The Psychology of Choice

Choices-Multiple directions

Written by Trishna Patnaik

Every morning you have only two choices: Continue to sleep with your dreams or wake up and chase them.

Have you ever felt completely down and so sure that you want to full-fledge transform your life but have no idea where to get started from? Have you ever wondered and pondered on what might have been the reason? Ever given it a thought about where and who you would possibly be if you would have done something differently, probably gone someplace else, chosen something else, or even someone else for that matter? Your answer would probably be a yes, like most of us! 

Have you ever imagined though where you might land up going and what you might certainly become, with the choices and chances you have left with you?

Let us look into this with the Choices, the Chances, and the Changes – The three ‘C’s of Life  

There are a lot of people who believe that life certainly comes down to the balancing act of these three things. You must make a choice by way of taking a chance, or your life will never ever change.

Let us delve further into the concept of Choices

“Life is the sum of all your choices.”

~Albert Camus 

Some do have a notion that every moment is a choice, while others claim it is every day!  Many just wait until the obvious choices just come to them along the way, which is a choice in itself!  Every day we are faced with several decisions some are large, and some are small. The decision may seem overwhelming at the time; however, the truth remains that an outcome will happen regardless of the same. So do go ahead and make the best of it. Choose what is right at a given point and most importantly, do go with your gut.

Please do understand life can be quite hard and lethal sometimes and the path is not always crystal clear. Even if we are making many choices, either way, we are sure to be picking the path that leads us closer to our vision than letting fear make the choice for us by default.

Let us dig into the concept of Chances

“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” ~Denis Waitley

By making a particular choice, it is by default taking a chance in our sphere, which leads us to focus even more on the obstacles that do mostly surround us. We would surely not want to be that person who would, later, end up saying ‘I wish I had done this or more so at least been there’?

The point is if you want to accomplish and attain something concrete you do have to take a chance. For example: If you like that guy/girl? You must take a chance and go ahead to ask them out! Want to quit your job and go ahead to chase your passion? You must take the plunge, quit your job, and make it does happen for sure!

Let us explore the criteria of Changes

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” ~Proverb

Please note everything changes, even as the saying goes: “The only constant is change”, so why do we go ahead and resist it so much, why cannot we just embrace it and accept it?

It is funny how pretty much all one knows comes down to just one concrete thing: Change. The most uncomfortable part of the equation, yet the most rewarding! By embracing change, we do open the door to towards opportunity. With opportunity comes along success as the very way forward.

Maybe you are stuck in a rut or a situation where it feels as if you are going nowhere the shout out is to Change. Welcome yourself to new beginnings!

So, what do we get in an equation Choice+ Chance + Change = Life?

However, many chances do remain intact in our lives, we better make the most of them, is it not? We better be prepared then. We better be ready not only to make the choice but to see it through as well. As life is certainly the total of our choices. So, if our chances are quite short-lived, as they usually are, then there are only a few choices left that may quite change us forever! 

We choose not randomly each other; we meet only those who already exists in our subconscious

– Sigmund Freud

Let us look at the Choice to Change: The Hidden Power Inside All of Us to Create Lives We Love.

Choice indicates freedom. Choice does mean options. Choice gives us the innate ability to create anything we want in our lives.  Choice is like our paintbrush, and we are the core artists that can paint our masterpieces with it if we desire to do so.

Let us start with the hardcore basics. What is a choice, exactly? In its simplest form, choice is the ability to decide when you have two or even more possibilities. 

The point to consider is that the ways in which choices are presented to us do make a complete difference in the very selection process. Presentation does present a different challenge to the theories of choice based on varied preferences because the two alternatives will be mostly chosen on how they are presented to them instead of been based on the properties of the alternatives only.

It is very important to understand that the sensitivity to choices depends on how they are framed because it can be fairly interpreted by suggesting that different presentations do begin with varied choice processes that in turn do result in varied choices.

When you have to make choice and you don’t make it, that in itself is a choice

William Jones

This brings us closer to understand why is making a choice so hard for many of us.

This is commonly referred to as over-choice, choice overload is a cognitive process in which the individual is unable to arrive at a decision simply because there are too many choices to even consider. The way to progress is that, when given a wide array of choices, it will attract people because having many options to choose from is very desirable for the most of us. However, the main problem does occur when these exhaustive choices inhibit and make weary people from taking the corrective action.

The paralysis in the core selection process does occur because we are not able to differentiate between the variants showcased to us. The choice is then delayed, and the individual enters a phase of procrastination in the process. The decision quality of the individual also does degrade considerably when they are presented with way too many options.

Belief you can and you’re halfway there-

Theodore Roosevelt


Choice that is more so backed by willpower

We do tend to make thousands of decisions every day that are made both consciously and unconsciously. As we do keep making more and more decisions in a day, it does take a toll on our willpower and eventually, we do start looking for an easier way out of the everyday humdrum and drills. Due to this, we do tend to make many decisions based on an impulse without a second thought or we simply choose to do nothing due to fatigue and tiredness. Simply put, the more decisions you tend to make, regardless of whether they are simple or complex, the less mental energy you will have to make the proper decisions on the same.

Please understand that Choices can become quite overwhelming, so do make it easier for customers.

For example: When asked, who would not prefer to choose from a list of five different items over a list of only two? Intuitively, people feel that the more options they have, the greater their chances are of finding the choice that will perfectly satisfy their very needs. This intuitive assumption turns out to be an illusion as the more options we have, the less likely we are to decide anything at all.

Please do consider that an abundance of choice in our everyday lives is in turn regarded as a luxury of modern living.

For instance: Fashion choices are an expression of our core personality and even form a person’s preferences for most brands whereas shopping may be considered as the extensions of their very persona. The option to choose is something that we no longer just value but now do expect as it is a prerequisite to all democratic institutions that people are given the very option to choose from between two or more candidates or even ideas.

Still when we are presented with a false choice (for example, when two candidates in a state election do offer practically identical policies) we do expect and procreate the very ritual of deciding. 

Contrary to the very demand for choice, psychologists have found that excessive choices can have a negative effect on us. So let us look at the very influences on decision making that most of us are unaware that are impacting us, and why we may not always be able to trust  the decisions that we thought we were making for ourselves.

What are the unconscious influences affecting the choices one makes?

Unless you were being overtly coerced into making a very forced decision for yourself, you will safely assume that you have the free will to make the choices in life that will in turn provide the best outcome for you. However, underlying every decision we do tend to make there are numerous influences affecting our very choices.

Some of these influences we will not be conscious and be aware of constantly but will be able to point to them when asked about our reasoning. For example, when you are eating your dinner, you are fulfilling one of your instinctive needs that is to survive-eating.

Other influences tend to be on (such as the presentation of choices, which we will look at in a moment) bypassed by our awareness and even after making a coherent choice we will not recognise that they have manipulated our very reasoning and affected the outcome of our innate taken decision.

Let us look at the needs that influence our core choices but that we are completely aware of.

How instinctive needs do affect our choices: When we look at 1943, in which the U.S. psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a Hierarchy of Needs  that have a set of innate needs organised in a pyramid, which every person in turn aspires to fulfil. Each of these needs does affect our behaviour as we yearn to completely satisfy them.

So, what is the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: The most basic of that very set of needs are our deficiency needs that are definitely essential of the physiological requisites for our survival, such as do consider nourishment, warmth and water. Whilst we know that these survival instincts are no longer key factors to many of our decisions, they still do influence our daily routine by the way of mealtimes.

Reasons to choose can be put forth by:

The reasons we do choose things, and the cognitive processes at work as we do choose, are as complex as the meaning of life itself. Please note that psychologist, Dr Barry Schwartz, wrote The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less in 2004 and highlighted many of the counterintuitive elements of human, the decision-making, and the very thought process of the same. One fundamental paradox Dr Barry brought to light is that the more options we do tend to have, the less likely we are to make a choice at all!  

According to Dr. Liraz Margalit, this all stems from the fear of choosing wrong/ making a wrong choice:

This can be translated into simple math when there are only two options, we have a 50% chance of choosing the right one. However, when we are given five options, our chances suddenly decrease to 20% — Liraz Margalit, Ph.D.

Using this very knowledge, we can better understand how something as simple as positive reinforcement can facilitate the experience of choosing immensely!

In The Paradox of Choice, Dr. Schwartz states:

“Something as trivial as a little gift of candy to medical residents improves the speed and the accuracy of their diagnoses. In general, positive emotion enables us to broaden our understanding of what confronts us.”

— Dr. Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

Understanding this concept is indeed powerful! If we can make someone love the very process even before they trust it, we go ahead to remove the cognitive work of decision making (Warning: for the forces of good only).

“Psychology says, always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow.”

Trishna Patnaik

Trishna Patnaik, a BSc (in Life Sciences) and MBA (in Marketing) by qualification but an artist by choice. A self-taught artist based in Mumbai, Trishna has been practicing art for over 14 years. After she had a professional stint in various reputed corporates, she realized that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling in her passion that is painting. Trishna is now a full-time professional painter pursuing her passion to create and explore to the fullest. She says, “It’s a road less traveled but a journey that I look forward to every day.” Trishna also conducts painting workshops across Mumbai and other metropolitan cities of India. 

Trishna is an art therapist and healer. She works with clients on a one on one basis in Mumbai.

Trishna fancies the art of creative writing and is dappling her hands in that too, to soak in the experience and have an engagement with readers, wanderers, and thinkers.