Considering all your options

When I read Decisive, one of my biggest takeaways is that we arbitrarily limit our choices; often without realizing it. This is particularly true when we’ve developed habits which may not serve our best interests. (We’re no longer thinking about the choice.)

For example, suppose my relationship with my wife has been rough for the past few months. Despite our efforts, it feels like we spend most of our time together fighting. I might understandably wonder whether or not I should divorce her.

The critical flaw in asking myself this question — a flaw which isn’t obvious when I’m mired in the emotion of the moment — is that I’ve excluded many other worthwhile possibilities. Maybe we could pursue counseling together. Maybe I look within, to figure out what it is that causes me to react so angrily to our conflicts (thereby ensuring they continue). Maybe my job has been causing me a lot of stress and I’ve taking it out on her.

The point is that we often make life-changing decisions without first developing awareness of meaningful alternatives. Of course, this happens on a daily basis as well, in lower-stakes contexts. For starters, the authors of Decisive suggest than whenever we ask ourselves “whether or not” to do something, we implicitly limit our options. But there are countless other ways in which we unconsciously limit our choices as well:

  • We debate approaches to fixing an ailing project, without considering that the best use of resources would be to simply shut it down.
  • We go back and forth between two different TVs for purchase, when we might actually prefer taking a family vacation with that money instead.
  • We wonder why our kids don’t “obey” and conclude we must be tougher disciplinarians, when in fact our purpose would best be served with a shift in focus from punishment to Real Love.
  • We give up kicking a particular habit, not realizing there are other approaches that would work for us.

Whenever we need to search for options outside of this “narrow frame”, the authors suggest we can begin by asking ourselves two questions:

  1. What is the opportunity cost of this choice? If we held off, what else could we do with this time or money instead?
  2. What if your current options disappeared? When we’re focused on the choices in front of us, we remain oblivious to alternatives.

For several reasons, it’s tempting to think of our choices in terms of black and white: correcting this habit takes time. Taking the time to develop awareness of all of your options can feel burdensome at first. But when practiced regularly, it will prove liberating in our pursuit of a better, more fulfilling life.

Do you want to learn more about making better decisions? Decisive was one of the best books I’ve ever read on the topic. I loved Decisive and think you will too.

Chris Aram

I'm one-half of Webster Park Digital. I'm a devoted family man, avid reader, coffee snob, fajita-eater and professional PlayStation4 dabbler.