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Episode 15 — The Difference Between Choosing and Deciding

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Choosing or deciding: It’s basically the same thing, right? Wrong. In this episode we will discuss the important distinctions between a choice and a decision, and how to know which one is the appropriate one for any given situation. It actually makes decision-making (and choosing) far easier when you understand the difference.

Hosted by Dr. Nick Oswald featuring Kenneth Vogt of Vera Claritas.

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Intro/Outro (00:08):
This is The Happy Scientist podcast. Each episode is designed to make you more focused, more productive, and more satisfied in the lab. You can find us online at scientist. Your hosts are Kenneth Vogt, founder of the executive coaching firm, Vera Claritas, and Dr. Nick Oswald, PhD, bioscientist and founder Bitesize Bio.

Nick Oswald (00:38):
Hello and welcome to the happy scientist podcast from Bitesize Bio. If you want to become a happier, healthier, and more productive scientist, you are in the right place. I’m Nick Oswald, the founder of and with me, the driving force of this podcast, it’s Kenneth Vogt. I’ve worked with Ken for over seven years now with him as my business mentor and colleague. And I knew that his expertise could help a lot of researchers. And that’s how the happy scientist was born. In these sessions we will hear mostly from Ken on principles that will help shape you for a happier and a more successful career along the way. I’ll pitch in with points from my personal experience as a scientist and from working with Ken. And today, we’ll be talking about the difference between choosing and deciding. So let’s bring in the mind himself. Kenneth, how are you today?

Kenneth Vogt (01:28):
Doing great, Nick, how are you?

Nick Oswald (01:29):
I’m good.

Kenneth Vogt (01:31):
So I wanna, I wanna go straight to the elephant in the room when you listen to that title, the difference between choosing and deciding is, is, are you thinking those are synonyms? They mean exactly the same thing. What could, what is he talking about? Well, this is the thing about, about language. We can use language to communicate, or we can use language to obfuscate. That is the problem with words. They you know, you, Nick could have a meaning for a word and I could have a completely different meaning. So like I give an example of something the two words happy and joyful. Now, some people would say those are, mean the same thing. Now, some people would say, Oh no, they’re completely different. Happiness is based on conditions. Whereas joy is, is doesn’t matter what the conditions are.

Kenneth Vogt (02:28):
And then somebody else’s say, Oh, I agree with that concept completely. Except I use the words in the exact opposite. That is that joy requires conditions and happiness doesn’t. I’m like, man, how are we ever going to communicate with each other with, with the burden of the English language, this, this million word language that,that is its purpose is precision. You know, there’s, there’s over three times as many words as the next biggest language. And, and yet we still have trouble getting things across. So here’s, and I have an answer for you on how to do that. It’s to make an agreement about definitions. Now, I realize you can’t get the whole world to agree on any word, but whoever you’re communicating with, if you can set up, you know, just set a baseline, like, look, we’re all going to agree that when we say this, this is what we mean.

Kenneth Vogt (03:29):
And that’s what we’re going to do today. When it comes to the difference between decisions and choices. And I mean, all of the words we use are this. So there’s decision and choice. There’s decide and choose, you know, the verbs or the, the nouns. We’re gonna lay down a definition for both of these things. And we’re going to point out the difference between them. And we’re going to point out the difference of why it matters. Now, the fact is, is that you’re going through your career and, and you have to make both decisions and choices. There’s there’s, there are things that have to be determined, and that applies to both of these, these concepts. And it’s a big part of your job. And even if you’re not a manager, you are actually responsible for a lot of these, these particular determinations. And cause you know, you are at the very least managing yourself, you know, you’re you’re, you are not a fry cook at McDonald’s.

Kenneth Vogt (04:30):
So there’s, there’s a lot more going on in your world. And I know sometimes you may feel like, I don’t know. I feel like the guide to making fries has got more leeway than me, but it’s not true. You’re cutting your you’re. You’re being too hard on yourself. There’s a lot there that you have to do with this. So let’s break this down. I’m going to start with decisions because decisions are the, the things you encounter the most and decision is what I would call a data-driven activity. So what happens is, you know, you look at the facts that are available to you and then based on processing those facts, you determine the best thing to do. That’s how you, that’s how you decide you look at the facts. Okay? I want to make breakfast. But we don’t have any eggs, but we do have milk and we have Cheerios.

