Are You a Chooser or a Decider?
From Sam Page: Do you know the difference between making a choice vs. making a decision? I’ve learned that language choices have a big impact on our lives! I asked Dr. Justin Wyatt, my friend and client, to explore and share his personal discovery.
Coach Sam asked me to contemplate the difference between decisions and choices in light of my failure to workout last Wednesday. He posed the question as if any functioning human being would immediately understand the distinction between the terms, apply them sensibly to the current situation, and extrapolate to future events in a knowing and enlightened fashion.
To be truthful, I thought they were more or less the same — perhaps with the caveat that decision-making leads to choice (although, I feel really that you could just as easily say that choice-making leads to a decision).
My hunt through the online research archives reveals that there are, in fact, key differences between “decision” and “choice.” According to one social-science way of thinking, “choice” is a positive framework, where we are actively choosing between various alternatives. “Decision” is an end point — there are no longer alternatives facing us, we’ve made and settled on a decision. So, to recap, when we analyze situations as “choices” to be made, we’re empowering and seeing all the alternatives in front of us. When we look at a decision, it’s basically “the end of the line.” We have to live with the decision and soldier on.
In reflecting on Sam’s question, I now see that this distinction is helpful, but it’s a little perplexing too. For instance, consider the classic William Styron novel and Meryl Streep melodrama, Sophie’s Choice. (spoiler alert: I’m going to talk about her choice) In the most chilling memory recounted in the story, Sophie recalls her arrival at Auschwitz when she was forced to choose which one of her two children would be gassed and which would go to the labor camp. I’m kind of thinking that Styron should have called his book, Sophie’s Decision, since her choice, willful and active, hardly seems like it would yield joy and enlightenment. But, hold on — that’s just a surface reading. Remembering the full story: if Sophie did not choose one of her children, both would be killed. So, ultimately, Sophie’s choice, even though it was heart-breaking, saved one of her children. Choice still wins out—even in a very adverse situation.
Back to last Wednesday night. When I arrived at my car and saw my gym bag, I could have chosen to go upstairs to the gym and workout — or go home and enjoy a nourishing meal. You’re probably saying, ‘Couldn’t you have worked out, and then had dinner?’ That’s probably true. So, a more accurate assessment of the situation is really: “workout” or “no workout.”
As you might have guessed from the start of this story, I didn’t choose to workout. Does this matter? Does my choice have an impact? I think the answer must be separated into the short run vs. long run. In the short run, I was perfectly happy to veg out watching reality TV, eat a delicious dinner (hamburger pasta!) and be slothful. This has been my comfort zone for most of my adult life. It’s definitely generational: I had watched my own father come home and rest after work, with activity at a virtual standstill. While I’m not a clone of my dad, I certainly realize that I see non-work hours as a reward for working, and a reward that has slid into laziness and bad habits.
I’m learning that the long term consequences of these actions may be huge. As Dr. Brett Dolezal commented on Rosie’s O’Donnell’s recent heart attack, “Poor lifestyle choices and habits increase ones risk of these cardiac events. Like she stated, she’s lucky to have survived this.”
Am I chained by poor lifestyle choices: inadequate exercise, indulgent diet, unchecked stress/anxiety? I certainly have been, but with guidance and effort, I’ve been able to make some positive changes. Last Wednesday night reminded me that the struggle is ongoing. And that the comfortable choice is not always the best choice — especially in the long run. My goal is to keep the long run firmly in focus and not be tempted by the pleasures of short term relaxation and non-exercise. I’m hoping that through my training and nutrition changes, I’ll be able to create a road ahead for many years that truly reflects my joy and enthusiasm for the gifts that every day gives me. Now that’s a choice for change I can embrace!
Dr. Justin Wyatt is Vice President, Primary Research for NBCUniversal. He is a specialist in qualitative and quantitative media research, and has worked on the client side (ABC TV Network) and supplier side (Frank N. Magid Associates, Hypothesis Group) of the media research business. Prior to 2001, Wyatt was a tenured professor of Media Arts at the University of Arizona. He is the author of High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood and co-editor of American Independent Cinema: From the Margins to the Mainstream.