Reality Check: The Choice Not Taken

After we’ve made a choice, the option we’ve chosen seems to become our focus. For example, you make a choice in a restaurant: “I’ll have the fish and chips, please.” When your fish arrives, it’s your focus. You might be satisfied with your choice, or you might be dissatisfied and learn to make a different choice in the future.

There’s another way of looking, though. When we select one choice, we are, by definition, giving up other choices. By saying “yes” to the fish, I am also saying “no” to the scallops.

For important choices, it can be helpful to consider not only, “What will I choose?” but also, “What am I giving up? What am I choosing to reject?”

Giving up one thing because you have chosen another is easy to understand when money is involved. If I choose to spend money on one gadget, then I don’t have it to spend on another. If I choose to go into debt and get both, then I am giving up the choice of living within my means.

We make small choices all day long, but the idea that we give something up with each choice may not often come to mind. For example, when I choose to spend time watching TV, then I’m not working on a book, connecting with friends, preparing for class, or weeding the garden.

When we spend time on one activity, then we don’t have it to spend on another. We don’t have “all the time in the world;” time is a limited resource.

Sometimes, there’s not an obvious connection between the choice you make and what you are giving up, because the consequence comes so much later. For example, did skipping biology class in high school contribute to thwarting your career as a brain surgeon?

When we make serious, life-changing choices, it can be worthwhile to consciously consider what you are giving up as well as what you are gaining.

For example, if I choose to live here, then I am choosing not to live somewhere else.

If I choose a particular education path, a specific career, or a certain workplace, then I am shutting out a myriad of other possible choices.

And when one chooses a spouse, that does say something about giving up all those other options, doesn’t it?

Giving up options can be difficult! Have you ever avoided making a choice because you don’t want to say no to anything? For example, “I’ll put off my decision to choose a career for another year; I want to keep my options open!”

However, delaying a decision is still a choice, isn’t it? And that choice is not loss-free. In this case, the consequence of delaying your career decision is that you give up a year’s progress in a new career. Now, that loss may be less important to you than the loss you would incur if you rushed and chose poorly. Either way, there is a potential loss and a potential gain. That’s why decision-making is such fun, eh?

Do you consider losses as well as gains when you make decisions?

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