Kenneth Vogt (05:31):
Okay. I guess I’ll have cereal. That’s a decision. You look at the facts and, and said, well, you know, I can’t make bacon and eggs. Since I don’t have any eggs. So I guess I’ll have cereal. So what’s happened here in this setting is the data is in charge. In other words, if you looked at that data, we have no eggs. We have milk and cereal. I’m having eggs. That that would look like a crackpot decision. So you wouldn’t be allowed to make that decision. Cause because when it comes to deciding you’re not actually in charge, that could be a little disturbing when you first realize it. When you realize it’s, it’s the data that’s in charge. Because what if you don’t have good data? What if you don’t have enough data? What if the data you have isn’t appropriate to the decision you need to make?

Kenneth Vogt (06:30):
You know, it, it can get pretty messy. So what if it was just, I told you we didn’t have any eggs. And I told you we have milk and cereal. And so you make your decision, but actually we do have eggs. Oh wow. You would have preferred to have eggs, but you didn’t have the correct information. What if I deliberately deceive you because I wanted to have the eggs and I didn’t want you to have them. So I did. I told you there weren’t any eggs. Well, now you’ve made a decision that really went against your own desires and, and you got manipulated by somebody at the same time. What if I came to you and I told you we have lunch meat and we have pork chops. What do you want for breakfast? And you’re like, wow, I don’t do either of those for breakfast.

Kenneth Vogt (07:25):
I don’t know, you know, okay. I gave you data, but it wasn’t, it didn’t help you with your decision. And now, now you seem incapable of making a decision because you don’t have enough data. So how do you get yourself out of that situation? Well, if you want to make good decisions, you’re going to gather data. You’re gonna, you’re gonna, and you’re gonna validate that data. You’re gonna make sure it’s useful. It’s going to be, get out of my way. I’ll look in the fridge, myself, eggs, you know, you know, so now, you know, what’s what, and you can make a better decision. So I will ask you, Nick does all that makes sense to you in regards to decisions,

Nick Oswald (08:08):
It does make sense. And this is a thing that, you know, you’ve talked to, we’ve talked a lot about. And I do trip. I do find it quite dense, but it’s very useful once you get your head around it. So I would just encourage people to listen on and, and let this sink in because it’s a really useful distinction.

Kenneth Vogt (08:29):
Yeah. And I, and I wanna, I, something I really want to do, I want to have you nervous about this notion that when it comes to making decisions, you’re not in charge the the data’s in charge. You thought you were making decisions, but you’re not because you’d look like an idiot. If you ignored the data and then made a decision that went against what the data recommends right now, I know you’ve all been in situations like this, where you’ve, you’ve been engaged in, you know, doing experiments and you’ve gotten data and it just feels wrong. You feel like I’ve really should be drawing a different conclusion here. It doesn’t, it doesn’t make sense to make the decision that is being demanded by this data. And whether that’s happening to you in the lab, or that’s happened to you in other, in a broader life, it’s happened to all of us.

Kenneth Vogt (09:26):
We’ve had this, just this nagging notion that this isn’t right. Well, here’s what you were, what you were aching to do at that point. You are, you were aching to make a choice. Now choice is different than a decision in its outcome and its process. It’s not different than its environment though, because just like with decisions, there’s data available and it makes you to go get it. So he goes, when you’re making a choice, well, what do you need? You need to know what your options are. So, because when it comes down to making a choice, you choose between your options. So you have to know what the options are. No options of course are not all equal. Sometimes some options are done right? Odious. And you’re like, wow, I know that’s an option, but I sure don’t want to go that way. Other times there are options that are just compelling.

Kenneth Vogt (10:30):
They just, they’re just, just trying to vamp you. They’re calling your name. They want you, you know, choices can be very emotional choices. Aren’t based on the data. It doesn’t. And and when it comes to your options, even though some options are more compelling than others, some are stronger and some are weaker. The thing about options is if it’s an option it’s available. So, you know, you’ve made a choice when you chose among your options, when somebody asks you, why did you do that? If you start telling them all the data, well, then you made a decision.

