Josh Killam, LPC
Humans are decision-making machines. You will make decisions daily regardless big or small. Generally, our decisions are minor and include what to have for breakfast, what clothes to wear for the day, or simply the choice to listen to music or a podcast on your way to work. From moment to moment, decisions like these feel small and insignificant to the rest of our lives. However, decisions, some more than others, are the building blocks of your life. For example, if you listen to a podcast on your way to work, you might get lost in one of the podcast's topics. Before you know it, you're talking with a colleague about it or googling to find out more. All the while, you excluded listening to your favorite band, which might have led you to look at your favorite band's tour dates only to realize they are coming to town. Voila! Tickets purchased.
Decisions are more than just saying yes to something. They not only make a choice but also say no to everything else. For example, when you decide to have toast for breakfast, you say no to eggs, bacon, or oatmeal. For the most part, our brains register these choices unconsciously. There is too much information to process at any one time, so our brains have become good at prioritizing decisions on autopilot. Although we are unaware of the unconscious processes of making choices in the background, we experience them on an embodied level. Read, we experience the consequences of our choices. Meaning we often can feel the decisions we have made with our emotions. A brief example is if my usual routine is to put sugar in my coffee, but I decided to stop eating sugar. I will feel guilty later in the day because I had sugar after I committed to getting off sugar, even if I did not consciously choose the sugar.
Generally, you will not have an emotional response in your body to choosing bacon and eggs over oatmeal unless breakfast is deeply meaningful to you. The important decisions that come to mind are, for example, those we make when choosing a partner. When you commit to a partner, you are not just saying yes to them but choosing to say no to everyone else. But, again, this is not often something we give thought to because it would be too much to process at once. Going through the list of the 3 billion people you are saying no to. But if you are someone who might have an unconscious emotional reaction to "excluding other options," it's an important idiom to keep in mind that "decisions exclude."
Understanding how you react to decisions will be different for everyone. We all respond differently to the decisions we make in life. Be mindful that your choices are often not simply empty choices in the moment but may have a more profound impact on your life and others. We have all felt a sense of regret; it could be helpful to consider what you say no to. Remember, we make thousands of daily decisions that have minimal impact on our nervous systems. However, every once in a while, it is crucial to be mindful of how you feel about the alternatives.
*Picture of "The Thinker" Statue by Auguste Rodin