Choices and letting go

Over the past few days I have been sitting with a decision between multiple choices. I won’t disclose the specifics of the decision, because they are not relevant for this reflection, except to say that the choice I make will have a significant impact on my life. I don’t know exactly what the impact will be, because I can’t know the future and all the possible implications, but I know enough to know that this could be a turning point. The other important aspect to share is that the choices are all positive. This is not a decision between a good and a bad option, it is a choice between multiple good options.

What I am noticing is that the decision itself was easy, and was made almost instantaneously. It came from my heart, not my head. What has been difficult is the second guessing of that decision by my head – and I think the real challenge has been fear of letting go of options. When I think about shutting a door by saying “no” to one of the options that might be open to me, I feel uncomfortable. I want to leave all doors open. The thoughts in my head: “what if that door is where happiness/success/something else good lies? What if, after I close the door, I won’t be able to get any of those good things that might be through that door?” Fear of letting go of some opportunity that might be better has been getting in my way of fully committing to the choice I know in my heart that I want.

This experience has helped me to understand in a very personal way a human pattern that Dan Ariely talks about in his book Predictably Irrational – people tend to avoid making choices that shut off options, even when it is rational (meaning, they have empirically more to gain) to do so. When I read that in his book just a couple of weeks ago, even when presented with data from experiments that proved this pattern was consistently observed, I thought to myself, “no way. At least I know that I would never behave that way.” So it is humbling to learn that I do in fact experience a strong aversion to making choices that shut down options. It is also interesting to notice that my heart is clear about what I want – but my head, which is supposed to be more rational, is putting up smokescreens of analysis that seem to be based on fear of loss.

So it would appear in this case that following my heart is more “rational” than following my head. Not what you would expect…

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One Response to Choices and letting go

  1. Laura says:

    I know people who agonize and collect data long after the point of diminishing returns. I am married to one of them. I am not one of those people, but like you, have found that when the stakes are high, even I have trouble balancing all the emotional input with the rational input. I guess the book is right! To some degree, none of us want to cut off options. And I think that those of us who have been rewarded and succeed by thinking with our heads, have a hard time ceding decisions to our heart. We still want to apply all the rationale we can to make sure we are making a “smart” decision!

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