Indecision is a cruel thing to suffer. It could be as simple as choosing a menu item or the color of a tie. We go back and forth and back and forth, weighing the attributes of each choice. This flow of thought becomes ridiculously maddening. Imagine how that struggle deepens when indecision carries over from something as simple as dinner to something as complicated as relationships.
I, myself, have been in many situations where a choice was a difficult thing to make. In some cases, I was able to prolong my indifference in a way that the choice was just eventually made for me. But I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of having choices made FOR me. Instead, I prefer to maintain control. I prefer to decide. And so, what do we do about indecision?
Reasons for indecision are varied, but I believe people have the most difficulty when they walk the line between what they feel obligated to do and what they want to do. Moreover, indecision often lies not in the true value of each choice, but in the value we place (deservingly or not) on what is easy or comfortable. As humans, we don’t always like to stretch – our palates, our minds, our hearts. And so the “comfort zone” is an easy place where the decisions we’ve made in the past live. These are the foods, vacation spots, job opportunities, and even people that we’ve already tried on for size. And in the process of that trial, we’ve deemed them safe (or at least tolerable). The risk in committing to something new is that we have to learn all over again whether or not we like that something. And, if we don’t, we have to be able to embrace the decision as a learning process, not as a regret.
I think every reader knows exactly what I mean. To put it in simple terms, consider that one restaurant; the place where you always order the same exact thing off the menu. We all have that place. And we all do the same thing. We look at the menu, we see some things that look delicious, we struggle to make a decision, and then we pick the same old thing. Why? The answer is not simply that we know that dish is good. It is also because we’re afraid we’ll be disappointed if we pick something new and it just isn’t as tasty as our regular meal. We are afraid of the potential regret.
Decision-making is hard. When presented with two (or more) choices, making a decision means that we take a risk on one thing over the others. It means that some things fall off to the side. In that way, we have to not only be comfortable with deciding, we also have to be ok with letting some things go. And letting things go is even harder.
And so, what do we do? I read a very interesting article recently called “Resolving Indecision” where the author differentiates very clearly about choices and decisions. He says:
“To address indecision, I’d like to first make a distinction between decisions and choices, because I think people get themselves into trouble conflating the two. I think that it is best to think of choices as preferences that stem from subjective personal tastes. A decision, on the other hand, is a commitment to action that occurs after one becomes aware of their choice. For example, yesterday I chose between Snickers and M&M’s, and upon realizing that I wasn’t in the mood for caramel I made the decision to buy the M&M’s. Choices are often difficult, but I suspect that most of the time people lean at least slightly one way or the other, and that if push came to shove they could state a preference.”
And so, maybe the struggle lies not in the decision (which is the implementation of choice), but in actually knowing ourselves well enough to distinguish our preferences. What is challenging is to think about these preferences outside of anything else – free from obligation, free from familiarity, free from a fear of regret. Do we really know what we like? Can we identify the things that make us not just content, but truly happy? Most importantly, do we believe we deserve that happiness? I suspect that answering those questions is where the real work lies. Any decision after that is a piece of cake.