Kenneth Vogt (11:16):
But if it was actually a choice, the only answer to that, because I could, you know, why on earth that you do that? Cause I could, it was one of my options. I’ve heard this described this. Someone approaches you with two bowls of ice cream, one chocolate and one vanilla, and they hold it out in front of you. And they say vanilla or chocolate choose, and you go, okay, I’ll take chocolate. And they go, why? And if you launch into, because I like chocolate because my mom always had chocolate because chocolate is better. It’s like, okay, you didn’t choose. You made a decision, vanilla, chocolate, choose I’ll have vanilla. Why? Because I can, that’s it. That’s the difference between a choice and a decision. So clear as mud Nick.

Nick Oswald (12:23):
Yeah. And so I guess that the, the, what this whole thing is driving is that sometimes it’s important to know that sometimes what you’re making, you know, you start off with, as I tend to still think, even though that I have this distinction, but that a choice, and a decision is the same thing. And sometimes you agonize over a choice. Even though, you know, or sometimes it seems like when you’re trying to make a choice that it’s difficult to do

Kenneth Vogt (12:55):
Well, right? Because that’s the beauty of decisions. Like I can rest on the data with the choice, because it’s so open, Holy cow, there’s nothing to grab on to. It’s not, yeah. It’s not A plus eight plus B equals C. We’re done.

Nick Oswald (13:12):
I know that can work the other way around though that you’re trying to make a database decision on something, which is just a choice and that can take, take a long time.

Kenneth Vogt (13:25):
Sure. And by the way, it costs you to make a poor choice. Yeah. So yeah, the whole idea here then is that, how are we going to do this? When I first discovered this concept, I was a hardcore decision maker and I was good at it. And you know, I’m a, I’m a computer scientist by background. I love data. I, you know, I liked that there is a computed answer. That was, that was perfect for me. And then I re then I was shown this possibility, that of choices. And I thought, wow, this is when I finally got it. I was like, this is far superior. I’m no longer shackled to the data I can, I can, now I can expand everything. I can create anything, anything is possible. And I wanted to switch over to all choices and I thought choices were superior to decisions, but they’re not then neither the inferior, but there’s a time when a choice is appropriate and there’s a time when a desire or when a decision is appropriate. So the question then is how do you know, is it choice time or is it decision time?

Kenneth Vogt (14:43):
So let me lay, lay down some framework for that. You really shouldn’t make a lot of choices, not relative to decisions, decisions. There should be a zillion decisions every day. And most of them are pretty easy and your decision making apparatus is going to be easier if you’ve made good choices prior to that. So let me give you an example. If you’ve made the choice to eat healthy well, based on that choice, the decisions about what food you bring into the house are pretty easy. You know, you pick up that, that large bag of, of, you know, chili, corn chips, and you look at it and go, yeah, I already made the choice to eat healthy. I don’t need to think about this too hard. And or you pick up the broccoli and it’s easy. You know, you know what to do now. Now your decisions are simpler. Whereas before you went to the grocery store and like, I don’t know how to decide, should I decide based on what what’s healthy, should I decide to buy what’s tasty? Shouldn’t decide about what makes me feel good, should i decide about what grandma used to give me, you know, what’s it going to be? So your choice actually narrowed the field for you so that you could look at a more appropriate set of data when it comes to decision making time.

Nick Oswald (16:11):
Yeah. So, so that’s a really important distinction there straight away, you know, give yourself that point of first, get clear on what’s the difference between a choice and decision decision is based on data choices, what you feel and.

Kenneth Vogt (16:26):

Nick Oswald (16:26):
But that distinction that that you should make more decisions than choices is really useful rule of thumb. I think

Kenneth Vogt (16:36):
Yeah, I do too. And you know what this also does is it doesn’t get, it can be a burden making choices all the time, because the problem with that is that you’re, re-examining things every time do I still want to be healthy? Do I still want to be healthy? Do I still want to be healthy? You’re not. If you’re constantly revisiting that choice, it can be pretty stressful.

