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Choosing to choose



In 1982, The Clash released the lil’ ditty ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?' forever capturing the agony of indecision. The song has amused and informed generations; its longevity points to the truth that making choices, large or small, costs us something.

One woman throws darts as a man composes lists of moral algebra (Ilustration Chris Johnston)In the early days of burgeoning romance, do I declare my interest, or wait and see? If it works for both of us, do I commit? Pop the question? Their place or mine? Do we rent, or take on a mortgage? Are kids in the grand scheme? Do I pursue other career paths, or stick to what I know in the job market?

Later (much, much later) do we buy a puppy to replace our dearly departed dog? It is, after all, getting on four years now since our much-mourned hound wagged his last goodbye.

Do we teach our teenagers to drive in our manual cars, lurching away, grinding gears and mastering the bunny hop, or buy an ‘auto auto’ to minimise mayhem?

I don’t know how you are travelling, but I find I’m increasingly being clobbered with dilemmas. Considering I am one of 7.5 billion human beings toddling around the planet I suspect that it’s not just me.

We are flooded with choices, and even more so we are faced with the choice of how to choose — rationally, subconsciously or emotionally. I think the latter rings true for all of us. The New Scientist turned a catchy turn of phrase, suggesting ‘emotions are actually evolution’s satnav, directing us towards choices that have survival benefits’. So when we are cut off on the freeway, or someone does us wrong, or we need to make a change in our lives, we do well to choose our response wisely. Our choices and their consequences have changed as we have changed as a species.


'Making choices can be torturous, for us and for our loved ones. Students of the psyche call it "analysis paralysis"; over-analysing options and stewing in our own metaphysical juices.'


Making choices can be torturous, for us and for our loved ones. Students of the psyche call it ‘analysis paralysis’; over-analysing options and stewing in our own metaphysical juices. You’d think it would be easier these days, with the technological resources we have available. Choosing directions seems passé these days, with GPS satnav. Search engines connect us instantly with a plethora of possibilities. But that’s often the problem.

Too many options or no options, choosing’s hard. Here are some options for us to get past our indecision.

You can go with what you know. Psychological scientist Christian Frings attests that if we have to barrack for Roger Federer or Michael Berrer to win a match we’ll go with Rog ’cause we know and love him as a human brand.

Numbering options can also work. Faced with the perennial ‘What do you want for dinner?’, US author Kimberley Key suggests you list options: ‘I was thinking about spaghetti, saag paneer, or filet mignon tonight. Do any of these interest you?’

There’s the tried and true subliminal spreadsheeting. When you are in the grip of analysis paralysis, listing your pros and cons is a venerable strategy. Psychologist Dr Ben Newell from the University of New South Wales in Sydney says it worked for Charles Darwin and Benjamin Franklin (the American Founding Father calling it his ‘moral algebra’).

Or leave it to chance, and throw a dart. Before Robert Downey Jr was mutilating a semi-Welsh accent, Hugh Loftin’s literary Dr Doolittle was hurling a dart at a map to decide on his next adventure.

Writer Madeleine Dore has suggested that while ‘it might sound morbid… if you picture yourself on your deathbed, which choice would you feel more content with? Often when we look back, it's the choice that put you more into the world and connected you with people.’

Ultimately, deciding is about selecting a mature, evidence-based and hopeful course of action. We are not seers with crystal balls. We hope for a good outcome, just like the emotional creatures we truly are.

But I have found that bouncing ideas around, talking choices through with your partner, loved ones and trusted confidantes, takes a lot of stress out of the process.

I’m happy to announce that miniature schnauzer Cinda will be joining our family soon, filling that puppy-sized hole in our lives.

Sometimes it’s worth taking your time before you choose. I will have to get back to you about those driving lessons.



Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

Main image: One woman throws darts as a man composes lists of moral algebra (Ilustration Chris Johnston)

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, choices



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Existing comments

My choice, my need, my life. Except when it is other peoples' choices, other peoples' needs, and other peoples' lives. Mature, evidence-based and hopeful courses of action sounds like something other people would do. I would hope to be more spontaneous than that. I am created to be a follower of some One who has already chosen me. ps. My daughter's in-laws have a miniature schnauzer called....I forget his name.

Pam | 07 February 2020  

The Swedes have a word for it: beslutsångest (decision-anxiety). The word is in common use. One way of overcoming the condition, although obvious, is not mentioned by the author. it is to have someone else decide for you. This overcomes the anxiety, and as a bonus, you might have someone other than yourself to reproach if something goes wrong.

Thomas Mautner | 10 February 2020  

Hi Barry, Been there , done that! When I was a "young one" back forty years ago or so, the Internet was just getting going, I had just mastered the computer,(I told my Subject Coordinator; "Pigs would fly first!) my kids were young and the wife and I were flat out getting them through school."Sat Nav" was not even thought of, you balanced a street Directory on your lap. They learnt to drive in automatics, even though my car was still a manual. I don't think I consciously made choices as such,but we did decide matters as a family.Your article certainly made me think!

Gavin O'Brien | 10 February 2020  

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