The Value of “Not Having a Choice”

“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”  Barry Schwartz

The concept of “choice” is something that is brought up in education as a good thing for students to help develop their passions and build on their gifts. I have advocated it for myself, but there is also a time where too much choice can be a bad thing.  Barry Schwartz, in his Ted Talk on “The Paradox of Choice” discusses some of the negatives of too much “choice”:

We all know what’s good about it, so I’m going to talk about what’s bad about it. All of this choice has two effects, two negative effects on people. One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis, rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all.

…Second, what economists call “opportunity costs.” Dan Gilbert made a big point this morning of talking about how much the way in which we value things depends on what we compare them to. Well, when there are lots of alternatives to consider, it is easy to imagine the attractive features of alternatives that you reject that make you less satisfied with the alternative that you’ve chosen.

I have thought a lot about how overwhelming choice can be and how having “no choice” can be empowering in some aspects of life as well.

When I was in the best shape of my life, I was teaching fitness classes at a gym before I would go to work at school in the morning. I would wake up at 5 AM every morning and head to the gym where I was just as much a participant of the classes as I was leading them.  It was extremely tough, but  I always had energy throughout the day and it always seemed like the hardest part of my day would be done by 7 AM.  Eventually, because of my travel schedule, I had to quit teaching the class, although I aimed to exercise in the same way I had done before.  Somedays waking up at 5 AM became 5:30 AM, became sleeping in, became checking social media in email and eventually skipping out working out altogether.  I could always justify why I wouldn’t go for a run or lift weights because something, whether it was checking email or sleeping in, was a better choice that morning.  Several (much more than several ) pounds later, I got to a place where normal things became a lot more strenuous.

Do you know why I used to always go to the gym in the morning? Because I had no choice. I was leading the class.  Once I saw it as a choice, it became optional.

I have worked hard to not only get back into better shape but to train my mind to see that exercising in the morning is not a choice. It is what I need to do to have a higher quality and longer life.  I am not 100% there, but I am much better. I don’t think about going for a run in the morning. I figure out when I am going to go which makes it much more tolerable.

Maybe this post is less about “choice” and more about habit and willpower.  In “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, it states:

“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”

In many areas of our life, personal or professional, some things will be much easier to do that will lead to success if we put them into the “no choice” category; it is just what we do. Training your mind to think that way can lead to much better results in the long-term/


Quote from Charles Duhigg
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