March 6, 2023

We have far more options than we realize


We’ve known for a while now that the paradox of choice causes stress.

Option anxiety is a legitimate psychological concern, as anyone who’s recently shopped for groceries will tell you. Doritos now has over one hundred chip varieties worldwide, for example.

That’s insane. Nobody should have to make that kind of choice while standing in the middle of a grocery aisle.

Although for the record, their new third degree burn smoking habanero flavor is quite delicious. It’s perfect for a first date.

However, even for a simplifier personality like me who loves constraints and tries to make as few choices as possible on any given day, I still believe choice is a vitally important element of a fulfilling life. Maybe not while buying snack foods at the grocery store, but when it comes to our attitudes, behaviors and interactions, he who has the most choices, wins.

We thrive when we’re able to retain more possibilities for ourselves. Whereas if we operate with a restricted view of the options available to us, then we significantly decrease our likelihood of success.

Let’s explore a few examples outside of the snack food realm.

First, take the experience of being psychologically triggered.

Everyone has their own version of this. Some experience causes us a to feel overwhelming discomfort, sadness, anxiety, or panic. For me, it’s the sight or mention of blood, needles and other viscera. It immediately makes my heart rate drop and often causes dizziness and nausea.

But one practice I’ve learned in mindfulness training is how to give myself more options about how to act when I feel such triggers. Now instead of just sitting there feeling like crap and being angry at the world for triggering me, I can do any number of things to calm myself down.

Like deep breathing exercises, respectfully asking someone to change the subject, physically removing yourself from the conversation, reciting some silent mantras about how I’m safe, and so on.

That’s the power of choice.

How many do you give yourself when somebody pushes your buttons?

The next example of the leverage of choosing relates to problem solving at the workplace.

When your team is facing a challenge with a project, the worst thing you can do is limit your outlook to only one or two options. Assuming everything is an either/or decision only restricts your power and potential.

Whereas if you avail yourself of the whole field that you’ve been given, the possibilities are infinite. If you give yourself permission to throw every possible solution into the pursuit of success, the creative process is so much more liberating.

My startup once launched a software app, and our marketing team was deciding how many hours of development labor to devote to the latest update. Unfortunately, our senior engineer was swamped with projects and didn’t have the bandwidth to take on any new large initiatives for another few months.

And that wasn’t his fault, but it was still frustrating for me, as the project was my baby and I feared we’d lose momentum.

This is when the power of choice came into play. The question running through my mind was:

What solutions might be out there to help me solve this problem without monopolizing my developer’s time?

After some research, there turned out to be numerous affordable and scalable products our team could take advantage of. For fifty bucks a month, we could buy an off the shelf service to help us achieve our software development goals without actually knowing how to code.

Now, compare that option to hogging our developer’s time at a hundred dollars an hour, and having to wait eight extra weeks until the updates were done.

Once again, score one point for the power of choosing.

Ultimately, you have far more options that you realize. You just have to decide that you no longer live in the land of you don’t have a choice.

Whether it’s a personal or professional situation, figure out how to retain more possibilities for yourself. Don’t operate with a restricted view of the paths available. Increase your likelihood of success by giving yourself access to more choice.

And if you treat yourself to some of those delicious habanero snack chips, make sure to pop a breath mint afterwards.

Do you respect both the upsides and downsides of having choices?