“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”

― Barry Schwartz

I came across the topic of choices, when I read Barry Schwartz book, Paradox of Choice some time back. Then when I was asked to give a short speech at my daughter’s school, on her Grade 12 Graduation Ceremony, I again decided to speak on ‘Choices’. I have shared the video of my talk at the end of this blog, in case you wish to hear it.

Regardless of success or failure, what you are sure to get in life are a lot of Choices. Humans are the only species on the planet that has choices. All other living organisms have to made do with what they get. It’s the choices you get and the choices you make, that will decide your destiny.

There is a famous story described in many management books. A donkey is standing between a pile of hay and a bucket of water. He’s very thirsty, but also very hungry. “Should I eat the hay first? Or drink the water first? “Unable to decide, the donkey eventually dies of hunger and thirst.

I know what you’re thinking:” I’m not a donkey. And I would never do that.”

Think again!!!

Research shows that we act like donkeys more often than we realise. Management scholar Paul Nutt found that half the decisions made by organisations fail. According to Nutt’s research, the failures happen in part because leaders consider more than one alternative in only 20% of their decisions.For much of the time, business leaders behave worse than the donkey and focus on a single option. As a result, they miss better opportunities hidden in plain sight, and in some dire cases, die of thirst and hunger.

Even when we think that we have only one choice, we forget that we have the other option of ‘doing nothing’. To do or not to do that one thing, is the choice we have to make.

Once we begin to assess the pros and cons, we develop tunnel vision. As author Robertson Davies put it,

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” If the mind anticipates a single answer, that’s all that the eye will see.”

Unfortunately, the proliferation of choice in our lives robs us of the opportunity to decide for ourselves just how important any given decision is. We have a tendency to look around at what others are doing and use them as a standard of comparison.

Most good decisions will involve these steps: Figure out your goal or goals. Evaluate the importance of each goal. Array the options. Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet your goals. Pick the winning option. Later use the consequences of your choice to modify your goals, the importance you assign them, and the way you evaluate future possibilities

Let me share my own perspective on what choices are we talking about and how best you all can go about making them:

  1. When you have to choose between Kind or Good, always choose Kind. Goodness is what you DO, Kindness is what you are. In life, whether you succeed or fail, whether you prosper or struggle, you will be remembered more for how kind you were, rather than how good you were.
  2. When you have to choose between something Tough or Easy, always go for ‘tough’. Easy is what everyone can do, there is little scope for you to stand out. It’s the ‘tough’ tasks which will test out your mettle, your courage, your aptitude and your hunger.
  3. When you have to choose between something that’s Near or Far, always choose far. Whether it’s college or the job, don’t let distance from home be a key factor for consideration. It may be one of the factors, but should not be THE deciding factor. The farther you go from your home, the bigger will be your network, your influence and knowledge base.
  4. When you have to choose between short or long term, always look at the long term. Whether it’s in investment or the duration of  a course or when you buy something, always look at the long term perspective. Many times, we are blinded by the short term gain. 
  5. When you have to choose between less and more : This one is tricky, there are different options when it comes to food and work.
    • Always choose less in case of food. Let me explain. It’s proven by scientists that when we eat to our heart’s content, we feel heavy, groggy and need to take rest. However, when we eat only 80%, we stay energetic enough to continue with our task till its time for the next meal. Similar to how we don’t fill the glass of water to the brim, but leave some space at the top.
    • Always choose more in case of work. So if you have an hour to do a job and you are told that you have a minimum of 10 units of a task to do. If you are done with the 10 units in say 40 mins, then please use the extra time to complete more units. Your effort will always get appreciated, in some way or the other, later on.

So, in summary, do not go for the herd mentality, when it comes to making a choice. Sometimes, the most right option is hidden in plain sight and we need to apply patience, tact and some thinking to find what it is. Going for the easy, short term, good and nearby is best avoided, as far as possible. Its the choices that you make, make or break you.

As promised, here is the link to my talk. And yeah, it was a total surprise for Anusha. She had not idea her dad would be addressing 240 odd students along with parents, and the entire school staff, along with her on her special day: https://youtu.be/bfjlLED6YgI

Happy Listening. Please do share your comments on the video as well.