Choice - The Secret of Happiness

Happy celebrating winning success woman at sunset or sunrise standing elated with arms raised up above her head in celebration of having reached mountain top summit goal during hiking travel trek.

Dr. Purushothaman
January 18, 2014


Choice is the ability to exercise control over ourselves and our environment. It is self determination. Researchers have found that it is a basic survival instinct in all the living beings. We crave for choices even when we have what we want, even at the cost of wasting time and energy. There are not situations without choices but it all depends on your perceptions of choices and your ability to take control. In his book, Adrift: Seventy Six Days Lost at Sea, Callahan describes how he choose to survive against vast ocean stretched before him. It is a choice made against the endless odds. Similarly stories abound from the heroic tales of survivors from Nazis concentration camp. It is the power of choice that leads to happiness even under most miserable conditions.
What you are to-day is the result of choices you had made - choices made by you, your parents, your well wishers, your advisers, your adversaries and many more stakeholders in your life either directly or indirectly. They are motivational forces behind your actions as you believe choices remove future uncertainties. So, it is imperative that you have control to perceive and evaluate all options and decide the best. But, how do we choose the best option? As the adage goes, all choices are good or bad in hindsight only. So, what is the key to unlock the secret of right choice?
You do not need to go far to unlock the secret. It is within you. All you need to know is to discover your self - what you want, your goals what makes you happy, your beliefs, your values, what contradicts your beliefs and values and above all persistence and commitment to make it work. The knowledge our purpose gives you the gain control over choices.
Freedom to choose or Freedom from choices
Though you strongly associate ourselves with the choices we make, there are certain factors like religion, culture, society, government etc., decides the choices (or lack of choice) for you and thus free you from choices.
Research has found that though you do not have any role in the decision making process, in those circumstances, you still are at peace as the decisions are taken by someone with whom you have associated yourself. You have incorporated those others ( parents, priest, government) into your own identity. Here, the ultimate happiness comes from not from making the choices, but in the fulfillment ones duties imposed by the choice. Freedom to choose comes with its own responsibilities and psychological after effects if the choice does not turn out to be what you intended. How to cope with this? The solution lies within you. You need to understand what you want to and what makes you happy and fulfilled. You may need to trade between value and worth to fulfill your inner needs.
The questions to ask
- What do you want?
- What will make you happy?
- Do you consider what is best for you and people around you?
Expert Opinion - Turn your choices into someone else's problem
Developing expertise in a domain is the best thing to gain better of choices but it is not always possible to gain expertise in all the domains. It is found that achieving world class expertise requires an average of 10000 hours of practice, or about 3 hours a day, every day for 10 years.
You seek or take support in experts opinion:
- When there are no clear right or wrong choices
- Question in itself too terrible to contemplate
- When we are paralyzed by emotions
- All answer are wrong
In all these cases of difficult to make judgements, research has found that you not only get expert advise but you also at peace with the decision.
Choice by collaboration
You can brainstorm with other stakeholders who either directly or indirectly gets impacted by choice. Unbiased and open discussion with goals in mind can lead a very fruitful choice. But, this may not be right approach for time sensitive choices.
Coaching is another approach you can leverage as Coach is highly unbiased and works for your welfare. Coach also takes you through self discovery process in case you do not have clarity on what you want and what makes you happy and fulfilled.
Choice by  Blink
In his famous book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell calls it a snap decision which is intuitive and gut feeling based. It is cultivated by decades of practice and feedback. It is a creative self teaching. Blink is the informed decision which captures the best of both automatic and reflective part of the brain. Intuition is nothing more or nothing less than recognition of similar past patterns or behaviour buried deep in the brain.
You too can develop Blink capability based on extensive practice and self learning. If you want to improve your  Blink capability, you must continue to observe, critically analyze your performance. What did go wrong? How can it be better. It is like building extensive database of hands-on experience gained over years and years of practice and fine-tuning
Choice sans Influence
Robert Cialdini, in his famous book  Influence how marketers influence (or manipulates) the choice making by six principles - consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. All these influential weapons lie deep within each one us and marketers unleash these weapons with a variety of techniques in order to make us heed to their cause.
Some of the techniques are
- Constant exposure
- Discount coupons
- Reciprocation
- Obligations
The only you can save yourself from variety of influences is to be aware of yourself and aware of your automatic response which is triggered by these influencing factors. You need to consciously examine the reasoning process and separate the influences that conflict with your values.
How to choose in multitude of options
Having large amount of choices is as frustrating and agonizing as having very little. We have mental, physical and emotional limitations to the number of options we can handle at the same time. And choice becomes meaningless when we cannot differentiate one from another. As a result, we end of postponing the decisions and prone to make wrong choices. So, when you are flooded with multitude of choices, here is a simple approach you can adapt to maximize effectiveness of choice making
-  Cut the options to meaningful number by de-duplication and bunching. Seven is a magic number as it is found that you can hold 7+/- 2 pieces of information at a time in your working memory
- Seek expert advise
- Categorize the choices based on one or two dimensions. This is like filtering the choices based on preferred attributes rather than looking at the whole item. Ex: 4 wheel drive vs 2 wheel drive when selecting cars or price range or make. The more specific your preferences, the easier it becomes to choose
- When time is one your side, start with easier choices, gain confidence and focus on complex choices. This has an advantage of building confidence and skills and improve your performance over long run
Carrot and Stick - Subconscious Control
Sometimes you act against better judgement against all advises as we are all constantly confronted by the dilemmas of temptation. Research has found that 90% of decisions are made in subconscious even before you aware. Effective way to rein the subconscious control is to seek external help in the form of rewards and penalties. For example, you can reward yourself for a good choices made or impose penalty on yourself if bad choices are made. You can define a support system to help you in this. The support system could be an external agency like SnuzNluz alarm clock or or your spouse or friend whom you confide your failures and successes. As you keep doing this, you soon gain control of your subconscious and better choice making becomes a habit in itself.
Balance Reflection and Subconscious power
Over the years we make mistakes by succumbing to temptations, misread information and emotions. All these are controlled by our all powerful subconscious mind. But, we can improve the choice making by cultivating informed decision making by balancing the strengths of both subconscious mind and reflective system.
Building informed intuition requires constant and consistent self monitoring and feedback. One of the best way is to keep a log of choices available, choice made, reasons / motivations for the choice, and expected benefits you can reap and actual outcome. This log gives you a clearly depicts what went wrong and what went right. You can reflect on this experience and in due course you will be able to make adjustments in the present based on the past thoughts and actions. You will more aware of biases and rationalizations and over a period you will be able to avoid the same mistakes when you make the next choice.
You can focus on become more aware of hidden biases and preferences, which render you prone to making choices that you yourself would not approve if you were conscious of underlying motivations.
The same tool can also be used to resist the temptations, manipulations and influences created by outside forces like sales and marketing.
You heard many times that life depends on destiny, luck, choice, forces that influence ones actions and desires. But, of all these, choices give you some measure of control to participate in our own making. Choices enable you to recover, survive and even thrive.
Your choice matters! Pay close attention to the choosing process and work within boundaries of what you are and what you want. The choice making is more effective the more you know about yourself. It is also important to look beyond obvious - as choices are always not black and while. You know you are going wrong if you use choice as an excuse to evade problem rather than finding a solution also be ready to uncomfortable to choose the right choice. Your perception matters.
If choice is something we make, as making a music or art, then surely we can look at these creative disciplines for guidance. The great artist Michelangelo once said that his sculptures were already present in the stone, and all he had to do was to carve away everything else. The obvious is already there, all you need to do is to discover it through choices aligned to your goal.
To quote from Viktor Frankel's famous book Mans Search for Meaning, situations beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, the freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.

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