I’ve always liked the old proverb, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’ Whenever I hear it, I immediately want to follow it up with something like, ‘So you’d better be ready for whatever might be down that road!’
People often tell me how difficult it is for them to make up their minds. Of course, major life decisions such as moving, a job change or getting married require (and deserve) extensive thought and consideration. The long-term consequences will most probably have to be enjoyed (or endured) for the rest of your life. So if you DO know where you’re going, then your choice of road(s) will be a lot easier.
Many people also experience indecision (or careless decision making) over less important things. Should I buy a new car or used? Where should I go on vacation? Do I really need to buy this or that? When people tell me that they have trouble deciding on one thing or another, I suggest that they ‘pretend’ that they’ve already made the decision, and then carefully try to visualize the consequences and events that might come to pass as a result. I’ve written many times in this column about ‘introspection,’ and this is a good illustration of that. For example, ‘If I buy the used car, I could end up with big repair bills down the line. But if I buy a new one, the payments might be too high.’ Or, ‘I’d love to go to San Diego on vacation, but I hate flying. If I vacation locally, I can drive, but I might not have as much fun.’ What to do?
Some indecision can come about as a result of ‘irrational perfectionism.’ The irrational perfectionist feels that it’s a disaster to make a mistake. But mistakes are not disasters. Only disasters are disasters—and mistakes are much more frequent. The irony of perfectionism is in its good intentions. A person wants to do things right—even perfectly—and this is certainly a good motive. But if the motive is SO strong and overpowering that one becomes paralyzed and does nothing, then whatever might be achieved will certainly not be perfection.
Another reason for indecision is the presence of multiple choices. For example, I was fortunate to have a number of excellent schools and cities from which to choose for my post-graduate degree. A lot of factors were involved, and I had trouble deciding until it dawned on me: ‘I have five equally good choices. No matter which one I choose, I know I’m going to be happy.’ That realization liberated me from the pressure to make the ‘perfect’ choice, and I was able to decide based on objective facts rather than emotion.
You can apply this technique to even less serious matters. Not sure where to take your vacation? Well, this must mean you have some good choices. Reassure yourself that you’re going to be happy with any one of them. Choose the one with the MOST advantages—you can always go for the other option next year.
When people are indecisive they often say: ‘I MUST make the right choice.’ Their premise assumes that there is only one right choice and all the others are wrong. But many life decisions are not that way. There would be no such thing as indecision if you didn’t have choices. Don’t be frustrated—having several good things to choose from is a fine thing!
Some people know what they want, but they fear their choice might be met with disapproval from others. In reality, this isn’t indecision, although it feels that way. It’s really just reluctance to take, or ‘own,’ personal responsibility for your life. The author of the website charminghealth.com puts it nicely: ‘When there are really tough choices, ‘many people can never make up their minds, and tend to keep that issue lingering. Prolonged indecision or indecisiveness may be due to an extreme fear of risk and responsibility. Life often challenges us to a choice between equally unpleasant alternatives. When we accept the challenge, whatever we do is bound to involve risk, rigor and responsibility. If we run away from the challenge ‘ we may lose the opportunity for growth.’
Growing up biologically is pretty much complete after about 18 years or so. Growing up emotionally is less predictable and takes ongoing mental initiative. The cornerstone of personal growth is the ability and willingness to make decisions. It’s more than just skill and will: It’s an acceptance, or surrender, to the fact that decisions are inescapable. You can’t NOT make decisions. Even if all you want to do is stay alive, choices will present themselves at some time or another, and you’ll have no choice but to march down one or the other of those roads—ready or not! The bleak alternative is that you can decide to let others do all your thinking and choosing for you. But even then, deciding to not make decisions for yourself is, in fact, a decision.
Make your choices work for you. Liberate yourself from the opinions and whims of others by challenging the mistaken thinking that can make decisions so difficult.