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Rutland columnist Allan Grey discusses decision making

It’s still pretty early, nearly 8am, the lovely lady is beside me, and no sooner have I opened my eyes to welcome another lockdown, pre-second vaccination, Groundhog day, than it’s time to make a choice, writes Rutland columnist Allan Grey.

“What would like for dinner tonight Sherpa? Would you like a nice medium rare fillet steak, or possibly teriyaki salmon stir-fry, maybe some succulent belly pork with black pudding or shall we drive through McDonald’s and get a Big Mac, double fries and a Diet Coke?”

Awake for less than two minutes and I have serious choices to make, choices where there is no correct answer.

Variety of tea
Variety of tea

So to give myself time to think, I ask: “Well, what would you like for breakfast my lovely lady, croissants and coffee, cereal and fruit, or the full English?”

“I asked you first….”

“Yes, but breakfast is in the next hour, it’s ages before dinner needs preparing”... and that’s when the day’s choice making begins, and we spend the rest of the day having to make choices, whether we like it or not.

Allan Grey
Allan Grey

If we are to believe it, on average we make anywhere up to 35,000 choices every day, some consciously, many more sub-consciously, from stroking our chin, scratching our ear, picking our nose and deciding with which expletive to respond to that tedious unsolicited phone call from those ambulance chasing lawyers, Chancer, Scam, Conman and Swindle, who have just called you for the fifth time today.

Our 21st Century lifestyle is all about making choices, and if you believe the 35,000 number, then we’re making a choice every two and a half seconds, whether we know it or not. Everything we do requires us to make a choice. How do you like your coffee? Cappucino, machiato, flat white, expresso, small, medium, large, decaffeinated, skinny, wholemilk, extra hot, sprinkles, cream, marshmallows, drink in, take out. No? OK which tea? English breakfast, Earl Grey, Yorkshire?

Driving into town, where to park that Range Rover, at Tesco, round the back of Wilko, Burley Road car park or on the pavement outside Costa, well no real choice there, obviously!

Then there’s a different sort of choice, not one you have to make, but one you have to cater for… light bulbs; I go to the bathroom, and there’s a bulb out. I remove it and it’s a small halogen two pin affair, 240V, 25W, G9, clear. Have I got some in the light bulb storage container that now takes up the bottom half of the garden, because you need a container now, just to ensure you’ve got at least one of each type of light bulb used in your house. Incandescent, flourescent, CFL (compact flourescent), halogen, LED (light emitting diode), warm or cool, bayonet or ES (Edison screw) fitting, GU10, GU15, 30W, 40W, 60W, 100W. How long do you have to stand in front of the lighting section in Wilko to ensure you choose the right bulb? Answer, forever!

If you actually find a minute or two when you foolishly think there are no choices to be made, you might glance at your Facebook notifications, and lo and behold there’s a “friend request” from that doombrain you met on the lighting section in Wilko the day before, whose advice you took and bought the 50W LED ES warm bulb, only to get home, fit it, and find it doesn’t work with your dimmer switch. Well maybe that choice won’t take too long.

For young families there are significant choices to make, not least names for your children, choices that will last their lifetime, so taking some time makes good sense. Having said that, when you’re in the local park and you hear parents calling their children, “Brooklyn, Slayer, Beowulf, Solaris, Moon Unit, Kingmessiah”, you have to wonder how long those choices took, and whether the parents may have been momentarily distracted by their mobile devices, or were hallucinating on some psychoactive substance just prior to meeting the registrar and registering the birth.

At the other end of the age spectrum, maybe we find ourselves engaging with Silver Singles, my current favourite online dating website for the more mature amongst us. Right swiping profiles, there are a myriad of choices to be made in selecting a potential mate - gender, height, hair colour, eye colour, submissive, dominatrix, meat eater, vegan, takes The Guardian, readsThe Sun, likes Mozart, ZZ Top, Napalm Death, follows Leicester Tigers, happy in lycra, owns a Porsche, no studs or tattooes, squeezes the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube, doesn’t ask what you want for dinner at eight o’clock in the morning, is it even possible to find anyone to match your choices?

That’s the daylight hours taken care of. What about the evening? Which gin to have with which tonic? That’s a serious set of choices these days as the gin revolution now offers us every combination of flavours our heart could desire. My current choice is a rhubarb and ginger gin with an Angastura Bark bitter, so this is one of the easier choices of the day, thanks Pippy. Then which series to binge watch next, there’s Homeland on Netflix, London Kills on iPlayer, Top Gear on Amazon Prime, and now the new Line of Duty on BBC, the choice is endless, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to watch them all.

Having too many choices is actually harder than having just a few, like do you want dinner tonight or not? That would be a pretty straightforward choice. In her well-known work, psychologist Solaris Moon Unit Beowulf, calls this “choice paralysis”; she argues that the more options there are, the less likely we are to make a decision we’re going to be happy with, too much choice leads to indecision, or more likely the wrong decision. The human brain simply isn’t designed to process and compare the sheer amount of information it is often given in this real time, integrated, too much information world we currently inhabit.

So my recommendation when you wake up in the morning goes something like this:

Choose gratitude, because life is filled with countless gifts.

Choose happiness, because you can be a source of light for others.

Choose humility, because you aren’t perfect and you never will be.

Choose abundance, because the world is filled with opportunity.

Choose the teriyaki salmon stir fry with egg noodles, because it’s really tasty.

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