All of life is about choice. We cannot control all of the consequences of our decisions and we cannot control the choices of others. We often put too much pressure on our choices. And we, somehow, also put too little on them as well. We mess up on both ends.
Intrinsically, we need at least two options to be faced with a choice. Sometimes the decision between two things is easy. If I have to decide between going to a sporting event or banging my head against the wall, I’m not going to be in much angst.
Unfortunately, most of our decisions are more complicated and more complex than that. Very few decisions are truly easy.
Naming the Options
There are two things that make decision making harder than one might expect. First, it is rarely binary. We often pigeon hole our dilemmas into thinking we have to make one of two choices: have sex with my boyfriend or break up; take this job or that one; the cheesecake or the mudslide.
The reality is, the choices before us are more vast. You could choose to talk through issues with your boyfriend, apply for a third job, or have both desserts! Just to name a few extra options. When we limit our choices, we are often trying to force ourselves between the decision we really want to make and its opposite. Or between the decision we are most afraid of and its opposite. Or the decision that is most obvious and its opposite.
Our brain is trying to narrow the parameters to make deciding easier. There might be other options on the table.
For instance, if I am deciding whether or not to have sex with a girlfriend, the choice is not just about sex. If it were, I’d choose it every time. The choice is about character, value, what is best for me in the long run. It is easy to see how what I want to choose on the practical level and what I want to choose on the deeper level might come in conflict with one another. And what we most often do is reduce or ignore deeper level, values-based awareness in order to justify what we want on the superficial level.
And we pay for it later when the consequences don’t play by the same rules – they affect our character just as much as our practical lives.
So, when we make a decision, we need to be able to name what we are truly deciding. What is really at stake? What is this really about?
Naming helps to expose truth. It allows us to put the proper weight on our decisions. Because the effect of all our tricks and self-deception is we have a hard time understanding the true weight of our options.
When it comes to making a decision, nothing is more helpful than having already named your values. Know what truly matters to you, at the core of your being. This is the scale on which you weigh options. To be clear, your values are the scale you use whether you know it or not. Naming your values is a way to calibrate the scale so you are seeing the weight of your decisions truly. Without it, your self-deception will fiddle with the knobs and bolts until it is hard to tell if you are holding a feather or an anvil.