The Richard Nicholls Podcast

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Episode 155: Options & Decisions

It’s March and, although as I’m writing this it is one of the coldest days of the year, Spring is just around the corner.
Often changes in the seasons can also correlate with changes in life. If things feel different on our outside it reminds us that we can change on the inside too I find. Especially as that bit of extra sunlight in the mornings and evenings wakes up some primal instincts that reminds us that we’re not hibernating.
So, if there are changes that you want to make in your life now is a good a time as any. But when it comes to making changes it’s often easier to not bother.
The emotion attached to staying as you are might only be 6 out of 10 on the pain scale. But the emotion that comes with changing jobs, ending a relationship, moving house or whatever might be 7 out of 10.
So it’s less painful to stay as you are.
But there are some things in life that force us to make choices and we literally cannot stay where we are. If your landlord is selling your house, you have no choice but to find a new one, if you’re being made redundant and you don’t have a stack of cash in a savings account then you have no choice but to find a new job. Sometimes these decisions are out of our hands and it can be scary, because you’re forced to stretch your comfort zone. Forced to make decisions or choose between options, and that’s not easy. I’ve mentioned it before but it’s worth talking about briefly again but us humans are not happy when we have too many choices. A supermarket selling dozens of varieties of jam will actually sell fewer jars than if they only sell 6 types. As psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper have shown in their studies. But when you tell this to the supermarket companies and show them the research, even conduct experiments in their stores that prove that they will make more money if they offer less choice, they never take the advice because it goes against everything that 21st century society seems to assume.
We wrongly assume that more choice means more control over your life, more autonomy, a happier person. But it’s just not the case.
I think we all need to be aware of this, so that we can make more snap decisions with the simpler things in life. We shouldn’t have to spend 10 minutes in a restaurant staring blankly at a menu, it’s ok to trust that what they make you will be enjoyable enough.
If what we’re experiencing comes from a position of appreciation and gratitude then we’re going to enjoy life more. Rather than looking for reasons to regret what we DIDN’T choose we should be looking for reasons to enjoy what we did.

But if we usually think more about things going wrong rather than things going right then that habit of negativity can easily stall us and prevent us from making even small decisions. I mention this word a lot but it’s the same process as catastrophising. Starting off with something small and each step of the way exaggerating what any negative influence it causes on the next step until what started off as being something as simple as “What shall I make us for dinner tonight” becomes “Oh my God, my wife is going to file for divorce” and it doesn’t take many steps to get there.
It all boils down to having trust in yourself that even if the decisions you make do have implications further down the line, that it’ll be ok. That you can handle whatever life throws at you.

Sometimes the decisions we’re faced with have no clear right or wrong answer, the options available all look like they could be right, if you’re single and lucky enough to be in a position to have to decide which prospective partner to focus your attention on it can be overwhelming to think that only one of them is the right way to go. When actually. it doesn’t matter. You’re going to live happily ever after anyway. Maybe with them, maybe not. If you split up further down the line then deal with it THEN. You don’t need to plan for it before the relationship has even started.

From a practical perspective one of the best ways of feeling ok about making small decisions is to create some habits or routines about things.
I know it can sound a bit boring to have the same thing for dinner on a specific night of the week, but if you’ve set it up in your head that it’s Monday, so I’m having soup for dinner then you’re not fatigued out by having to decide, your habits have made the decision for you.
Sure, be flexible, if you want something else then have something else, pull on the routines when you can’t make a decision, because if you actually DO want something else that day then you’ve already made the decision anyway.
Find the middle ground, a balance between variety and familiarity. There have been many studies that show that choosing your favourite meal from a menu in a restaurant makes us more satisfied than trying something different, so there’s nothing wrong in choosing the same thing that you know you like more often than not. Variety can lead to regret sometimes, not in everyone of course, if you’re habitually upbeat and have a grateful attitude towards life and experiences you might find that varying things up a bit has a very positive effect on you, but not everyone. I guess the secret to much about the whole personal development, self help process is to find what works for you. And when it comes to the bigger decisions such as choosing a kitchen, a job, a house things like that and all the options are as good as another then it kind of doesn’t matter which one you choose.
Set a short time scale on making the decision. It’s too easy to spend days looking at pros and cons of options. In business these sorts of things can stall an organisation for months or even years whilst money is spent on market research or getting more opinions hoping that a clear answer will miraculously emerge from some data on a spreadsheet.

Rather than debate on something that has already gone round in circles for months, just talk about it for half an hour with the expectation that you’ll decide by the end of it and if the choices have already been vetted and are equally as attractive an option as each other and still there’s no clear answer, then you can probably all agree that it doesn’t matter which way you go. You’ll make it work. You’ll book the holiday, choose the kitchen or whatever and live happily ever after.