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Don’t Limit Your Options

Do you limit your options when you don’t have to?

I was walking with a friend the other day talking about a career decision.

After explaining the situation, he turned to me and said, “I basically have two options.” He then proceeded to explain his two options and why he didn’t like either one.

His problem: assuming he had only two options.

When faced with complex decisions, we seek to simply them by defining them as a choice between a limited set of options. As long as one option clearly stands out as the winner, this works. But when none of the options look good, we forget that other options exist. Not exploring other options can cause us to make poor decisions.

How can you improve the situation?

1. Recognize Flexible Option Scenarios

Learn to identify when flexibility exists in your options.

In a limited option scenario, you must pick from a fixed set of options. If you’re at the store buying jam, you’re limited to the flavors they sell.

In a flexible option scenario, you get to choose how you define your options. When deciding on a career change, a response to difficult situation or what to do this weekend, you have control.

Ask yourself what type of decision you are making.

2. Expand Your Options

If you have a great option, take it. But if you don’t, expand your options.

Consider variants of your existing options. Deciding whether to go back to school or take another job? Your variants might be what schools you attend, the subjects you might major in or what jobs to apply for next.

Combine options. Want more schooling and a different job? Make doing both an option. Use your creativity to come up with an option that combines multiple other options.

Explore extreme options. What about quitting your job and just traveling? What would need to be able to do this? Use options which seem extreme to you to brainstorm other viable alternatives. Think through these extreme options to help you challenge assumptions that might be limiting you with your existing options.

3. Delay Organizing Your Options

Avoid creating an organized list of your options until you’ve had time to brainstorm. Settling on a fixed set of options too soon can stop you from seeing other options that might be viable.

Instead, write down ideas of options without evaluating or organizing them.

Brainstorm, organize, then evaluate.

Return to brainstorming whenever you hit a wall evaluating your options.

4. Get an Outside Perspective

Talk to a friend, colleague or peer.

Once we decide on a set of options, it becomes harder to see alternatives. Find someone you can explain your situation to and have them ask you questions and propose alternatives you might have missed.

Don’t dismiss alternatives prematurely. If you decide an alternative won’t work, ask why it won’t work. Use the dialogue to explore your own assumptions. Too often we ignore alternatives proposed by others because we hold incorrect or outdated assumptions.

In the end, when you are having trouble making a decision among multiple options, expanding your options can often be a better approach than spending more time analyzing the options you do have.

What decisions have you made where you limited your options prematurely?

Credits: The photo used in this article was taken by Sean Vadilfari.


  1. Annemiek den Hollander says

    Nice post about how to expand your options. Some useful and practical info there, thanks!

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