What Plants Can Teach Us About Decision Making

​What can plants teach us about decision making? ​

When you’re feeling stuck, take a leaf from this plant

You might think plants have no choice. They’re rooted to the spot wherever they’ve grown or been planted and that’s it. For better or worse, their fate is decided, and there they will struggle, thrive or die.

You couldn’t be more ‘stuck’ than a plant, yet from recent research findings it seems there’s a valuable life lesson we can learn from plants.​

​What the researchers discovered about a plant

the wayside plant researchers investigated


​It’s well established that plants react to light to varying degrees with different light levels. Researchers wanted to test if plants could choose - between different types of response to “prevailing and future competitive circumstances”. For their research they experimented with Potentilla reptans, a yellow flowered creeping wild plant frequently found across a wide range of habitat. ​

The researchers subjected the plant to various light conditions to replicate different challenging circumstances the plant may encounter.  They found that, in response to simulated competition from nearby plants, Potentilla reptans made very different adaptations. When its neighbours are numerous but low growing it makes the choice to shoot up and grow taller. When neighbouring tall dense plants diminish the available light it adapts its leaves to make the most of whatever light it can get. When overshadowed by tall but sparse plants it elongates its nodes and attempts to out distance the competition.

The researchers concluded that the plants were actually exercising choice in responding to their environment and making decisions on the strategy:


“we have demonstrated a decision-making ability in plants, which allows them to adaptively ‘choose’ between three responses, according to the relative stature and density of their opponents”

​​A beautiful, profound reminder about decision making

If a lowly waste land plant can decide on the best way to adapt to its surroundings to grow and thrive what about you? Perhaps this pretty ‘weed’ can serve as a reminder that however stuck we might feel, however restricting our circumstances might seem, we too can exercise choice about our response and decide which strategy to adopt.

​This echoes the realisation that helped Frankl survive a Nazi concentration camp and go on to profoundly inspire so many people with his ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. Whatever circumstances you find yourself in, however little practical control you seem to have over your life, it’s always within your power to decide how to respond to the situation. Even if you’re unable to act at the time, you can still make choices about your own thoughts – which is always a good place to start anyway.​​

​How can you implement the example of this plant?

Fortunately, most of the time we are not in such extreme conditions and can take actions to change our circumstances. But it’s the realisation that we have the power to make a choice that creates our freedom and ability to make decisions, to make changes.

However stuck you might believe you are, you always have a choice. Like Potentilla reptans, you don’t have to be a passive victim of circumstances. It’s up to you to decide how to make the most of whatever situation you’re in.

​If you're feeling stuck and would like to make a decision to change things, it could help to ​talk it over - the option of a supportive decision focused conversation with DecisonTreehouse is available - consider booking one now!​