Decisions: 3 Strategies to Leverage Your Power of Choice
Picture yourself at the drugstore in the shampoo aisle.
Which do you choose, and how?
Do you choose the moisturizing shampoo or the hydrating one… and really, what’s the difference? What about the one that strengthens your hair, or softens your hair, or gives you volume, or removes oil buildup, or is chelating, neutralizing, or clarifying? Not to mention revitalizing, anti-frizzing, colour protecting, anti-aging, follicle friendly, fragrance-free, no animals were hurt in the development of this product…
Seriously, the shampoo aisle is a universe all its own, and for some, it can create an effect called decision paralysis. Of course, other than healthy shiny hair, there’s nothing about shampoo itself that creates this effect; it’s the array of options that becomes overwhelming. Also known as The Paradox of Choice, too many options in any circumstance can lead to a debilitating, time-consuming inability to make a decision.
Likewise, a sense of not having a choice can be debilitating as well.
So, if becoming stuck and frozen in time isn’t your idea of a good time, use the following tricks to get your power of choice going in the right direction.
Strategy #1: Determine Your Desired Outcome
What are you trying to achieve?
It’s easy to get stuck in the mindset of right and wrong when it comes to decisions. However, the reality is, the majority of your decisions are not moral ones and can’t be determined by the conventional criteria of right and wrong. I mean does it really matter what flavour your toothpaste is? Not really, as long as it cleans your teeth and keeps them strong and healthy. Flavour is inconsequential, rooted in nothing more than preference.
Typically, the majority of the decisions you make are shaped by some preferred or desired outcome, often determined by you. This outcome then becomes the basis on which your criteria can become known. For instance, if you want to visit the Statue of Liberty, you tailor all your efforts to go in that direction, and all your decisions are determined by that destination. Doing anything otherwise would be unreasonable.
Having a clear and solid idea of what outcome you want to achieve is one of the best ways to minimize decision paralysis, and optimize your efforts toward achieving your desired outcome.
Strategy #2: Get a Grip on Reality
Let’s face it, decisions aren’t always fun.
Sometimes you find yourself between a rock and a hard place, in a lose-lose situation with nothing but undesirable options. In the world of psychology, we call imposed situations like this double binds; damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
You’ve most likely seen a portrayal of someone wandering in the desert, thirsty, weak and sunburned, stumbling around from dune top to dune top. Continuing aimlessly in desperate pursuit of water, or civilization. The situation is a dire one and the options are limited.
What would you choose in this challenging situation - keep going despite the exhaustion or lie down and let fate takes it toll?
Conversely, some decisions are easy and even exciting at times!
So what’s the difference?
At any given moment, you’re either in an ideal or less-than-ideal situation. Remember in grade school when your teacher would point out the setting of a story and how important it is to understand the character’s context?
Context is everything.
Understanding the situation you find yourself in helps minimize decision paralysis because it allows you to get a true grip on reality. Helping you figure out what options are, or aren’t, available to you. Take shampoo for example. As you stand there sorting through the options, it can become apparent pretty fast that this type of decision is a first world problem. That no matter what decision you make, you’re going to have clean hair at the end of the day and that’s a total win.
In an ideal situation, you have access to preferred or desirable options. Whereas in a less-than-ideal situation your options are limited to the less desirable or completely unwanted. I’m of course stating the obvious here, and I do so because I’m amazed how often this reality is so easily overlooked.
Getting a grip on reality helps minimize the paralysis of overabundance by helping recognize the ideal circumstance you find yourself in, keeping you focused on the most desired outcome, as stated in Strategy #1. Likewise, seeing reality for what it is helps adjust your expectations in moments of scarcity, allowing you to adapt to less-than circumstances. Which leads us to Strategy #3…
Strategy #3: Find Relevant Options
All circumstances are not equal, which requires awareness and adaptability as it’s beneficial to identify the most relevant options for you to choose from within your current circumstance. This is where the power of choice comes in.
In ideal circumstances, the most relevant and ideal options remain available, and the question becomes: “What’s best?”
In less-than-ideal circumstances, options are more restricted and limited, and the question becomes: “What’s least worst?”
At this point, it’s important to note that no matter how dire the circumstance you always maintain the power of choice even if your options are highly restricted, and even if the only available options suck. Recognizing your power of choice in all circumstances is important, so you can reduce the risk of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is a perceived loss of control leading to a lack of action.
Decision paralysis and paralysis of action happen at both ends of the spectrum. This is why knowing where you’re at on the spectrum at any given point is so important. Having this knowledge allows you to adapt to the given circumstance and move towards a decision and actionable step, breaking any paralysis that may set in.
Remember, choice is always available even if your options suck. Put all the options on the table, no matter what the circumstance. If you find yourself in an undesirable context, do your best to pick the least-worst option, without spending too much time looking for ideals that don’t exist, or hoping for outcomes that are unrealistic. In an ideal context, determine which options are most relevant to your desired outcome and maintain focus on those, because excessive options can be as paralyzing as limited ones.
These steps will help you move through the decision-making process:
Step 1: Determine your desired outcome.
Step 2: Get a grip on reality; identify whether you’re in an ideal or less-than-ideal situation.
Step 3: Identify where you fall on the spectrum of choice; identify whether you’re facing restricted options or excessive options.
Step 4: Leverage your power of choice and decide which option is most fitting.
Step 5: Continue to adapt to your current context.
Written by Brad Kauffman, M.A.