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The Decision-Making Dilemma: Are You a Picker or a Chooser?

05/06/2015 02:00 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2016
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For anyone that has any trouble with decision-making, this post is for you.

Considering that this is one of the biggest problems I've struggled with personally, I have been on a constant look-up for all wisdom, tools, or advice on how to best tackle decision-making. Personally, I see the problem as two-fold.

When you have a problem with decision-making you either 1) do not know what you want or 2) are unable to properly assess the options in front of you in order to align them with what you want.

You don't know what you want

Sounds pretty straightforward right? How can you make a decision on something if you don't know what you're looking for? I'm not talking about choosing what you want for lunch today. I'm talking about decisions with a little more weight. Which school should I attend? What should I major in? Which job is the best way to start my career? Should I start my own business on the side? Is he the One? And the list goes on..

Far too often, we try to answer these questions based off of all of the information being thrown at us by the world. Google any one of those questions, and you are just as likely to find an article to convince you for something as you are to find one against it. The beauty of the internet is that everything is online and everyone's free to share their information. The down-side to this is that anyone can share their opinion -- even if it's not the most reliable.

So how do we decide? We look further. We ask our friends, our parents, our mentors, our professors. We seek all of this external information to persuade us in one direction or the other. And while I'm all for doing your research and asking for advice from trusted sources in your life, I think there's a dangerous trap hidden in this decision-making strategy.

Your own opinion is molded and shaped by all of these external sources, instead of by your own goals and needs. Before you look elsewhere, you need to start with yourself. Start by making a list. What's important to you? What factors are involved in this decision and what are the possible choices and outcomes? Before you even start to list the schools you're considering attending, first write down the factors that you're looking for out of your education. Give them values and priorities. Know why this decision is important and what criteria is important for you on which to base your end decision. Once you have a firm understanding of what you're searching for, then look to others for help.

If you have done all of this, congratulations! You are well on your way to become a Chooser. A term defined by Barry Schwartz in his book entitled The Paradox of Choice, a Chooser is the following:

  • Someone who thinks actively about all possibilities of a decision
  • Someone who has reflected on what's important to him/her
  • Someone who understands the relevant importance of his/her decision
  • Someone who can make decisions that align with his/her values as a person

Sound like you're on the right track? Great! Now onto the tricky part..

You have trouble assessing your options & aligning them with what you want

This is the killer. Once you know what you're looking for, or at least have a guide to what's important in your life, you should start having an easier time aligning bigger decisions with your values and priorities. Right?

If only it were that easy.

In today's world, we are bombarded with an overload of decisions and options. In a search for freedom and the ability to customize our lives, we have opened ourselves up to an overwhelming amount of choices -- and these choices are turning many of us from Choosers into Pickers.
Barry elaborates on this term in his book stating, "A picker does none [of the above]. With a world of choices rushing by like a music video, all a picker can do is grab this or that and hope for the best."

In a world flooded with decisions, how are we supposed to properly assess and evaluate them all? With nearly 4,600 degree-granting institutions in the U.S. alone, for instance, choosing a college or university to attend becomes that much more daunting of a task. Now, I am certainly not saying that having choices is bad by any means. The fact that we live in a world with the freedom to choose how we live our lives is an incredible thing. The problem we run into is that for many of us, the mere amount of options and choices out there can become overwhelming pretty quickly.

How can you possibly decide the right career path with all of the options out there? Plus, if what you're looking for isn't out there, our society gives you the amazing opportunity to go out and create a new option. Don't like what you're doing? Start your own business! The choices are endless.

So what can those of us struggling with decision-making do to make sense of this all?

How can we become Choosers instead of Pickers? How can we properly evaluate the options in front of us? First, you need to conquer Problem #1: Know what you want. The first step to making better decisions is to know why you're making them.

The second part to that problem is knowing which decisions are important to you. Personally, I think there's a time to be a Chooser and a time to be a Picker. By eliminating the need to stress over all the small things, we can spend our time assessing our options on the big decisions. Stop driving yourself crazy debating if you want the fish tacos or the burger for lunch. Too many of us don't enjoy what's in front of us or the outcomes of the decisions we've already made, because we're too busy thinking of what would have happened if we chose a different option.

When it comes to the small things, be a Picker. Make your decisions, and then forget the unchosen options. If you go to that restaurant another time, then you can make your next decision based off the first experience. Your time is too precious to be spent living in the past.

Instead of worrying about each and every option for each and every decision, focus your energy on the big decisions. According to a Cornell study, the average person makes about 221 decisions each day - on food alone. 221! Now just imagine how many total decisions there are to be made every day. If you tried to be a Chooser in every aspect of your life, I'm certain you would drive yourself mad. And no one wants that. Rather, if you can understand the weight and importance of a decision in your life, at least for the time being, you can learn when to be a Chooser and be comfortable knowing that when it comes to the small things, it's okay to be a Picker.

This article was originally published on Quarter for Your Crisis, a catalyst for Millennials to reconnect with themselves, their faith, and the world around them.