Not choosing is choosing – a few thoughts about choices

1. The early men believed that everything in this life was in controlled by unknown powers. They didn’t have any reason to believe choice existed. The thinking around this changed over time and it was the free-thinkers in the ancient Greek society who asked interesting questions about the choices we have.

2. But, even the enlightened Greeks didn’t get close to thinking about the implications of choice. Over time, owing largely to expert gamblers, the theory of probability came to being. Probability represented an interesting intellectual and theological question as prediction was generally interpreted as a godly act. Could we actually have a say in our own future?

3. Probability soon lead to risk analysis. A group of insurers at the Lloyd’s coffee house in the city of London began using their understanding of risk and probability  and became the world’s first insurance group.

4. Thanks to these pioneers, we all intuitively understand the concept of choice and probability. We also understand the link between choice and consequences.

5. We don’t control everything that happens in this life. Far from it. We probably only have choices regarding about 10% of what happens. But, what we choose undeniably affects our experience of the rest. For example, exercising the choice to be happy not only changes the way we view a day. It could help us see opportunity at a time when others around us only see unhappiness and disappointment.

6. While it seems like a simple intuitive concept in theory, it has a few interesting nuances. For example, the number of choices we see is proportional to our mental maturity. The wiser we are, the more responses we see to a given situation. E.g.,  a child may react to a disappointment with tears but a wise adult always knows better. Hence, a person’s response to tough situations is a great measure of their wisdom / mental maturity. Wisdom brings with it an openness to new ideas and a willingness to adapt; these traits are critical in seeing more options in a situation.

7. Even if we have the maturity to see different choices in a situation, it is very hard to follow through. That’s because execution requires strength of character. Strength of character is what made Viktor Frankl special.

8. We are always making choices. Saying no is a choice. And, not choosing is another form of choosing. Economists call this opportunity cost – a brilliant concept.

9. So, when we choose not to think about the difficult questions that we know we must think about to be happy (what are my values? how can I live a life consistent with my values?), we are, in fact, choosing a less fulfilling path.

10. The most essential choices are those that are important but not urgent. For example, it is critical we choose to be healthy while we are healthy. If we’ve allowed the situation to get to “urgent,” we’ve just left ourselves a mountain to climb.

11. Leaving ourselves mountains to climb from time to time is a sure sign of poor choices. The best work isn’t done at the last minute. The best studying isn’t done the night before the exam.

12. It is easy to keep “learning by doing.” There are times when learning by doing is called for. But, most of the time, it is inefficient. It is a sign that we’re suckers of the activity illusion. Doing is not learning. Learning happens when we pause, reflect and think. This takes intention, time, and effort. Not choosing to do so means we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

13. So, figure out how to deal with what is urgent quickly. Start spending more time on what’s important.

14. Abolish the phrase – “I have no choice.” You do. You just don’t choose to see them often enough.