The Difference between Choice & Decision


What is the difference between choice and decision? Are they the same thing? In practice, although we often use the words interchangeably, it depends on how you define the words. While mentoring the male teens at New Life Southeast, one of my colleagues explained a transformative concept. He began to explain to the youth the difference between choice and decision, and it led me to recall how I came to know the difference between the two.


Life may be likened to a path. We walk along this pathway doing what we do, sometimes not thinking about the repercussions of the choices that we are making on a daily basis. Life will inevitably bring you to a point where you will be forced to makes choices that will decide the direction in which your life will continue to progress, often considered the “fork in the road.”

These choices can be minor, for example choosing a restaurant for a dinner date with your spouse, or where you and your family choose to go on your yearly vacation. These type of choices are often thought to not really impact one’s life one way or the other. However there will be choices that we will all have to make in our lifetimes that will ultimately alter the course of where the road takes us, good or bad.

When I was 14 years old, I was faced with making one the most important choices of my life. During the end of my eighth grade year, my dean and basketball coach Mr. Masterson said “Walter, you have all the potential in the world, but your friends are going to be your downfall.” At the time I thought he was crazy, and I continued to hang out with my friends. No more than three months later, my friends and I chose to join the freshman football team at the high school that we would all be attending the next year. In between practices one day my friends tried to convince me to quit the football team and go to Knox street to participate in some negative behavior (my first fork in the road). I chose to stay while they decided to leave practice, not realizing what the implications of making this choice would be years later.

Out of my group of eighth grade friends only two of us graduated from high school and I was the only one that attended and ultimately graduated from college. Making the choice to stay at practice gave me the opportunity to realize that I loved the game which pushed me to want to be the best football player that I could be in order to achieve my newfound goal of making it to the National Football League (NFL). The game also taught me a different level of discipline and responsibility that I might not have otherwise learned had I made the decision to quit the team and join my friends on Knox street that day. My passion and drive on and off the field led me to be one of the most sought after football players coming out of Illinois my senior year, and it also enabled me to receive a full scholarship to multiple universities across the nation to continue my education while pursuing my dream of playing football.

Choice, then, is selection from options. This means we have the opportunities to create options from which we can choose. Sometimes these are obvious but often they are not and the path we walk can have a significant effect on our future. Being alert and able to see the choices we have is a critical ability for living life deliberately.


When you analyze the root word of Decision, you get the word decide. From there, you then breakdown the word further, which is DE-CIDE. When I researched what other words end in CIDE, this is what I found:


What do all these words have in common? They are all directly related to a form of death or an end. Decision is a more general term that implies the elimination of options. When you decide to participate in negative things (drugs, not taking your academics seriously, associating with negative people, fighting) or behaviors (uncontrolled anger, apathy, and depression) you are eliminating your choices to live a prosperous and fulfilling life. For people who come from economically-depressed areas, their options are often limited, and so it becomes imperative that they make good choices, so that they can afford themselves the opportunity to choose what they want to get out of their lives.

My goal in life is to get young people understand that they have the power to create options for their lives and it can be life changing. Teenagers have the power at this stage in their lives to build a positive mindset that will enable them to make great choices to help them accomplish their goals. When teenagers make negative decisions, they create a life where they eliminate their power of choice and are forced to decide from a limited amount of alternatives.

So my question to you is:

  • Are you making choices and decisions that are leading you down a path of success or destruction?
  • When you understand the power of choice you can create opportunities that can change the course of your life forever, good or bad. What do you choose?

By Walter Mendenhall

Walter completed his initial Urban weekend for men in 2013 and is currently enrolled in our Two-Year Transformational program. Having accomplished his lifelong dream of making it to the National Football League (NFL), Walter’s desire for mentoring and teaching young people prompted him to walk away from football to focus on pursuing his passion for teaching the next generation of leaders.

He is currently a professor at Northeastern Illinois University (Leadership Development) and South Suburban College (Sociology), and a successful motivational speaker and mentor.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Walter Mendenhall