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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How to make a choice

We've all been in the position where we have to make a choice between two ways, or things. Some are difficult, because we can see the merits of both choices, or their disadvantages.

   But... we can't have both. We must choose – how?

   The easiest way is to flip a coin, or something similar. If you don't have one handy, there are even sites online that allow you a random choice!

   But, this leaves your decision almost completely to chance.

   You can still flip a coin and have a strong element of choice. All it requires is a quick, simple moment of real honesty with yourself.

   Next time you're in this position and it comes down to two choices, do this.

   Think carefully about what the two alternatives are, and choose heads for A and tails for B.

   Flip the coin.

   Unless it ends up on edge, which doesn't happen very often, there's your choice.

   Wait. No, not quite. This is the good bit.

   Because when it lands, you have to think honestly – the moment of truth – was I a tiny bit happy, or was I a little disappointed, when it came down that way?

   If you were secretly happy, go with it. But....

   If you felt a little pang, a tinge of disappointment, then you know.

   You really wanted the other choice – or, at least, would have felt happier with it.

   So go with that reaction. Forget the way the coin landed. It's now irrelevant. Your choice was there all along. Now you recognise it. Choose the one you were content with, and don't look back.

   Choices are things we have to make. If they're irrevocable, then I offer you one thing that's guided my life, particularly when I had (and perhaps will have) to make life and death decisions about my future.

   There are no right and wrong decisions. We will never know what the outcome would have been if we'd gone the other way. Maybe it seems we made a mistake, but who can say? All we've done is to think carefully about something, weighed it up on the basis of the best information we have, and chosen a path. With the benefit of hindsight, if it seems not to have been the best choice, and we're still alive, all we can do is learn from it.

   That's what has guided my life decisions. Not the flip of the coin when flipping the coin, but making a sincere choice and accepting its consequences.

   There's no rewind button in life. It goes only in one direction, and that's forward. That's actually what karma is, not that damn fool stuff about fate. All handing things over to 'fate' does is to weaken us, when we can and should accept responsibility when we have to make choices.


  1. I would add that it is no shame to change your mind about a decision you have made. I like your technique as to testing how you really feel about the decision you have just made. I do believe we know what to do. It's just having the courage to take ownership/responsibility. To not be afraid of making a mistake.
    I have never believed in "what if". Opens the door to regret.
    What is is what is.

    1. Very good point. In fact, I'll go further and say that if you refuse to change your mind in the face of clear evidence that you made an inferior choice, then you haven't grown up.

  2. I have been saying, and/or feeling, exactly this for all my adult life - thanks for writing it here this succinctly. My desire to make decisions sincerely and accepting responsibility, whilst learning from the inevitable mistakes made and rejoicing in that learning, is one of the reasons I turned away from organised religion. I tried hard to lean on, believe in, pray to and turn to a higher being for decades. Ultimately, that felt like I was shirking my responsibility to try to be the most authentic human being I could be. In the end, when faced with a difficult decision, all I can do is think deeply and truthfully about the likely consequences, trust my gut feelings (the most disastrous decisions I have made in my life have been made when I have ignored my gut feelings) and look each day square on. Oh, and to apologise and make amends when I've hurt someone, to have no (or as few as possible) regrets, and to be forever mindful of the unlikely and immense stroke of good luck is mere existence of this world, and my being in it.

    1. You have completed the quinella with Debbie when you say that being able to apologise is vital. And if you have children, how important it is to be able to say to them, even [maybe especially] when they're young, I was wrong, this is why, please forgive me.

      I apologised when necessary to my pupils as a young teacher, and also when I believed I had made a wrong assessment [one of those late-at-night rare ones!] of a tertiary student's work.

  3. hey Denis
    my attitude always has been...follow your gut

    nice wisdom as usual

    1. All other things being equal, yes. But being prepared to adjust, if possible, can be vital. It's always tempting to cling to fixed ideas, and they can really get in the way sometimes.

  4. Denis,I agree with all that you have said so well and with the comments. I would just add, on a serious note, that it sometimes becomes clear that one has made a significant error of judgement that is not able to be corrected, changed or merely helped by an apology. To live with that mistake, to be able to be kind to oneself about it and to make the best of things are important and can at times be admirable qualities. Occasionally, a phoenix may even rise from the ashes of a wrong choice well handled.

    Anne Powles

    1. Very well said and a vital piece of wisdom. Thanks, Anne. But we must learn from the experience or it does no one good. I still baulk at the word 'wrong' even though we may have very fixed views about right and wrong - but let me not get into that or I might seem to be defending all sorts of people at the very end of the moral spectrum we accept in this society.

  5. Decisions ... decisions.

    As usual, I am suddenly awake at 3am and my mind is active. Should I spend the next two hours trying to get back to sleep – and possibly waste good time by failing to do so - thereby risking the loss of this thought? Or should I get up and seize the moment while it is there? I have made the decision. Was it the right one? Time will tell. Maybe.

    And dare I risk Denis’ disapprobation at my rambling, ungrammatical sentences and just plough on, letting the chips fall where they may? Or should I take the chance of losing the thread while taking more care?

    When I make decisions that affect (primarily) only me, I will generally do what I really want to do, creating my own justifications for it. This is not a problem, because only I carry the consequences of my decisions and, even if these are unfavourable to me personally, well - I have a whole battery of reasons why none of it was my fault anyway.

    It is when my decisions affect others that I have a problem. Here we introduce judgement ... is this good or bad, right or wrong, wise or foolish ... and so on. But these are not absolutes. How can I decide between them and, if I have to seek wider counsel, to whom do I turn? The law? Peer morality? Media norms? ‘Whatever’ religion? Personal ethics?? And when I do make a decision, am I being motivated by fear, desire or some sort of subjectively-determined objectivity?

    Most of my life I sought certainty and good clear laws – whether God’s or man’s – so that I could happily be relieved of decision-making. But external directives can only be framed for the ‘greater good’ and cannot cover every circumstance. So each time now, I have to figure it out for myself. Rafferty’s rules? Maybe. But at least ‘I did it my way’. And maybe, through so doing, I will become wiser, and make a better fist of it next time. It ain’t easy, is it?

    Decisions ... decisions.

    1. Bob: your English is better than mine is. I call mine "Blog English". No offence to the Irish.

      I suspect all our decisions affect others, even when we think they don't. But no doubt we have to take some, knowing they will undoubtedly affect others, and I think the 'Do unto others....' is surely the Golden Rule; one that we sometimes fail to learn before we do some damage.

      The world's ills are too much for us to tackle, so it seems to me to be a matter of simple compassion, and trying at the very least not to leave the world a worse place than when we came into it.


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