Making Choices - Why is it Necessary?
“Many things aren’t equal but everyone gets the same 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We make time for what we truly want” ~ Unknown
Life, as they say, is all about making choices. Each day we are making numerous choices – some minor, some major, some worth losing sleep over, some we can make in our sleep! You made a choice when you decided to read this blog. I made a choice when I set aside time to write it. And the sum total of choices that we make, day in and day out, quite accurately reveal the person we really are. Because when we are making choices, we try our best to use whatever time we have in a manner we want. Because when we are making choices, we are attaining some incremental clarity about our priorities. Because when we are making choices, we are exercising our freedom. And when our priorities and preferences manifest in our choices, others around us begin to understand a lot better.
But why choose at all?
In my opinion, we use choices as a powerful mechanism not to manage our time, but to demonstrate what we value the most. What is it that matters to us? When you last made a choice to not stay back in office after 6, you demonstrated that you value personal time. When you last made a choice to call a friend on your ride back home than just listen to songs, you wanted to show you cared. If you decided to relocate for your spouse’s career, you express what sometimes is hard to put in words.
So if we all know we have just 24 hours in a day and also know our priorities, why are some choices stressful? What makes it difficult? I feel there are three key reasons that make appear some decisions harder than others – distractions, our own self-limiting assumptions and our unconscious bias
Distractions come in the form of having too many options to choose from (that can confuse us).It can also come in the form of too many opinions around, that try to influence our choice-making process. However, these are also the easiest to do away with once we narrow down on the options and opinions that matter!
Self-limiting assumptions bring a little more complexity. How many times we have assumed that my changing a city (as a woman) for my career, will not be good for the spouse/family without even checking with the partner once? Maybe the partner is okay but we never check! Or how many times have we espoused another friend’s choice of taking a career break assuming that the break would anyway happen in the future so why not now – rather than discussing alternatives? Or the worst of it all, what would people think/say if I chose X over Y and letting that pressure influence our eventual decision.
Unconscious bias (our implicit attribution of particular qualities to a situation or people or group of people) also hinders our decision making process or sometimes contributes to making the wrong choice. Think for a minute, have you encountered a situation when you/a female colleague shared that they are expecting a child and work quality given to them begins to decline because people assume they are not willing to work or will be more pre-occupied with health or that they may not even return post their maternity break? That’s an example of an unconscious bias. Let’s take another, some mothers don’t take female sports coaches for their sons assuming she will not be good at her job or a math tutor needs to be male or a strong woman boss may not make for a good wife. All these biases arise from our conditioning where we assign some roles and traits to people and when our mind sees a dissonance it draws conclusions that may not always be correct. Hence, while making choices it is essential to be aware of the biases one can carry. (Take the famous Implicit Association Test by Harvard) (Also see Facebook’s interesting work on how to manage bias)
Apart from taking care of the above, what are some other tried and tested methods that can help us make quick choices? The usual bucketing! Make a bucket list of all options, list the pros and cons of each, evaluate, re-order them as per priority and then pick one! Very effective.
Another way is to list down your priorities and how a particular choice impacts all – once that is clear – you can then move towards a decision.
Take your time to make a choice, but once made, try not to regret it. After all choices make our life beautiful.
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” ? J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets