The Paradox of Choice — Even Not Choosing is a Choice

I’ve been seeing the word “choice” pop up everywhere lately. So much so that I searched all of my saved Evernote notes for the word “choice,” and it showed up in over 20 notes!

We all make choices every single day—some big, some small. Some are choices related to time and money. Others are related to the life roles we each prioritize. There are a billion things we could do, but we must make choices with our limited time.

This post is simply a summary of various perspectives on choice. Enjoy!

The Modern Abundance of Choice:

Above all, I’ve been thinking about this quote by Peter Drucker on a daily basis:

In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time—literally—substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it. — Peter Drucker

Choice Notes from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

  • “The only decision that will ever matter is deciding whether or not you will focus on what matters most. That one decision will be the determining factor between leading a life of meaning and joy, or one frequented with regret.  Every other decision is simply a byproduct of that choice.” — Greg McKeown
  • “Choice (I choose to vs. I have to) — When we forget our ability to choose, we give our power away to others.” — Greg McKeown
  • “We have lost our ability to filter what is important and what isn’t. Psychologists call this ‘decision fatigue’: the more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.” — Greg McKeown
  • “Our options may be things, but a choice—a choice is an action.” — Greg McKeown
  • “Focusing on the essentials is a choice. It is your choice. That in itself is incredibly liberating.” — Greg McKeown
  • “To become an Essentialist require a heightened awareness of our ability to choose.” — Greg McKeown

Choice Quotes Throughout History:

  • “A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” — Hunter S. Thompson
  • “Slow living is a lifestyle choice.” — Wikipedia¹
  • “Busy is a choice.” — Debbie Millman / Ann Voskamp
  • “The choices you make today determine your autobiography tomorrow.” — James Altucher
  • “No matter how tough it gets at times, you always have a choice. What’s in your control? Do you hold the key to your own cage?” — Erin Loechner from Chasing Slow 
  • “There is a calling in one’s life and one has a choice to answer that call or not. Then our lives become this adventure.” — Quora²
  • “There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to develop all of the talents that many of these children have. Making choices among the possibilities is indeed arbitrary; there is no ‘ultimately right’ choice. Even choosing a vocation can be difficult if one is trying to make a career decision between essentially equal passion, talents and potential…” — DavidsonGifted.org³
  • “No one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside. What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that.” — Seneca
  • “We’ve all created our own personal histories, marked by highs and lows, that we share with the world — and we can shape them to live with more meaning and purpose…Northwestern University psychologist Dan McAdams is an expert on a concept he calls ‘narrative identity.’ McAdams describes narrative identity as an internalized story you create about yourself — your own personal myth. Like myths, our narrative identity contains heroes and villains that help us or hold us back, major events that determine the plot, challenges overcome and suffering we have endured. When we want people to understand us, we share our story or parts of it with them; when we want to know who another person is, we ask them to share part of their story…An individual’s life story is not an exhaustive history of everything that has happened. Rather, we make what McAdams calls ‘narrative choices.’ Our stories tend to focus on the most extraordinary events, good and bad, because those are the experiences we need to make sense of and that shape us.” — TED

Want even more choice? (Maybe not…)

Some choice is good. Too much choice can be detrimental to our well-being. Check out Barry Schwartz’s book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less and his TED talk below:

I believe that many modern Americans are feeling less and less satisfied even as their freedom of choice expands. — Barry Schwartz

Freedom and autonomy are critical to our well-being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically. — Barry Schwartz

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