Making your mind up…

three shelves of bottles, all with different sweets in them - 24 in all.I’ve always felt a strong need to make choices – to actively ponder and deliberate, choosing options that are new, different and that stretch me in some way. Whether it’s trying a new never before tasted item on a menu, or opting to stay at a small local hotel rather than a big anonymous chain.

I wanted to find out more about choice – and came across ‘The Art of Choosing’ – a book that had me hooked from the start. I knew from my gut-level experience that ‘minor but frequent choice making can have a disproportionately large and positive impact on our perception of overall control’ and ultimately ‘lead to big effect on mental or physical states’ so finding more about why was rewarding.

But the real meat of the book for me was that it’s our mental attitude to choice that gives us the benefit, rather than the choices themselves. The benefits that accompany choice only kick in when we think we have choice – whether or not we actually do. Its all how we feel about choice – rather than the measurable amount of options we have in front of us at any time.

Basically, in order to choose, we need to know what ‘choice’ is and we need to believe we deserve choice. Not as easy as it seems – knowing choice comes from exposure to explicit choice making; belief comes from self-confidence and a sense of self-determination – the right to govern your own life in ways both large and small.

Surprisingly, restrictions do not necessarily diminish a sense of control – if you think you deserve choice, you will find choice (and receive all its benefits) in the smallest choices you have. Conversely freedom to think and do as you please doesn’t increase a sense of control if you don’t really think you should be making such choices; if you don’t really own them. You make have the choices to make, but you won’t gain any of the benefit.

Another layer to choice making I’d never considered before was the importance of cultural perspective. Do you come from an ‘I’ or a ‘we’ culture? Is your cultural background one of individualism or collectivism? It can be hard for those of us brought up exclusively in a culture entirely obsessed with the individual and are ‘right’ to do exactly what we want, when we want to understand the very different mindset of those brought up in a culture that recognizes and rewards duty, family, country and/or a focus on the community and not the individual.

Most surprisingly of all for me was the fact that too much choice can be damaging. It can cause us to waste time – deliberating endlessly over choices that really are not that different, or become overwhelmed – endlessly lost with a sense that the ‘best’ option may have been overlooked. For some, too much choice can lead to depression and remorse – with people locked in cycles of mourning for the choices they did not make rather than living and loving the ones that they did.

This year is a year of choice – a fizzing, sparkling, eye-popping candy-store of options and possibilities. Reading this book at this point in my journey has been brilliant – reminding me that its not just the choices we make, its how we then choose to feel about those choices that’s important.

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