Decision in Indecision
| | | |

Decision in Indecision

Life is a series of decisions. I wanted to give credit to the author of this statement but a quick Google search showed me that a whole lot of people have echoed some flavor of the concept. And it makes sense: we all get it because we all live it, day in and day out. There’s no moving forward without decision-making. Even not making a decision is, in fact, making a decision. You might call it a decision by default. So today I’m going to discuss strategies for making decisions when the best choice isn’t clear.

What is Unproductive When it Comes to Decisions

Except for the rare exception or two, default decisions are not sound decisions.  Just letting something happen usually delivers a suboptimal outcome. Similarly, staying stuck trying to decide on a choice is going to rob you of your productivity. Think: anxiety, rumination, distraction. Stalling or putting off a decision you must make isn’t the same as being thoughtful and strategic with your research and reasoning, and it is going to drag on your conscious. Taking action is the only true solution.

There’s No Crystal Ball

Tony Robbins points out, in this excellent article on decision-making, that decisions are made on probabilities. Letting go of there being one right choice of action is the first step in tackling a tough decision. The ‘right’ decision is going to be the best decision you can make given the resources you have available in the moment or time period you have to make your decision. This is why regret in hindsight is so damaging. Looking back, you might see there was a ‘right’ choice, but this is only because you have other facts or scenarios you did not — could not — have when you made your decision. Sure, you might learn from hindsight, but you cannot time travel to make a different decision, so beating yourself up is fruitless.

Decision Strategies

Thankfully, there are some tried-and-true strategies you can use to guide you to your best choice of action. These center around gathering and analyzing data; reflecting on what you value; and implementing some good, old-fashioned list-making. Let’s take a brief look at each category.

Inventory and Analyze the Available Data

Almost always, we have access to solid data we can use to make a decision. It’s important to do your homework. Do you have all the facts? Have you examined all available resources? If, for example, it’s a financial decision you’re facing, you might review:

  • profit margin
  • average return on investment
  • the available pool of clients
  • the estimated cost of maintenance, etc.

Such information can be used to project future scenarios.

You might also find case studies, published accounts, and personal confessions helpful for analyzing your future situation(s). You must always consider your source, but oftentimes tales of “been there, done that” will be informative. Related, getting a second set of eyes on your decision matrix can be helpful. But do understand: outsourcing your decision is not you making your decision. Trusted guidance should be used to educate your thinking, not become your thinking.

Author Cheryl Strayed penned the anonymous advice column “Dear Sugar” in The Rumpus for several years. She compiled many of her favorite questions and responses in her 2012 book Tiny Beautiful Things. One question she featured in the book was: “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” Part of her answer was, summarily:

  • I talk the situation over with those closest to me (i.e. spouse, partner, close sibling)
  • I try to take the perspective of my best self, the one who is forgiving, big-hearted, grateful
  • I trust myself and keep the faith in my direction/choice

Reflect on What You Value

Tony Robbins underscored: To make a sound decision, you need to be clear on what it is you want, and why. In a nutshell, this is what you’re valuing. Take some time to consider what it is you’re seeking and confirm it aligns with your overall personal values. Some decisions will be financially driven, but is it profit at any cost? Some decisions will inevitably impact others in your orbit. How does that factor in? At face value, a desired outcome might be really alluring, but does it align with your moral compass?

Another part of Cheryl Strayed’s answer to the question above ties in nicely with this reflection on values. When faced with a decision that isn’t clear, she asks herself: What will I have wished I’d chosen/done when I’m looking back a year from now? This future-looking-back state serves as an excellent anchor to your values. Is the outcome you desire today, one you’ll still value a year down the road?

Try List-Making to Overcome Indecision

Cheryl also advises to make lists, lots of lists. Similarly, Tony Robbins suggests that all decisions should be made in writing. “Your brain gets stuck in a loop because you’re trying to take something complex and look at it from every angle. You turn each viable option over, examining it thoroughly, your thoughts branching out into other possibilities, and eventually, you’re doing that x 10,” he explained. Writing things down enables you to keep track of your thoughts and organize your thinking. 

What you should list out will depend on the decision at hand; this will also be influenced by your personality. If you’re risk-averse, you might start with a list of worst-case scenarios for each of your options, or simply a list of your fears. If there are several stakeholders in play, you might outline things according to the stakeholders. An “if/then” scenario could be helpful, as could a forward-looking list of where each outcome might take you going forward. Finally, the tried and true pros-and-cons list is always a great tool for decision-making. Just get to writing a list — what you further need to explore will become apparent because putting things down on paper illuminates your thinking.

Decide Already

At some point, and likely often, we will come to a decision point in our lives where the right path isn’t clear.  One thing will still be clear: we must make a decision. Having the ability to make a decision is empowering. Don’t give away your power. Do your homework, consider your values, then choose a course of action. Cheryl wrapped up her answer to her question “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” as follows: “I trust myself. I keep the faith. I mess up sometimes.” I think this is an excellent close to our discussion today.

Sara Genrich | Productivity Consultant

Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant, and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts