have been better.
Because we will never truly know what the outcome would have been had we chosen one of the other 99 options, our minds will assume that one of them is likely to have been better than the one we decided upon. I believe Barry Schwartz has hit the nail on the head when he said that, “The key to happiness is low expectations.” If you have low expectations, then you are less likely to be disappointed — there is not much that will make you unhappier than a disappointment.
Also, if you have lower expectations, you are more likely to become ‘pleasantly surprised.’ We live in a time when being pleasantly surprised no longer exists. The last time I’ve found myself feeling such a way is after when I read a poor review of a restaurant on Yelp and found that it was rather nice.
Again, we like to compare things. We compare experiences to our expectations just as we compare options to other options. Much can be said about the benefits that having choice has in our lives — I don’t argue against that. However, the level of choice that falls upon our heads on a regular basis is doing more to worsen our lives than to better them.