Why is so difficult to make choices?

Many of us struggle to take a decision, we can be hours analysing, thinking; sometimes we lose hours of sleep and we don’t come easily to a conclusion.

Why is that?

According to neuroscience, our brains make thousands of decisions every day of our lives, dictating our experience in the world. Brains are composed of multiple competing networks, each of which has its own goals and desires. When we need to take a simple decision, for example, in between eating or not eating a chocolate; some networks in our brains want the sugar; while others vote against; some of them can suggest that you can eat only if you promise to go to the gym the next day. It is like a neural voting system. The winning network defines what you are going to do next. There are always multiple choices competing. Even if you decided not to eat, you can start arguing again with yourself, maybe just a small piece?

We are complex because we are composed of many drives and all of them want to be in control. Each decision involves our past experiences stored; our present situation; but also our predictions about the future that searches for rewards. There are many other variables that can influence a decision-making process happening all together.

All that happens unconsciously in our brains.

Despite it all, I want to comment on some of my thoughts that can help us to take a more conscious choice.

Imagine we need to choose in between things that are not so easy or obvious to compare. The most common thing that many of us immediately do is to prepare a list of pros and cons of the choices available. Even though, many times we still are not able to make a decision.

In many of these situations what happens is a clash regarding the personal values an individual has.

One example that I can share is of a friend of mine that had to choose in between living in a city that has more infra-structure, but is further away from her kids’ school and a village that is closer to the school, but has not much to offer in terms of services and is a lit bit isolated. The kind of city that you need to get a car to buy anything you need. She was stuck on which decision to take because she was not aware that she was trying to choose in between two things that, according to her perspective, represents two of her core values: Family (kids’ well-being) and Connection with people (being and living in a lively place).

That does not mean it will be simple to make the final choice if you get conscious about your core values. It can be easier if you give different weights to each one of them. If both of them are equally important to you, it will not be a simple comparison. However, once you identify the values behind the possible choices, it gives you more clarity regarding the direction you can follow.

Another important aspect is related to the judgments that we do from ourselves or from a situation and how they can limit our choices. For example, In the story above, one can ask: “Who said that just because you live in a small village, you cannot connect with people?”

“Which options your see for your kids to have a good well-being even being more distant from the school? How affordable are these options? “

As we learnt from neuroscience, most people tend to follow the same patterns from their past conditioning until that patterns can be replaced, and they can open themselves to new perspectives or world view.

If we are feeling worried, fear, angry or full of doubts, we may not be seeing all possibilities available. It is as if there were clouds in front of us that blurs our vision. Many times, we let these fears and worries be the ones that are choosing for us unconsciously.

If we have the ability to choose from a positive perspective of purpose as opposed to a negative perspective of fear, doubt, worry and anger we may see that there are always multiple solutions in any situation. The more you can see, the more choices you have.

As Nelson Mandela said, “Let your choices reflect your hope and not your fears”.

There is a huge difference when someone says, “I have to do it” instead of “I want to do it”. Can you notice the different perspective and engagements levels in these two situations?

A foundation principle from coaching is that “the answers to all questions lie within us, and we know more than we think we know”. When we don't trust yourselves and we rely on opinions of others, we rob yourselves of our own wisdom.

A typical example is an adolescent trying to choose the university course. Most of them struggle to find out what they really want.

I know that they are only adolescents, they are still building their personality and gaining maturity and experiencing life. No doubt it is not easy to make such an important choice at an early age. It was not to me either. Despite that, have you ever noticed how many of them are influenced by the opinion of their parents, friends and have difficult to listen to their own hearts?

In many cases they want to please their parents or they fear that they can disappoint them if they close profession “A” or “B” because that are not the “expected professions” that they heard from their family before, the professions that could bring money, that could bring them success, etc.

There is not a “right” decision. There is only the best decision one can take at a given moment with the awareness and knowledge available at that time.

We always have a choice, even if sometimes we feel that we don’t have it. It’s up to us on how we can react to any situation.

Choosing not to make a choice is also a choice.

What about you? How do you believe you can make more conscious choices?

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