Nick Oswald (17:00):
Well, that’s cool. Yeah. Do I want to run today or do I need to run today? Yes, you do. If it’s on the schedule, that’s keeping you healthy. You do. So the data says yes or it doesn’t matter how you feel. It’s it’s that the data says go. So the decision is go right.

Kenneth Vogt (17:17):
And, and, and you think about how much time and energy you waste making choices again, when you should just be making a decision and it will be an easy decision. Yeah. Running’s on the calendar done. I go, whereas if it’s choice time, now I gotta do this. Like, do I feel like it? How much good will I get out of that? Is this a day I could take off? Could this be the cheat day I’ve been hoping for, you know, all that stuff that would be surround surrounding making a choice, you know, don’t make a choice, then you’ve made your choice. And the other thing about choices, choices are commitments and commitments are really good things. Now, a lot of people are afraid of commitment, but commitments, they take a lot of pressure off you. They, they put some structure around things and they, they allow you to have all that time back where that you would have been wasting, reconsidering the same things over and over and over again.

Kenneth Vogt (18:19):
Once you’ve decided that I’m sorry, once you’ve chosen that one thing it’s done, you don’t have to worry about it. Now. I’m not saying that you can never reverse a choice. You can. I mean, there may be times in your life when you decided it’s time to make that very important step of reversing a choice, you know, maybe you’ve decided I’m not having any children. And then 10 years into your marriage, you look into your wife’s eyes and go, you know what? I think we can do this, you know, all right, fuck. You make a new choice. But that shouldn’t happen that often you shouldn’t be making new choices all the time. You know, especially if it’s altering a past choice. So, you know, we’ve talked to here then about how choices will inform your decisions because they create a structure, but it also works in reverse that decision support your choices.

Kenneth Vogt (19:15):
So when, when you decide to once again, show up for work on time, it, it, it helps your career, you know, and that’s why you chose. That’s why you made that choice. You know, I’m going to be reliable and, and I’m going to be somebody they can count on at the office. And now, now there you are being that person and continually making small decisions along the way that are now supporting that one choice you made and you look down the road and you realize when I chose to be reliable, when I chose to be professional, when I chose to be the person who will put his hand up, when they’re looking for volunteers, when I chose to take protocol seriously, when I chose to be an example to to, a younger subordinates, when I chose to be a mentor, to younger subordinates, all of those things are feeding in to a career that’s going to expand, and that you’re going to be far more satisfied with and enjoying more. So I’ve left Nick dumbfounded back there.

Nick Oswald (20:27):
I’m just in agreement, everything you say. I mean, I think that again, just, just opening your eyes up to the fact that there’s a distinction between these two things is is highly useful and getting used to what the distinction is.

Kenneth Vogt (20:45):
So then yeah. Okay. Go. Yeah.

Nick Oswald (20:48):
And then, and then applying it so that you, you know, you realize that again for me, it’s that you see that you’re making that you waste so much energy making choices that are actually decisions. So they should be set in stone because they’re fixed, you know, a decision should be fixed based on what is right and wrong based on the data and keep continuing to revisit those things causes all sorts of problems.

Kenneth Vogt (21:17):
For sure. So here’s something you can do. You’ve already been making choices and decisions in your life is you can do a little postmortem on this and look at things and say, was that a decision or was that a choice? And then you’ll start to recognize the difference. And this is, this is something that, that we’ll probably bring up periodically, but it is very, very important that you learn experientially, not just intellectually. I know you’re listening to us talk right now, and you might be going along and agreeing with us or not agreeing with us and drawing your own conclusions and all that’s fine, but experiencing it is going to be a whole different game. So when you look at things that you’ve already done, when you look at circumstances and you say, wow, was that a choice or that decision, you’re going to learn something from that, that, that I can’t teach you by words.

Kenneth Vogt (22:14):
And Nick can’t teach you by words, you’re going to have the experience. And if you’ve already had an experience, it would be a shame for you not to have learned from it. So look back, but then take this forward then too, and realize in any given moment, is it time for a decision or is it time for a choice? So, you know, and you can look at it from two standpoints, like, is this the time to do this or not? The, or not as important? Yeah. Is this a bad time to make a decision? Is this a bad time to make a choice? You’ll see stuff like that too. Sometimes that’s the more important question. So, so for instance, when, when your, when, when your commitment to your boyfriend is in question now, and you’re thinking, do I want to, do I want to play around with this other person?

