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Choice vs. Decision


Explanations > Decisions > Choice vs. Decision

Choice | Decision | So what


What is the difference between decision and choice? When you think about it, are they the same thing? In practice, although we often use the words interchangeably, it depends on how you define the words.


Life may be likened to a path. We walk along the pathway of our lives, doing what we do. And sometimes we come to a fork in the path, where we must choose which way to go. Sometimes these choices are minor, for example whether to have a cup of coffee or tea. Minor choices do not really affect our lives much as we continue on the major route. Other choices are major and life-changing, such as what career we will follow.

Choice, then, is selection from alternatives.

This means we must see the alternatives from which we can choose. Sometimes these are obvious but often they are not and the path we walk can have a significant random element. Being alert and able to see the choices we have is a critical ability for living deliberately.

Choosing is the process of selection. Classically, we weigh up each option, considering pros and cons. We then select the most advantageous option. In practice we are limited by time and the linear nature of conscious thought, so we leave a lot to our unconscious minds, which use intuition, rules of thumb, habit and so on. We seldom have complete information and may have to guess. We may also copy others or be swayed by their arguments.


Decision is a more general term that does not imply the existence of alternatives. It is driven more by needs, goals and problems than by simply encountering a set of choices.

Decision is a process that can vary depending on the situation.

  • Decision is the same as choice when it is 'deciding between' pre-existing or provided alternatives.
  • Decision can be a part of choice when choosing is not simple, for example where deeper consideration is needed in deciding whether to marry a person or not.
  • Decision can be generative when it creates alternatives from which to choose, such as when someone investigates different towns and houses as they decide on where to live.
  • Decision can be predictive, such as when we 'decide if' it will rain. While this still includes the choice between rain and other weather states, the process of forecasting is more than a simple choice.
  • Decision can also be evaluative, for example where we 'decide how' friendly a person is. Choice here is less distinct, although we may subsequently choose to ignore the person or to spend more time with them.
  • Decision can be more about direction than selection, such as when a person decides to travel more, thus setting up a new vista of holiday choices.
  • Decision can be slow, for example when a person mulls over their life so far, wondering who the want to be. It can also be fast, such as in the quick decisions of racing driver.

So what?

Distinguish between choices and decisions as they can be quite different. If you want someone to choose, this implies you have already decided. If you want them to decide, you probably want them to identify their own set of alternatives.

See the choices you and others have, working to clarify and ease these. Choice is important in changing minds and offering limited alternatives is a common method in persuasion and sales. If you can offer choices where all options are good for you, then you will meet your goals. An alternative is to offer a 'forced choice' where there is only one sensible option.

You can also facilitate the decisions of others, revealing problems to them, helping them understand and build choices.

See also

Easy Decisions


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