Choices versus decisions

Seth Godin had a powerful post (one among many) on his blog about choices the other day that resonated deeply. The post was called “Choosing without Deciding.”

This or that, one or the other, it doesn’t matter.

It’s actually possible that it just doesn’t matter. A choice, but not a decision.

We have to make choices like this every single day. What color, among three colors which are just fine. Which route, between two routes within a rounding error in time taken. Which flight, which table, which person…

Choices don’t have to be decisions.

Decisions come with all sorts of overhead. We put a lot of weight on our ability to make good decisions. We switch frames, put in hard work and even involve emotional wishes about future outcomes. Decisions are fraught. That weight can pay off with a more serious approach, with more diligence, but mostly it weighs us down.

We can save a lot of time and effort by making our meaningless choices effortless. Pick the first one, or the one in alphabetical order or flip a coin. Merely have a rule and make the choice.

I’m serious. Considering ten colleges? Put your favorite five in a hat and randomly pick one. Done. Can’t decide among three candidates for a job and you can’t find a way to choose? Pick the one with the shortest first name. Why not? If you don’t have enough information to make a statistically defensible decision, merely choose.

At the end of the day, you’ll have more resources remaining for the decisions that matter.

It resonated because I didn’t until appreciate this distinction until I read the post. I thought of decisions either as “light weight” or “heavy weight.” And, I’ve been guilty of wasting unnecessary cycles mulling choices that have no consequence and getting irritated with myself for doing it.

This distinction matters because most of us are paid to make decisions. Making even a small proportion of decisions correct more consistently can generate enormous amounts of value over the course of a lifetime.

The takeaway, thus, for me is that there are very few decisions we need to make in a day – use energy and resources to make them better.

For the rest, choose and move on.