Kenneth Vogt (23:15):
That’s not a good choice to make right now, you’ve already had a commitment. You know, we’ve got to get it end a commitment and then move on to another commitment. That’s fine. But this is, this is how we get into trouble. This is, this is how we suffer. We, we make choices at an inappropriate time decisions. When you make a decision at an inappropriate time, it was what it ends up being is just a poorly executed choice. But when you make choices at a bad time, it can be really bad. And you can, I mean, you can make career altering career ending choices probably can’t make a career ending decision. You know, there’s going to be some data there. So it’s going to tend to steer you in the right direction.

Nick Oswald (24:02):
Yeah. I mean, again, as a, as someone who’s kind of struggled to get to grips with this, I really like the idea of what you’re describing it as of the experiential aspect of the learning of this is really just pay attention to to when you’re making decisions, when you’re coming to cross crossroad points and pay attention to whether what you’re doing is making a decision. And whether you make a choice, whether or whether you’re making a choice and figure out what’s appropriate and then amend. And if it isn’t, and it’s, this is kind of a thing that you have to settle into, rather than that, you can just, for me, I have to listen to this about 10 times before this starts to sink in, but most, most usefully it’s something to just go in and sink into everyday life, just apply it. And then it will start to become more second nature.

Kenneth Vogt (24:59):
Right? I want to point this point out something to that that ties into our, our last episode. Just talking about scientists who are asking questions, it, what, what you can do here is you’re, you’re in an environment where you’re being told to make decisions all day long, but every once in a while, if you can broaden your, your perspective a bit and make a choice, that’s where discovery is. That’s where the asking of questions can be. So that that’s, that’s what allows you to break out and, and look at things in a, in a broader sense. It’s, it’s a great opportunity for you. So you, you’ve probably gone along and at this point in your career, if you’ve made it this far, that you know, you’re a PhD bioscientist and you’re working in a lab, I’m certain, you’re a good decision maker. You couldn’t have got there.

Kenneth Vogt (26:00):
If you hadn’t gotten good at that. And you got good at that by experiencing it. So now I’m suggesting to you is start examining being a chooser, start, making more choices, look at, look for opportunities to make choices. And you’d be surprised how many you will find in the, in the, you know, the smallest of places. I’m not talking about necessarily choices that are going to change everything about your life or your work. But there are going to be times when you’re going, you know, I’ve always done it this way. What if I chose to do it a different way now, sometimes you’ll do that and you go, Oh yeah, I see why I’ve always done it the other way. It was superior that way, but you’ll learn something from that. And every once in a while you realize, Oh, there’s a new opportunity here.

Kenneth Vogt (26:46):
Yes, this is a little less precise, but it creates this opening of opportunity. So, you know, give yourself that, that opportunity, that, that chance of doing something more than just following the rules and checking the boxes. Cause you know, that’s all, that’s all great decision making, but when you make choices, that’s when you change things, that’s, that’s when you expand things. So I want to wrap up on one big question at the end of the day. Now I’m, I’m, I’m offering this notion to you to make more choices in your life, as opposed to decisions in the past. If you ever had to explain the decision you’ve made, if you’re good at decision-making, you will likely have no trouble with that because you made your decision based on data and you’ve got the data, but how do you explain a choice?

Kenneth Vogt (27:49):
Because it’s not always so explainable and it might be more intuitive, you know? It’s like, it felt like the right thing to do and be like, wow, really? You’re going to tell me it felt right. It was among your options. That’s your answer. And yeah. And here it is, it is your answer. What it comes down to then are you going to have some confidence that you can make good choices? It’s a, it’s almost like a bad joke in raising children, or you tell our kids make good choices, you know, make good choices today. And we tell them to do that all the time. Well, and then we become adults. And especially if we become professionals with a capital P we stop making choices, but go back to making choices and go back. And if you have, if you give yourself some experience with it, you’re going to build your confidence.

