The Power of Choice: Do We Always Have One?

By: | |

Always is a strong word and can work as a simplification for complex topics. Today, I want to dive a little deeper into what it means to “Always have a choice,” how those choices can sometimes be overwhelming, and where our true power lies.

I discuss: 

  • Questioning the simplistic notion of “We Always Have a Choice”
  • The depth of choice in the context of life circumstances
  • Exploring the paradox of choice overload

Questioning the simplistic notion of “We Always Have a Choice”

We Always Have a Choice

The notion of always having a choice in any circumstance comes from all directions—books, podcasts, movies—I know I’ve been guilty of the saying more than once. The power of choice is indeed important, but there’s a simplicity to saying “we always have a choice” that can be detrimental to long-term growth. 

One example of always having a choice comes from Edith Eva Eger; her books are extraordinary, and she is extraordinary, too. She's a survivor of Nazis concentration camps in World War II. She wrote her first book, The Choice, telling her story from that time. Her second book, The Gift, is also wonderful. 

Another example of someone who faced extreme circumstances in Nazi concentration camps and also championed the power of choice is Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning. 

Both authors write about choice, but it goes so much deeper than that.

The depth of choice in the context of life circumstances

The depth of choice in the context of life circumstances

Let me share a quote from Man’s Search for Meaning to help explain why this topic has been on my mind: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms; to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”

Very often, we don't have a choice in the circumstances that life throws at us; the lemons life hands us—sometimes I like to call them watermelons because they are so big and challenging. 

When Viktor Frankl and Edith Eva Eger went into the concentration camps, they didn't choose to go there. In 2016, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn't choose to have cancer. If somebody loses a child, how can we think that they chose that? Or even a divorce or losing a job. We don't choose that. 

These are things that happen to us, and even in certain life circumstances where our actions can have an influence on them, we still didn't choose them.

There is a range—I know that there is a range. We don't choose when we are born or where our parents are. There are so many things in our life circumstances that we don't have the power to choose, but we can choose other things about our lives. 

Looking at that quote from Viktor Frankl, our choice is to choose our attitude about our circumstances; our choice lies in our response to that set of circumstances.

The concept appears simple until we peel back another layer in the form of choice overload. 

Exploring the paradox of choice overload

Exploring the paradox of choice overload

Imagine yourself going to a supermarket to buy a bottle of ketchup. You find the right aisle, and there you are, staring at ketchup after ketchup brand. You can become paralyzed by the number of choices in front of you. 

“Should I get the known brand? Or maybe the house brand, I will save some money. There is one that says ‘original formula.’ Oh, but this one is organic. Oh, but what is a favorite? What would my daughter like?” And on and on. 

This problem is the topic of another amazing book called The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz, which speaks about how abundance of choice can be a negative thing. When we’re faced with nearly unlimited options, it can make us doubt our decision before we’ve even made one. 

Our brains, by evolution, are wired to preserve energy. Because of that, most of our lives, we are living on autopilot. We are guided by our self-awareness and intentionality.

That is just human nature; it's how we're wired. There are habits that we have and autopilots that we have that are serving us, and that is wonderful—imagine you get up in the morning and you brush your teeth, you are not thinking about, “Oh, what brush shall I use?” You just do it. 

However, sometimes our autopilot is not serving us very well, and we can use the power of our consciousness to choose; to try to make a change. It's also important to keep in mind that change can be a messy process that usually requires energy and has setbacks because it's just part of the journey. 

So, do we always have a choice? No—we’ve already spoken about how life circumstances can sometimes be out of our control—I spoke in a recent episode about the artificial intelligence disruption and how it's changing our lives. We can’t put the cat back in the bag, so to speak.

But we can choose our responses; how we respond to what is happening. 

If we think about another question, “Does having too many choices become a problem?” Yes. We must also develop and nurture the wisdom to know when to choose and not to choose. When our autopilot is good enough, and when it's time to experiment with something else.

Have you experienced choice overload? How have you chosen your responses in the face of adversity or change?

Be sure to check out my full episode for further insight!