How to stop making the wrong decisions

Indecision steals many years from many people who wind up wishing they’d just had the courage to leap.
— Doe Zantamada

I’m standing with a group of friends at a conference in Breckenridge. The topic at hand – Where to go for dinner. And no one was willing to decide. Except for Marina. Frustrated with our indecision, Marina decided where we should go. She apologized with an, “I’m sorry. This was making me crazy.” But she didn’t need to apologize. We were all relieved. 

Why you don’t like to decide

Many of us like to avoid decision-making. In fact, many people hope that hiring us means we’ll tell them what to do. (Spoiler alert: We don’t do that)

Why don’t we like to just decide?  It’s not usually because of good arguments on either side. The reality is you’re afraid of making the “wrong” decision. Because you believe that if you make the “wrong” decision (yes – the air quotes are completely necessary), you’ll feel uncomfortable feelings – anxiety, guilt, shame, ad nauseum.

So it’s not even about the decision. It’s about trying to avoid those feelings and the thoughts that lead to them. You know the kind of thoughts I’m talking about – “You suck.” “You’ll never succeed.” “You’re a failure.” And more. We all have our own special breed of yuck. 

You try to predict the future so you can choose the option that prevents you from thinking these thoughts and feeling those yuck feelings. What makes this so crazy is that you’re sitting there, imagining these crap future scenarios so you can avoid the feelings. And this causes you to feel the feelings RIGHT NOW. Because your brain can’t tell the difference between having an experience and imagining it. 

So you’re trying to predict the future, thinking worst case scenario thoughts, feeling awful, and spinning in confusion, like water in an endlessly flushing toilet.

The problem with confusion

Unpopular opinion: Confusion is an indulgent emotion. It’s useless. It leads to nowhere. “I don’t know” keeps you stuck. 

We think confusion is an indication of how much we know about something. And we hope that some information will magically appear and provide us with some kind of clarity. 

When you’re confused, you believe there’s a “right” answer. So you turn to your horoscope or tarot cards or you ask someone to decide for you. This is great, because we don’t have to take responsibility for the outcomes. And while this might keep you from making a “wrong” decision, it also keeps you from growing, learning, and experiencing life. 

One reason we like to stay confused is we don’t have to take responsibility for making decisions. So we stay confused. As long as we are confused we don’t have to worry about making the “wrong” decision. But this also keeps us from growing, learning, and trying new things. 

Think of Chidi in the Good Place. That guy can’t even decide what muffin to get for breakfast. And look where that got him, KWIM? Don’t be like Chidi. (Also, if you haven’t watched that show, you need to stop everything and jump on Netflix RIGHT NOW.) 

Thinking, pondering, and discussing can be a form of procrastination. Decisions are made in a single instant. They don’t need to take a lot of time. You don’t need to spend an hour choosing a muffin. You just decide.

What if there are no wrong decisions?

Maybe you just read that and got mad. “But I dated that guy and he was a mistake!” “I took that job and everyone was a disaster!” “I cut bangs and you can’t tell me that haircut wasn’t a mistake!” (You may have something there with the last one).

This might sound like mystical, woo woo stuff, but hang with us here. 

  • What if every decision you make is on the path of your life?

  • What if every decision is a stepping stone? 

  • What if you honored all of your decisions because they got you here? 

 What makes something a wrong decision is only you deciding it was a wrong decision. 

It’s all in your head

Your decisions don’t actually matter that much. What matters is how you think about those decisions. Because it’s your thoughts that shape your experience of the world. 

So you might think there’s a “right” and a “wrong” choice. You want to be Indiana Jones with the bazillion year old knight telling you that you “chose wisely,” not the Nazi apologist guy who got his face melted off because he “chose poorly.”

Any decision can lead to unwanted feelings. And if you have an unmanaged mind, you’re going to experience some face-melting shame and guilt, no matter what you decide. But if you learn to manage your brain, there are no bad decisions and you get to ride off into the sunset with Sean Connery.  

And pretty soon, you too can be like Marina. Making decisions about dinner and saving us all from confusion, stagnation, and hunger.