Making Decisions. We all have to do it, to different degrees. Sometimes for others, always for ourselves. Yet the hows and whys of decision making are often overlooked in our lives. Some of us avoid making decisions like the plague. We prefer others to make decisions for us. The conversation we have every time we spend time with another person goes something like this:
Person 1: “So what do you want to do?”
Person 2: “I don’t know… what do you want to do?”
The constant avoidance of decision-making culminates in a life we are ultimately unhappy with; a prison of our own making. It may not even be constant. It may just be one or two bad decisions along the way (or so it seems…), so take heed of these words:
We always fall to the pits of our worst decisions.
No matter how hard you have worked or how pious you have been, this remains true. We observe this on a large scale with public figures. We admire them and respect their accomplishments until they do or say something controversial, and then they are cancelled off the face of the planet.
I’ve also observed this in people around me and in myself. Coming into my adolescence and realizing my parents aren’t gods and that they actually make a bunch of bad decisions, which results not only in their suffering but my own was quite a rude awakening. It is also an experience that I’m grateful for, because it showed me firsthand the consequences of bad decision making, and how far and wide the consequences reach. It paralyzed me for quite a while because I so dreaded doing what they did, that I over-thought every decision to the point of paralysis.
For those of you not familiar with the show, the Good Place, which I highly recommend, there is a character who is a moral philosophy professor named Chidi. Spoiler alert here, but it turns out that the characters in the show are actually in the bad place, and each of them represents a characteristic “sin” which got them there. Chidi’s sin, so to speak, is that he is incapable of making decisions, since he is hyper-aware of all of the moral and ethical implications of each decision.
Keep in mind here that not making a decision about something does in fact qualify as a decision to submit to the chaos around you, allowing it to have its way with you. This applies to having others make decisions for you as well. We think we are getting away with not having to make decisions, but all this passivity does is leave us unsatisfied and able to blame the world and everyone around us, leaving us completely powerless and pathetic. Those times you find yourself feeling immense self-pity… you might want to think about all the ways you’ve given up your power.
There are many factors that play into this. Among them are decision fatigue, or the exhaustion that comes with constantly making decisions, which is common in a culture built upon freedom of choice, and consumerism makes sure we have plenty. The solution is focus. What decisions are actually important? This was something I had a hard time accepting — that most decisions we make on the daily are actually quite arbitrary.
The desire to please others also plays a factor in our inability to assert ourselves in making a decision. This is a part of the people-pleasing disease we all have to get over in life. The medicine is a little bit of cold hard truth: most people are making decisions primarily with the benefit of themselves in mind everyday. So for you to put your entire life on pause, and either do or don’t do something because of the possible effect on someone else is a losing game. The fact of the matter is, if you are truly making decisions that benefit the highest part of you, then it will bring benefits to others as well, even though in the moment it might seem selfish. You can rest in this idea, so that when you do eventually piss someone off with a decision you make (it WILL happen, so get used to it), you know that it will ultimately benefit them and all of humanity.
The fear of responsibility stops us from making any definitive choice in any matter, for if we choose badly we are to blame. As Seneca says in my current favorite book, Letters from a Stoic:
“Your wise man, who is also a craftsman, will reject or choose in each case as it suits the occasion; but he does not fear that which he rejects, nor does he admire that which he chooses, if only he has a stout and unconquerable soul.”
We need to stand strong in our decisions, because we need to realize that good decision making is hard. The best decision in a situation isn’t the easiest one to choose. As Dr. Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist, professor, and author says, making decisions in the real world as an adult is essentially like choosing between a wolf, a bear, and a snake. If there was one glowingly amazing option, then decision making wouldn’t be difficult. We have to choose to make the hard sacrifices now, before life overwhelms us and we are left with little to no options at all.
And the last factor, and perhaps the most pervasive, is ignorance. We lack the necessary information about ourselves and what we want, as well as the situation and its many nuances to know what the best decision would be. Seneca also says in Letters from a Stoic:
“What then is good? The knowledge of things. What is evil? The lack of knowledge of things.”
We cannot claim stupidity or ignorance as an excuse for where we have ended up in life. It is our responsibility to use the many resources available to us to grow our perspective and knowledge base. Learning about the world is learning about ourselves, and what drives us, what holds us back, and what we truly need to live fulfilled and happy lives (not what the world convinces us we need). Making bad decisions is not necessarily a bad thing. It is just another opportunity to learn. Thus, there is no reason to fear the bad decisions, as long as we use them as learning opportunities. We are all bound to make the bad decisions, but as the expression goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We will never have the entirety of knowledge that we would like to have before we dive into a decision, but we simply cannot sink into the darkness of ignorance hoping to find bliss.
We create fulfillment and happiness in our lives by doing the hard thing: deciding and deciding intentionally. If you feel incapable of making decisions then you need to release that false idea of perfectionism and wake yourself up from the fantasy that anybody is achieving perfection at all. You need to get out in the world and make some bad decisions. It’s better than making none at all. And learn from them. Don’t be afraid. It’s an opportunity for exploration — something us perfectionists vastly underestimate the importance of. Lack of exploration leads to naïveté, ignorance, and a child-like perspective that holds us back from engaging with and in the world in a meaningful way.
I think the best solution of all to indecision is creativity. When you create something you face every single one of the things I mentioned here, and you then have to figure out how to overcome each of them on your own terms in order to express the deepest and truest parts of yourself, and potentially affect change in the world with your finished product. There is no higher calling for a human being than to create, as we were made in God’s image, so to speak, and God is the creator of everything. When we create, we see our self staring back at us, our humanity, our spirit, and we see the power we have to influence and create something that will take on a life of its own, our capacity for intelligent design. So I challenge you, reader, to go and create — make a million little decisions and see the beauty that can come of it. See how our decisions have the ability to create… or destroy.