The Choices One Makes

Not all choices are life and death, so make one.
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TAKE my younger son to an ice cream parlor or restaurant if you really want to torture him. Would chocolate chip or coffee chunk ice cream be better? The cheeseburger or the turkey wrap? His fear, he says, is that whatever he selects, the other option would have been better.

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Gabriel is not alone in his agony. Although it has long been the common wisdom in our country that there is no such thing as too many choices, as psychologists and economists study the issue, they are concluding that an overload of options may actually paralyze people or push them into decisions that are against their own best interest.

There is a famous jam study famous, at least, among those who research choice , that is often used to bolster this point. Every few hours, they switched from offering a selection of 24 jams to a group of six jams.


Sixty percent of customers were drawn to the large assortment, while only 40 percent stopped by the small one. But 30 percent of the people who had sampled from the small assortment decided to buy jam, while only 3 percent of those confronted with the two dozen jams purchased a jar. Over the years, versions of the jam study have been conducted using all sorts of subjects, like chocolate and speed dating. But Benjamin Scheibehenne, a research scientist at the University of Basel in Switzerland, said it might be too simple to conclude that too many choices are bad, just as it is wrong to assume that more choices are always better.

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Scheibehenne recently co-wrote an analysis, to be published in October in The Journal of Consumer Research, examining dozens of studies about choices. One problem, he said, is separating the concept of choice overload from information overload. I know this from experience. A while back, I spent a great deal of time trying to decide which company should provide our Internet, phone and television cable service.

When Every Single Choice Makes a Difference

I was looking at only two alternatives, but the options — cost, length of contract, present and future discounts, quality of service — made the decision inordinately difficult. A coworker suggested I talk to her money guy. This new guy was quick, efficient, professional.

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He did not sit at his desk with a jar of mini-Snickers, methodically popping them into his mouth as I tried to remember how much I spent on a laser printer last year. My instinct was to say: "Great! Let's go! New guy does our money!

Freedom of choice is an American virtue

And insurance! Problem solved. As I sat in the waiting room, I thought of a game note to reader: We will never, ever tell Lawrence that we play this game.

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I asked myself the question "What would Lawrence do? Instead of dumping the old guy and signing up the new one, Lawrence would put all kind of annoying obstacles in the new guy's path. Like calling him three days later and asking for his references. Like going in and asking him a lot of questions about tax codes.

Like grilling his receptionist, quietly, about her boss "Does he pay his own bills? Did he treat you with respect? Does he bring his own self-sufficient, thrifty lunch? I did these things -- simply to slow down the process and not be myself. Which is when I realized I was ready to decide on the new guy. Yes, my way of slowing down was to gather information. But you could do anything to impede the process: sleep on it for three nights, talk to a money-savvy friend, interview another candidate, read a book on investing. You'd get the same benefit—time to discover and understand issues that you wouldn't have otherwise considered.

If what keeps you going so fast is the fear of doing nothing, then slowing down is perfect. You're still doing something, just something called "not deciding You will just be going a bit slower. In other words, less fast—and that much closer to just right. As I sat at home, glittering with my newfound semi-wisdom, bragging to myself about my slowness, a brick fell on my head. Perhaps you already know this brick.

Change Your Life By Being Responsible

One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility. Definitely travel,” I replied. Like most people, I only dole out advice that justifies my own life choices. “I just don't know what I'll regret more,” she.

Perhaps it's just something that people the world over know, like "Parents are people too" or "Elementary school musicals are excruciatingly bad. This is still not the sentence, but it's coming; we are very, very close Let's go through the greatest hits of regrettable choices: The time you chopped off all your long, beautiful brown hair before the prom because you were afraid of looking dated and churchy.

The time you stayed with the guy you didn't love because you were afraid of upsetting your parents and hurting the guy's feelings. Thankfully, fear is easy to identify. We all know what fear feels like. It doesn't feel like doubt or uncertainty "Hmm, I'm not sure which is the best option for me". It feels like a ghost is hurtling itself through your brain, knocking books off shelves and breaking vases and destroying all human logic in its path. It also will make you go too fast "I'm afraid of not doing!

So I decided, let's make a rule -- for us all, everywhere, no matter what our decision-making type. Whenever we feel a shudder or tremble of fear, we're no longer allowed to decide. We can sit and whistle. We can pray or pet a dog.

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We can eat a fried fish taco but only one. We can struggle, wail, deny the issue, whine, curse and bore everyone we know with the ins and outs of the dilemma. But only when we can re-approach the choice without that particular feeling, then -- and only then -- can we make the decision. This may mean we'll miss some opportunities. But we'll also miss all the inevitable and predictable disasters that occur only when we're choosing because we're terrified of what might happen or what hasn't happened yet But I was born in the s, back before the invention of the top 1 percent.

So indulge me, if you will—because this little sentence can change your life; this little sentence can cut your fear in half and thus the time you'll spend being afraid and not allowed to decide anything ; this sentence you must write in very tiny letters on a piece of paper and shove in your pocket, just in case.


Now, this sentence is not for use in life-and-death situations. If you're hanging off the edge of a hot-air balloon and you're not sure whether you should try to swing your leg up and plop yourself back into the basket that is, if you don't plummet to the ground or keep on hanging on by your fingertips in hopes that your napping buddy might hear your cries and pull you back in—do not use this sentence. This sentence applies only to non-fatal situations, because this sentence is:. The power of these five words should not be underestimated.

First off, if you're making the decision, say, between two elementary schools for your child the challenging hardcore neighborhood one versus the loving but totally disorganized charter and you realize as you are choosing "Hey if we pick the wrong school, we can always go back to the other school," then you're not going to be as tense and hysterical about the process.

But this is not enough, because you will then say, "What if we can't go back to other school?