The Chains that Come with the Freedom of Choice – Transferring Struggles


Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by James Elliot, International President.

It’s that time of the year for me. I am frantically writing essays; updating my CV and resume (which I should have done months ago); filling out my FASFA; hunting down advisors and instructors for recommendation letters; and nervously thinking about all the options I have. In my head, I try to imagine all of the scenarios, and how I will handle each outcome emotionally. What happens if I don’t get into my university of choice? I go crazy thinking about all the outcomes, the highs and lows have been real. Each day I wake up thinking something new. The truth is I care, and I want to make the right decision for myself and my future.

I was listening to an NPR segment called Hidden Brain on the day they had Dr. Daniel Gilbert a Harvard psychologist on the show. He explained how in today’s society we believe that the ability to choose equates to freedom and, thus, happiness. The more choices we have, the more freedom we have, and the happier we are. Well, what if I told you that you were wrong. That in reality having an abundance of choices makes our everyday decisions harder.

Gilbert has been studying how people make predictions about future events—in particular our feelings about these future events. What he found was that having multiple choices causes a person to never fully feel satisfied with the decisions they make. After the decision is made, we dwell on the “what if’s,”causing us to regret the decision we made. Gilbert isn’t the only one that holds this belief. I researched choices further and found a Ted Talk by Barry Schwartz called the “Paradox of Choices.” In it, Schwartz explains how having too many options can paralyze us, as well as, cause us to regret the decisions we make. Both psychologist had me figured out! This was exactly how I was feeling trying to decide where I was going to transfer.

After listening to them, I was convinced I was doomed. There were just too many transfer options, and I was paralyzed to make a decision and scared that I would regret it once I did. So, I went back online and listened to the Hidden Brain segment one more time, and this time I caught something towards the beginning.

Gilbert explained how our brain is so good at rationalizing our decisions. He said, “our mind finds realistic ways to see the world, so that it feels better about the world it finds itself in.”
That’s when it hit me! What if I told you that you couldn’t lose? I’m spending all this time agonizing about the future that I can’t predict. Humans are the only animal that can learn through our imagination. We will envision a decision, and then make a choice off of that.

That’s a crazy way to make a choice, if you think about. It’s like we are trying to be our own fortune tellers. I had to stop trying to predict my future and start trusting my mind and facts. Gilbert calls this imagination vs. surrogation. He found when making a decision it is more reliable to go off of others advice who have already done what you are trying to do. Even though we are diverse as a human race, we are still very similar. So, I decided to do things like visit the campus, talk to alumni and current students, and meet an advisor on campus. I finally understood that this decision was not going to be made from the comfort of my couch or my desk imagining myself on campuses across the country.

Moving forward, I encourage you to choose surrogation over imagination when trying to make decisions about your future. Our imagination is a wonderful thing, but we never predict it right. Stick to the facts, do your research, and talk to others who have been where you are trying to go. Why imagine when you can know? And lastly, trust your mind’s ability to rationalize your decision once it’s made. Don’t dwell on the “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve.”

For more information on transferring please check out PTK Connect as well as Transfer Edge. These are great opportunities to practice surrogation by getting the opportunity to learn from students who have already transferred to a four-year.

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