What kind of person makes this choice?

It’s not always easy to act in a way that is consistent with who we want to be.

Competing demands often make simple choices impossible. Nothing is cut and dried and everything seems like a compromise ethically, financially or morally.

When it looks like there are no good options, it can be helpful to consider each one in turn and ask “what kind of person makes this choice”?

The answers which come back will give clues as to the motivations which can drive that decision, not all of which might have been otherwise apparent.

Our own decision making processes are often hidden from us and can often be deeply influenced by our own fears and biases.

Asking “what kind of person makes this choice?” shines some light on the what’s driving our choices. It can then allow us to manually override any hidden drivers and make decisions and choices which we reflect the best of who we are.

Not making a choice is still a choice

Not making a choice is a vote for the status quo – it reinforces existing structures.

Not making a choice transfers both the burden and the power of that decision to others – and they may not thank you for it.

Not making a choice invites circumstances to dictate your future options.

Not making a choice should be a deliberate decision, or avoided entirely – it should neither be the default, nor an accident.

Not making a choice is often the worst choice of all.

0.5 in a world of 1s and 0s

binary code by Christiaan Colen

We’re hardwired for binary discrimination and judgment.

Yes / No

On / Off

Good / Bad

In group / Out group

It’s a fast way of operating, but it’s often not helpful in complex, social situations.

We live in a world of nuance but that’s not what’s baked in to our default operating system. So it’s time for an upgrade – or at least a patch.

If we were to think of all the points on a line, most of the available positions are not at the ends, but at somewhere on the continuum.

2points_vs_infinitePoints

If we plot that same line against a second criteria and graph the distribution of values, we get another line, but in this case, the points are likely to bunch up in certain places. Think about the bell curve or the power-law curve.

BellCurve_PowerLawCurve

The natural world gives us distributions and nuance, but we immediately try to put it into binary categories. Tall & short. Young & old.

It’s worth remembering the all the available points on the continuum when deciding how we want to think and act. The most advantageous positions are usually not at the extremes, but somewhere in the middle.

Assertiveness is on the continuum between submission and dominance. It’s somewhere in the middle and in most contexts, it’s overwhelmingly more valuable than either of the other two.

We have the urge to see the world as black and white, but in reality it’s a million shades of grey (here in London, it’s literally grey).

There will be cases where the answer lays at one of the extremes. There will be times when the only rational options are two, mutually exclusive points of view. But those times are rare – and often they will not be the yield the superior position.

In a world of 1s and 0s, don’t be afraid to be a 0.5.

Remember to skin your cats!

cat_by_Mohamed_Aymen_Bettaieb

We each have millions of cats in our lives and a similar number of ways to skin them.

When do you wake up? That’s a cat.

Do you eat meat? That’s a cat.

Do you have a fourth beer on a Thursday night? That’s a cat.

It’s easy for us to forget that each of these cats is a choice we get to make.

The reason it’s easy to overlook is that we’ve long since outsourced most routine choices to established patterns of behaviour.

In order to avoid choice overload every moment, we rely on habits, patterns and behaviours that we’ve formed in the past to ease the cognitive load as we go about our day.

Unfortunately for us, we form habits in the same way that evolution picks survivors – it doesn’t optimise for what is the best, it settles for what is the least shitty option that’s come so far.

We figure out what works just enough to survive and we run with that.

It’s a great system in one way: it allows us to function across a broad spectrum of activities without getting lost in the detail. But it also means that we can be stuck with mediocre or even bad choices for a long time if we don’t remember to review our automatic behaviours and check that they still work for us.

I’m not saying we don’t want or need habits – they’re vital to our productivity – I’m just saying that we should be aware of them, check them and update them if necessary.

There are cats we’re still flaying by hand, despite the fact that we’re now the proud owners of the Skin-o-matic 6000TM

The trick is recognising the choices we’ve long since forgotten to make. They can be well camouflaged, and many will be rusted into a single position, taking time and attention to unjam.

You might not want to change what you eat, why you respond to stress or how you skin a cat, but if you do – you’ll need to keep your eyes open.

Changing our choices and behaviours isn’t the work of a moment, but can be one of the most rewarding projects there is.

*No cats were harmed in the writing of this post (but I’m obviously a dog person)