Vanilla or chocolate? Yes? No? Maybe?

Have you ever been indecisive?  Do you know people who struggle with decision-making, asking advice in a cacophony of “what to do, what to do?” Or as an acquaintance says, “dither, dither; thus I make my decisions, and thus I unmake them.”  In 1973, Princeton University’s Walter Kaufmann labeled this tendency “decidophobia,” the fear of making a decision, or fear of making the wrong decision.

Decision-making is choosing between two or more options, and comes with an “opportunity cost” –foregoing those things you do not choose.  Sound decision-making is a learned skill, and while we may take many decisions for granted, some people still struggle. Some are afraid any decision they make will be wrong, and others continue information gathering, avoiding any decision.

Consciously or subconsciously, people generally consider whether to do something or not, which alternative to choose, or contingencies – decisions put on hold until other conditions are more favorable.  Decisions can be reasoned or emotional, rational or irrational, simple or complex, and based on abundant variables.

Some people become so conflicted over seemingly small issues, they wear themselves out, become paralyzed, and see opportunity in nothing.  Many go with what they’ve always done, what they know, what seems socially and culturally acceptable, without much deliberate thought. Still others are befuddled by too many choices, because, while seeing a world of opportunity, they also see the opportunities missed. And some focus, even in the most challenging of situations, on seeing every choice they make as “right”.

There are times we all need be reminded to see what’s right in what we do, to remember that life is not all-or-nothing in black or white, but also shades of gray. The feeling of both right and wrong, capable and incapable, resides in us all.  Of course we are capable of dither at times, and each of us has individual approaches, depending the situation, so what does it take to make sound decisions?

A study of people making career choices found that most people fell into one of two groups:  those who considered every angle of every opportunity, and those who looked for opportunities that were good enough. People who considered every angle of each opportunity ended up in higher paying jobs, but they also focused, discontentedly, on the opportunities they had not taken – the “cost”.  If this style of decision-making is a used as a constant approach, they are literally always focused on what they are missing.  The people who looked for opportunities that were “good enough” were happiest with their decisions, gained confidence, and had few regrets.

An undecided mind is a heavy burden, and becomes exhausting trying to always make the one and only “best decision”.  Give yourself a break.   We don’t always need certainty.  Save it for major life decisions.  Sometimes “good enough” is just that – good enough.  Every decision is made in the moment, based on information, preferences, time and alternatives available at that time.  We do not always have access to accurate and full information, or every alternative.  Therefore, we can almost never make a decision based on true certainty, and hindsight sometimes changes our perspective.

We make many commonplace decisions a day, yet the ability to make sound, appropriate decisions, at the right time, is key to our success, especially when they are critical or call for boldness.  To gain confidence, practice using both your ability to reason and your intuition; those things you “know” but may not be able to explain. This is how your body and mind rapidly picks up and assimilates multiple, subtle cues, like body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, a peculiar feeling or something that just feels “right” or “not right” –a built-in shortcut of sorts.

Regardless of our decision-making style, we can all be reminded to make better decisions, more rapidly, by considering:

–  What are the people factors?  Who does the decision involve?

– What do you want to accomplish?

– Are you holding on to outdated beliefs? Before you can decide what to change, you need to be honest about what you’re working with.

– Are you making the decision based on opinion, expectations, facts, beliefs, rumor, habit, bias, memories, assumptions?

– What are your personal preferences?

– What are the alternatives?  Do they fit your goals and values?  Do they have negative consequences?

– Can you accept your decision, emotionally and intellectually?

– What are you doing right?  Focus on the good decisions you make and the imperfections become less consuming.

– What aspects do you really need to work on to change?  And what do you need to work on accepting, just as they are?

Life is full of decisions, decisions, and more decisions. Learn to make them comfortably, and accept that there are no guarantees; sometimes even sound decisions can have outcomes we don’t expect.  The best decisions are made by the prepared mind that has thought about values, goals, criteria and alternatives.  Arm yourself with the best information possible and make your choices.  While you cannot control other people, circumstances, or everything that happens to you, you can decide what you do about things that happen in your life.  And as my Dad used to say:  sometimes even a wrong decision beats no decision… it can help clarify confusing murky issues and you can always change course, but making no decision leaves you nowhere.