Two years ago, a teacher from India told me: “When you are truly free, you do not spend your energy making choices. True freedom is choiceless.” I argued with him. Daily, we have to make choices! Doesn’t taking responsibility mean making choices, and making them carefully? He shook his head. “Be choiceless,” he said.
It was anathema to the crowd. Which shoes go with that top? When exactly should I text that guy from last weekend? Who will I invite to next Saturday’s party? Or would it be better to go alone? How can I tell your partner she’s not doing it for me in bed? Should you tell her? Should I tell him? Should I look around for someone else? Trade up? And while I’m looking around, what about my career? Which job will catapult me further along my trajectory to ultimate career fulfilment? Choices, choices.
Perhaps I’m starting too big. The tyranny of choice starts at the banal level of our daily machinations: what we eat, where we sleep, what we buy and what we use. Over and over, we teach ourselves to step back from the options before us, appraise them with a cool, objective eye, make lists of pros and cons, merits and demerits, advantages and disadvantages. Splice them neatly into good, better and best, and then go for the one that tips the scales in the superlative direction. And yet. Stepping back means disconnecting. Appraising means judging. So you find you’ve ticked checkboxes, but you end up unconvinced. All you have to do is cast your eyes back in the direction of the choice you gave up, and you know what you get? Not satisfaction. Not contentment. You get regret. ‘Cause you’re never really sure you’ve gone the right route.
Mr Barry Schwartz, in his book The Paradox of Choice (subtitled Why More is Less) argues that a culture of abundance robs us of satisfaction. He has a point, though I’d say he spends way too much time analysing in detail exactly how rotten we can make ourselves feel by buying into a culture of choosing, comparing, striving for the best choices, and falling into disappointment later when we compare roads taken with those that might’ve been. And not enough time getting to the crux of it. So. Stop losing sleep over it. Here’s the deal:
- Most choices are a whole lot less significant than we give them credit for. Let it go. Do the one that feels right. You might not know the exact reasons. You probably don’t need to.
- Once you’re on it, love it. You’re already there. Your life is not around the corner. This is it.
- Stick with it. Follow through.
- Be grateful. The grass may well be greener on the other side. But seeing as you’re here, you might as well notice it’s pretty spectacular on this side too.
- There’s a path you’re going to take. Sniff it out. Gut feel is a good thing. Trust yours.
Go on. Be choiceless.