It is exciting to have a variety of options. We all want to be free to choose what we like. But it is known that more choice does not make us more happy. The more time and thought we have to put into choosing, the more stressed we become. And then it is hard to make a decision at all.

Deciding can be painfully difficult. It can involve emotional conflict and uncertain consequences. To choose one thing is to forego something else. Every decision brings the risk of regret. But every time you shove another unloved item back in the drawer ‘for now’, add another task to the ‘do sometime’ list, put up with another situation you don’t know what to do about, you burden your mind as well as your physical space with unnecessary obstructions.

Unmade decisions lead to clutter and debt. Procrastination lets a present niggle grow into tomorrow’s monster. Not deciding leaves you feeling increasingly harassed, often guilty, out of control, overwhelmed. You no longer trust yourself to make decisions confidently. You no longer know what you want. You may not even realise you are repeatedly putting off making decisions. It seems easier to let impulse, distraction, habit or other people decide for us, than to stop, actually engage with the item, the task or the situation, and choose what to do about it. If you keep waiting until you are ‘sure’, you will be stuck in perpetual uncertainty.

So what to do when you don’t know what to do? You can start by giving yourself less choice. Barack Obama is said to have simplified his wardrobe to identical shirts and trousers, so he didn’t waste time wondering what to wear. While all the media spotlight was on Michelle’s latest dress, he owned just one dinner suit throughout his presidency, and could be ready for any state occasion in ten minutes. You can cut some of your commitments, delegate others, change your way of life so that you are not distracted by so many calls on your time and attention.

Then, practise making decisions more assertively: like exercising a muscle. Be decisive about the myriad small choices you already make every day. Choose to brush your teeth; deliberately put on your shoes. Even sitting in your car in a traffic jam allows you some choice: you might take the opportunity to relax, look at the scenery, think about someone you love. Every deliberate decision makes the next one easier, and lets you live in the moment instead of being rushed from yesterday to tomorrow with no time to enjoy the view.

Decisiveness says it like you mean it: not ‘I have to’ but ‘I am going to.’ Not ‘I’ll try to be there,’ but ‘I’ll be there’. Not ‘Hopefully see you whenever,’ but ‘When shall we meet?’

And when you do delay a decision, do it decisively. ‘I don’t have time now but I will properly think about this on Thursday at 11.’ Make a date in your calendar. Then give that item/task/situation your full attention. You will be liberating yourself at the same time.

 

If you are interested in this topic you may like these TED talks:

https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice#t-396760

https://www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices

https://www.ted.com/talks/sheena_iyengar_choosing_what_to_choose

 

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