Kenneth Vogt (28:46):
And you’re going to know, I don’t have chapter and verse to read to you about this, but I know what’s right. And that’s why I chose this. And after a while, when people see that and he see that one, you’re confident, but two, your choices work out. Cause they tend to, your choices will tend to work out. If you’ve put in the work to get the experience. And again, that’s not that hard to find data, look around you at successful people. And you’re going to find that they do far more than make decisions. They make a lot of choices. So the, if you want to be more successful, make more choices and fewer decisions still make good decisions, but get choices in the mixed and, and it’s going to improve your career.

Nick Oswald (29:37):
Yeah. I just realized that I got it wrong. The earlier, earlier on, when I said you should

Nick Oswald (29:42):
Be making more decisions and choices, that was the wrong way round.

Kenneth Vogt (29:45):
No, no, no. That’s, that’s correct. It’s because mostly they’re not as important. There’s a bunch of, there’s a zillion little decisions to make.

Nick Oswald (29:51):
I think you should make a little thing that says a little flashcard type thing that shows what defines a choice and defines a decision. And we can put it in the show notes. What do you think?

Kenneth Vogt (30:06):
I believe I’ve been tasked. I accept this. I accept this mission.

Nick Oswald (30:12):
I’m seeing that because I want to print it out and put it in front of my desk so that it just sinks in once. And for all,

Kenneth Vogt (30:18):
I think that’s a great idea. Well, we’ll come up with some kind of infographic on, on choices versus decisions that that’ll help, you know, which is which, and what’s appropriate for the moment. But I know you can do this folks gotten good at decision making. I know that for certain, if you’re listening to this podcast, I already know you’re a good decision maker. So now let’s get you to be a good chooser too, and you can take it up a notch.

Nick Oswald (30:43):
Excellent. Okay. I think that’s a great place to wrap up Ken.

Kenneth Vogt (30:46):

Nick Oswald (30:47):
I don’t think I really have much to add, but again, this is, this is a very much a topic that I feel, although, again, as I said, we’ve been talking about it for a number of years. It’s just one of these things that I just have to keep revisiting to get my, my head around. So that was more of an education than a contribution.

Kenneth Vogt (31:07):
Nick, Nick is too modest folks. He’s living. He is living this experience. He makes choices all the time. I promise you

Nick Oswald (31:15):
Probably subconsciously or not consciously, but yeah. Okay. I can definitely room for improvement there. I can tell for myself. So anyway, we will wrap up there and I just want to see before we go, a few things if you have enjoyed this, please do a few different things. One if you want to find the the show notes, which describe in which in this case, you’ll find the description that the visual of what’s the difference between a choice and a decision that Ken is going to make. We’ll drop that into the show notes, which you can find on bitesizebio.Com/Thehappyscientist go to episode 15, which is this one and look into the show notes section, and you will find the link in there. Also if you find this stuff useful, please go back. If you haven’t done so already and listen to episodes one to nine, and there we talk about the foundational principles of human needs, core mindsets, and charisma factors, which we refer to in this and other episodes.

Nick Oswald (32:21):
And really from personal experience, I can see that absorbing that material will change your outlook on life for the better and, and give you a leg up. And then if you want to start applying the stuff that we talk about in these episodes, we can help you to do that at, in the, in the Facebook group for this this project, which is all one word. If you sign up there, we will be dishing exercises and different perspectives and more granular perspectives on the on the topics that we’ve been talking about here, so that you can take action towards implementing some of this stuff in your life. And so thanks again, Ken, for another great episode.

Kenneth Vogt (33:07):
Thank you, Nick.

Nick Oswald (33:08):
And we’ll see you all again, next time.

New Speaker (33:11):
Alright, bye now.

Intro/Outro (33:18):
The happy scientist is brought to you by bitesize bio, your mentor in the lab. Bitesize Bio features, thousands of articles and webinars contributed by hundreds of PhD, scientists and scientific companies who freely offer their hard, won wisdom and solutions to the Bitesize Bio community.

Hosted by Dr. Nick Oswald featuring Kenneth Vogt of Vera Claritas.

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