I used to be indecisive but now I’m not sure.
One of my first blog posts here was about overthinking and the paralysis it causes. Today I want to explore the roots of my indecisive personality a bit deeper and share a realisation I recently had while listening to an audiobook.
The Cause and Effect of Indecision
Indecision is an affliction that increases my stress levels on a daily basis. No consideration is too small for me to waste time and energy deliberating over it. Offer me a cup of coffee and I’ll second-guess myself.
Present me with a life-changing decision and torture it is.
You see, I’m the kind of person who has to assess every possible angle and get all the facts before making a call. A perfectionist and control-freak. Before we get into the consequences of this, it is worth acknowledging its usefulness and merits.
Indecision is a fail-safe personality trait that facilitates good decision-making.
The two go hand-in-hand. The indecisive trade time and short-term stress in the hope of having peace of mind further down the line. Often this is a successful transaction. If you spend a month researching a new laptop and love it when it arrives, the hours you put into the search seem worthwhile.
But indecision comes at a price – the time and energy wasted on the decision.
You had to go without a laptop for a whole month and maybe the model you wanted went out of stock.
Indecisiveness can also spoil nice decisions. How many couples have argued over a choice of restaurant and ended up starting their date night on a sour note?
When presented with multiple options, it is easy to worry about making the right call and dwell on what you didn’t choose, undermining the opportunity itself.
Recognising When Options Are Limited
French philosopher, scientist, and mathematician René Descartes must have had me in mind when he wrote the following about indecision:
in some people this fear is so habitual and so powerful that often, even though they have no choice to make between alternatives and see only one line of action to pursue or to avoid, it holds them back and causes them to waste time in looking for other possibilities
It is important to recognise when a choice is available to you and when your options are thin or even non-existent.
The biggest decision I have had to make recently was choosing a new flat to move into. After a few disappointing viewings and weeks of unsuccessful online research, I finally had a viewing for a place that really excited me.
But that night I got home and found myself deliberating over and over. It was more money than I had hoped to spend and in a less accessible area.
The decision was hard only because I liked it so much.
It wasn’t until I spoke with my housemate-to-be and my parents that I actually realised it was the only real option on the table.
Ringing the agent to make a provisional offer became a thought-experiment in not getting the place and it being snapped up by someone else.
As soon as I recognised that there was no Plan B, the whole decision became a no-brainer – fortunately, the offer was accepted and I haven’t doubted it since.
The Cure for Indecisiveness
There are two valuable lessons to extract here.
When the need to make a decision on something arises, you should first identify what the serious options are. In many cases, you will find only lacking alternatives.
If so, don’t waste time clutching at straws, or holding out for the perfect flat that comes in under budget and in an ideal location with lots of local amenities.
Make the best play available and move on.
The second lesson relates to the thought-experiment I mentioned.
Next time you are feeling indecisive about doing something, imagine what it would be like to lose the opportunity to make the call in the first place.
If you are weighing up a job offer, imagine being rejected for the interview. Do you feel disappointed? Are you filled with regret?
These are great indicators for what you really want.
The Harder The Decision, The Less It Matters?
Descartes goes on to say that an excess of indecision
stems from an excessive desire to do the right thing.
Indecisiveness is a curse because it ironically turns the best of intentions into inaction. We so badly want to make the right call that we sit on the fence. Sometimes making the wrong choice is still better than making no choice.
In his self-help business book, The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman has an eye-opening anecdote about a life-changing decision: moving to New York City for his wife’s work. He explains how great both the options available to them at the time were and how hard it was to pick one.
That was until they acknowledged that either outcome would make them happy.
The truth is, the harder the decision, the more equal the options. In those 50-50 situations where you feel like you could so easily get it wrong, there is actually less at stake than you realise.
Decision-making is only difficult when the available choices are of equal merit: they are similarly great or poor. In either eventuality, you have little to lose.
I really struggle with indecision and it is something I want to actively get better at. For not only my personal life but for my career in the future.
Whether you want to be a great leader or a more decisive dessert chooser, maybe the above reflections will provide the cure for your indecisiveness.