Do you remember the last time you had to make a really difficult choice? If it was recently, then you probably remember quite well how agonizing it was. Whether it was choosing which meal to order at a fancy restaurant or which career path to pursue, for most us, it’s the taunting fear that we’ll make the wrong choice – and always regret it thereafter – that tortures us in these decision-making times.
I myself struggle with making choices every day. I recently decided to buy some blackout curtains for my bedroom in order to get better sleep. Three hours later, there I was, still scouring the Internet for the perfect curtains, paralyzed by the fear that I’d order a color I didn’t quite like, or a pattern that was a bit too busy – and always regret it.
Enter Ruth Chang, a philosopher at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Chang says that although in math and science, we are accustomed to entities being less than, greater than, or equal to one another – when it comes to hard choices – there is no best choice. The options we face in life are “on a par,” meaning that no one is better than another. Once we recognize the impossibility of making a “wrong choice,” we can embrace our human power to define ourselves in our choices and to create our own reasons that align with the decisions we make.
She describes a five-step process for making difficult choices that I find absolutely riveting. I’ll outline it in my own words below.
1) Figure out what matters most to you.
In the big picture, what do you care about above all else? Whatever decision you are facing, this is always a relevant and powerful question to ask yourself.
2) Rinse and repeat.
To stress its paramount nature, Chang suggests asking yourself this question again to make sure you’ve given it ample thought.
3) Recognize that there is no best choice.
This statement is a bit astonishing when you really consider it. No best choice? How can that be? Surely if I had a Netflix DVD of two potential futures playing out that I could watch – then I would be able to identify which one is better. But consider this: what if even after watching those two future scenarios, you still can’t decide which one is better? What if those two futures are on a par, different but both of relatively equal value? The only conclusion we can make here is that there is no best choice.
4) Commit to an option, and create reasons to pursue it.
The best word in this sentence? Create. When we invent our own reasons to support the choice we’ve made, we’re defining ourselves. Instead of worrying about whether we’ve made the wrong choice, we can create reasons for ourselves that we’ve made the right one.
5) Create your identity with this choice. Make it a part of who you are.
What I love about all of these steps and this one, in particular, is that it puts the power in our hands. It puts the ball in our court. Instead of feeling powerless in the face of trying to guess which is that perfect, single, correct choice – it gives us the power to choose and then to align ourselves with our choice.
Looking for more? Watch Ruth Chang’s 15 minute TED Talk!