Too Many Choices Can Be Dis-Empowering


One of the dreaded questions the General often asks is: “Where do you want to go for dinner?” I think it is a dreaded question because sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the need to make a decision. Besides that, I’ve learned that when the General asks the question, she is mostly shopping for ideas. Where I want to go may be a consideration or it may not. Just because I have an answer, doesn’t necessarily mean that the decision is now made. It is just throwing a consideration into the hopper of things to consider.


My answer to the question doesn’t necessarily turn the tide in my favor. It isn’t like: “Presto – That’s where we’re going.” My answer is often met with: “No, I don’t want to do that.” I find it confusing.


Perhaps it is because we generally have too much on our minds, but I often find that if I have to think about it, I’m not always up to the challenge. It was an aha moment for me. The speaker at the conference summed it up this way: “Too many choices can be dis-empowering”. She went on to say: “A mind in chaos has a difficult time making good choices”.


To substantiate her observation, she shared a personal story. She was shopping for a “home entertainment system”. That is the fancy way to say she was looking for television set with surround sound. Regardless of where she went to look, the sales person invariably provided her way too much information. The volume of information was more than she could effectively take in and process. Consequently, instead of making a purchase, she always responded with: “I’ll have to think about it.” She’d then leave the store and never come back.


Two years later, an extended family member offered to assist her with the process. Having someone else in the driver’s seat made it easier and she now has the home entertainment system she wanted. Too many choices can be dis-empowering.


I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of it that way before, but of course she’s right. That’s why I often have the thought that I’m immobilized by decision-making. When you have too much to choose from, it is overwhelming.


For example, how many times have you had your eyes examined and going through the process of: “Which is better, this or that?” you find you need to see the two options a second time before you can decide. Can you imagine the difficulty you’d experience if you were provided a “this, that or maybe this”? I couldn’t do it.


Every day, people are in the driver’s seat regarding the need to make decisions. The number of options available for almost everything makes it difficult to decide, because after all: “What if you choose the wrong thing?” Worse yet, “What if you pay the wrong price?”


I recently visited with a friend who is attempting to help his son decide which college he wants to attend next year. The kid is all over the board in making a decision related to where he wants to apply. Apparently, my friend’s son falls into the gifted and talented category, so his options are unlimited. He faces tough choices. Don’t we all?


Understanding the complexity of how people arrive at their choices is an area of cognitive psychology that is the subject of research. Trust me, the folks in marketing and advertising are a step ahead in figuring it out. Of course, a person’s previous experience and biases can have an impact. I think age and individual preferences also factor in as a variable. Sometimes it is the desire to simply have the latest and greatest. I have a friend who maintains: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” On the other hand, it doesn’t alter the fact that he still dies.


Decision-making can be a tough process. I seldom watch the same movie more than once, but I’ve seen Chariots of Fire several times. For one thing, I like the background music, for another, I like the story. The setting of the movie is the 1924 Olympic games. Eric Liddel was a favorite for England winning the gold medal.


At the Summer Olympics in Paris, Liddell was surprised to learn that for the first time in history, some Olympic events were scheduled on Sunday including the one he was favored to win. His Olympic training and racing proved secondary to his faith. He believed that the Lord’s Day should be kept sacred. Consequently, when forced to choose between a potential medal and his principle, he opted to come down on the side of faith.


In the movie Chariots of Fire, there is a scene where Harold Abrahams, a Jewish athlete friend, asked Lidell: “Do you have any regret?” Lidell answered: “Regrets, yes. Doubts no.”


Choices can be tough, but when we defer to what we know to be truth prevail and use that as our automatic default, it will serve us well.


All My Best!



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