We make many decisions each day. So what is it that makes decision making so hard? Three clients raised decision making as an area of difficulty for them this week; which has led me to reflect on what is involved in making a decision.
The word decide comes from the latin for to determine. It’s also about resolving a question, finding solutions and considering ideas. When we are caught between options we have to chose one or the other but rarely neither; we don’t often get the option to decide not to decide, although we may chose to prevaricate. Sometimes we are forced to face choice when we don’t want to. Sometimes to take action when we are not ready. Sometimes it’s just about having to indicate a preference. ‘Marmite or marmalade. Oh I don’t know!’. To be indecisive is to lack resolution. To decide is to take initiative.
When you think about it, a decision is a microcosm of all that is means to be conscious in the world. It’s a combination of emotion, reasoning and reflection and sometimes the tension between these.It’s the capacity to know what we want, to be clear on why we are doing something and what to do about it. Making a decision is about our motivation and direction; our ability to consider our options, take control of our lives and direct our actions and energies. It’s our judgement, capacity and willingness to commit. It’s a responsibility to our self. It’s our ability to set ourselves on a new path.
Making a decision is also about our spontaneity, our willingness to follow our instinct, our gut, and our ability to know and follow our feelings. It can be our risk, our bravery and our ‘fuck it’. It can be deciding not to do what we think we should and to do what we feel like doing. It can be to favour the short term over the long term, a momentary response.
How we make decisions and how easy we find the process can reflect not only the specific situation or context but where we are in our life, how we feel about our self, what we value and how we live our life. The decision is therefore a complex combination of factors. Within the simple act of deciding we can find conflict, turmoil, fear, lack of self belief, and lack of self trust. We ask ourselves ‘how do I know what’s right?’. We seek reassurance and opinions from others; ‘what do you think I should do?’.
We want to know a decision is the right one because we feel the responsibility and we know there are consequences. We are committing to a course of action. We don’t want to regret it. We understand that a decision often has wider implications; we are choosing for or against options in a current situation but with an awareness that this decision may have an unknown impact and affect on ourselves and others, in the future. We are trying to foresee the inadvertent future and bring that into the present. Some decisions are easy because the choices are clear and can lead us towards probable and likely outcomes. Some decisions are difficult because neither choice is attractive or both choices are, or because the implications of those choices are unclear. Some decisions require immediate reactions, some are best left to settle and ponder.
To make a decision can entail decisiveness; the capacity to make decisions quickly, with self assurance. A decision can also be approached with consideration; carefully weighing the options, researching and reflecting every possible angle and interpretation. Or a decision can be made intuitively. How we approach decision making doesn’t matter. What matters is that if we continually find decision making difficult we may be avoiding commitment and therefore moving forward, so can feel stuck and lack empowerment. Or it could be that there is an inner conflict which needs resolving in order to make decisions more freely for our selves.
Once a decision has been made, the process may not end there. We may feel the issue is now resolved, decision made and get on. We may linger in that uncomfortable place where we’ve made the decision but feel uneasy; lack confidence it was the right decision and continue to expend mental and emotional energy going through the continued debate; which means we aren’t free to live out the decision. We may learn that the decision we made was a mistake because it didn’t bring about the outcome we envisaged, or had unintended consequences and so we look back and wish we’d chosen the other option. Or we may be clear that we made the right decision at the time and accept that. Being happy with a decision we have made reflects how we feel about ourselves and how we live our life.
We can cope with poor decisions we’ve made but decisions not made linger with us and lead us to incessant wondering about what might have been. The greatest source of regrets are missed opportunities where we decided not to.
We’ve all made painful decisions at challenging crossroads.
We can all recognise the beautiful and unexpected in taking a small decision which led to something we wouldn’t have otherwise experienced.
How wonderful to have a life full of choices.