You Can Never Know the True Value of the Alternative
because, at some point, you’re going to have to choose
Aschildren, when life-choices are often limited, we view the world in a definite palette of black and white.
As we grow up and the boundaries of our freedom expand, the varying shades of grey can transform us into indecisive wrecks. We have the ability to think ahead of time, projecting ourselves into different scenarios and pathways that could have been taken. Our minds can turn a simple choice into a havoc of infinite forks.
Some of these forks are positive while others stick to our thoughts like spilled glue.
But the thing about choices is that you will never know the true value of the alternative — because the alternative will never materialize. Whatever value you put on it is only speculation.
According to American psychologist Barry Schwartz, we suffer from the ability to experience happiness when the ideation of choice is introduced.
Like his fellow psychologists David Myers and Robert Lane, who also theorizes on the measurement of happiness, the more choices we perceive ourselves to have, the more miserable we become over time. The larger the gap between perceived outcome and our reality is the equation that determines our feeling of loss.
As a result, when you’ve picked a path that is plagued by the potentiality of choices, it lessens the value of your actual choice.
Anxiety is a modern condition that has exploded in both diagnosis, affliction, and awareness in the past decade. We’ve come a long way since mass media’s mockery of Britney Spears 2007 mental health meltdown that resulted in a shaved head and an umbrella attack on the horde of paparazzi.
According to Schwartz, the link between choice and happiness have an inverse impact on the other. When there is an increase in resources, the number of choices on how to consume or dispose of such materials increases in conjunction with it.
The total corresponding value of opportunity cost appears much larger in our personal calculations than what they are truly worth — nothing.
This is because we theorize what the potential value may have been based on our limited knowledge, especially when our current choice is not projecting at the same or expected trajectory of returns.
When we make a choice, we actualize our reality and the possibility of the others at that particular moment in time dissipates like the mysteries of Schrodinger’s cat. It’s because the moment we make a choice, we find out if our cat is dead or alive.
While many of us refuse to make a choice at all — the prolonged inactions are the actions of the choice itself. To do nothing is akin to taking a side step from your box and letting the cat decay or thrive on its own.
You become a passive actor, refusing to take responsibility and yet regretting it at the same time. You lose control over the outcome and its experiences, becoming removed from that which you were meant to be and do.
This is the manifestation of lost potential, of shaking heads and side remarks — an ode to failure instigated by one’s lack of enacting on a choice. The choice becomes chosen for us and if the results are not desirable, we fall into the trappings of what things could have been.
Eliminating unhappiness is not an impossible task. If we follow on the premise that the large potentiality of choice makes us unhappy, what if we eliminate such a thing from occurring in the first place?
Law professor Cass Sustein calls this act of elimination second-order decisions. They are the premade decisions that follow a specific set of principles or rules that takes the choice of choices out from under us. Sometimes they materialize in the form of cultural codes or certain personal standards.
With second-order decisions, the alternative of the other gets eliminated. But unlike not choosing, we choose to follow a set of decision guidelines without allowing ourselves to question what could have been.
It is our principles and knowledge of self — of likes, dislikes, goals, hopes, and dreams — that makes acting on our principles possible.
So what can you do today to reduce the pain of choice?
Warren Buffett calls it the top 5 priority rule. The process goes:
- List out your top 25 things you want to do, achieve or gain in life
- Circle your most important 5.
- Cull the rest and ignore until at least one of the five is achieved and makes room for another to enter into the rank of most important to focus on.
This reduction stops us from feeling inadequate for spreading our personal resources too thinly, resulting in barely adequate results. By focusing on the things that matter the most to you, you will begin to develop your own personal code that governs the underlying decision-making process of second-order decisions.
There will never be a right or wrong path — only a judged value against the unrealized potential of another.
That is why you can never know the true value of the alternative.
However, you can change the relationship you have with your current choice by eliminating the thoughts associated with giving the alternative an unvalidated sunk cost a weighted value.
So choose something, walk forward and never look back. If you start spending your time living in the world of hindsight, you will never get to enjoy the journey forward.