Making Decisions When You Can’t Decide
which way do I go, which way do I go...
You’re about to read life: examined. It’s an invitation to curiosity, a collection of ideas, and thoughts about living a creative, intentional life—all from my perch in Portugal.
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It’s been two weeks since the last issue of life: examined, but I’m back to my writing perch in Portugal after time with family in California. Thanks to those who asked: mom is doing great after her procedure.
I started this essay two weeks ago.
At that time, I had planned to publish last Thursday, but the war in Ukraine (Ethiopia, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, etc.), extreme weather events and drought; and the guest who’s lingered way too long—COVID-19—made me feel like I was moving through quicksand. In slow motion. Backwards.
I was hesitant to send out this newsletter with so much conflict in the world. The same hesitancy I felt when I wrote two weeks ago.
Since my last missive, I’ve received an overwhelming and positive response from readers encouraging me to continue writing and making art, despite, or perhaps because of, difficult times. So I will continue to create and hope you find my words a welcome distraction from the 24-hour news.
New Challenges, New Opportunities
I’m taking challenges and opportunities one bite at a time these days. Not that we can do anything other than that—despite fooling ourselves into believing we are good at juggling.
Repeat after me: multitasking is not a thing.
At least it’s not a thing when we believe we can do multiple things with proficiency. It’s time to let go of that false notion—a notion that was likely dreamed up by middle managers who needed to extract more than one human’s worth of work a day from each employee.
Handling one big thing at a time is optimal, and, if you care about such things, it’s good for productivity.
Yes, we manage multitudes of small things each day like what fruit to have in our oatmeal and if decaf after 1 pm would be a better option while gazing with desire at the rocket fuel coffee. However, these decisions are not what I’m writing about here.
I mean big decisions like:
Buy a car?
Get back together with my miserable -ex (no)?
Adopt a dog—or maybe get a six-pack (of dogs)?
Get a new job? A new house? A new life?
Maybe just start with a new hairstyle?
I’m sure you could add to the list of life options that are worthy of a solid and confident decision—and, like me, you might be weighing something right now.
Often when we try to make sense of the possibilities presented by potential choices (remember: not making a decision is a decision), we often end up more confused than when we had started.
I have been swimming in those confusion-infested waters of late.
Along with sorrow over global and regional calamities, I’ve been stewing about making a decision. When I was at my mom’s, I set my stewing aside until bedtime. Lying in the single bed in my room (the guest room), I’d start to slip into half-doze with just jet lag and my thoughts as company. Not good bedfellows, I tell you!
This particular decision I weighed, between two realistic opportunities that would lead me down quite divergent paths whichever way I chose (even not choosing), has now been made. More about that in an upcoming issue of life: examined.
For now, it’s too new and too secret to share with the world, but I will share—I promise.
There is no single formula for deciding, although I favor the coin toss. Even the most stressful decision once made is usually of little consequence.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the importance of making the best decision we can at the time; It’s that I realize the choices we make are insignificant in the grand scheme—just like we are.
We believe we have more authority over life than we actually do, so the choices we make are relative to whether we control the situation or not. Our options are limited by the tiny realm we reign over.
This knowledge of insignificance allows me to make choices that might seem drastic or impulsive to onlookers. Perhaps there’s a sprinkling of impulsiveness, but I weigh options carefully. If I’m at an impasse with the either/or of it, I activate my secret weapon to tilt the scales in favor of one or the other.
That secret weapon? I listen to my gut.
Research has shown that those who follow their instincts, rather than solely rely on the inevitable pros and cons list, societal norms, or anything that has the word should in it, end up making better decisions.
Overthinking paralyzes our ability to make good decisions.
Western thought tells us the analytical process is reliable (and prized), and intuition can’t be trusted. That’s an outdated perspective and just plain wrong. Gut feelings are produced from years of experience, mistakes, and interactions with life’s joys and tribulations.
Go ahead and make that list, I do, but those who go with our gut also know that sneaky trick we play with ourselves when we make lists.
This is the trick: You may have five items in the PROS column and ten in the CONS column but will attribute more weight to each element that steers you in the direction of your gut intuition.
Do you subconsciously want the pros of buying a car to outweigh the cons? Then you will give more value to each item in the pro column, even if there may be fewer of them on the page.
Slow or Fast or Both?
Analytical thinking is slow and deliberate, while intuition is fast and decisive.
We make decisions using both analysis and intuition, they are not tools in opposition, yet many people have a tendency to override this mutuality in favor of the analytical outcome. Reject the gut feeling, and you leave out a wealth of experiential information necessary to the decision-making process.
For more on this read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
So how can we make better decisions?
First, by giving your intuition double-billing with the analytical part of your brain. Second, ask yourself if this decision you are facing will matter in 50 years. In most cases, it probably won’t.
Remember, hair grows back if you hate the new cut.
How do you decide between two options when you feel you could go either way?
Favorite Portuguese to English Auto-Translation of the Week:
A lot of confusion. Very good for uninformed tourists. It offers nothing characteristic. Much like a mall food court. It’s the Disney of gluttons.
A review of the Time-Out Market in Lisbon
Confused about how to help Ukraine? Here are vetted resources & an article to help you understand the situation, and charitable giving, with more clarity:
Nova Ukraine is a 501(c)3 registered non-profit organization (EIN 465335435) dedicated to raising awareness about Ukraine in the US and throughout the world and providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
How You Can Help Ukrainians via Vox’s Future Perfect whose tagline is “Finding the best ways to do good.” Check it out.
HelpAge International —> Older people of Ukraine are in desperate need of humanitarian support. As a result of the Russian invasion, the lives of millions of older people are at risk. They are in danger of being displaced by the conflict, denied access to essential services – like health or pensions – or forced to flee to neighbouring countries. Those unable to move are often abandoned in war-torn areas.
NB. It’s important to remember that people in Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, etc. are suffering, too. This doesn’t diminish the war in Ukraine, but it is a reminder that we can care about and support more than one crisis at a time. It feels hard, it is hard, but we are not single-issue humans; we are complex. We can handle the multitudes (of caring needed).
Thanks to these generous readers for their support:
Mark & Gisele, Tom, Hilary, Sunny, Trina and anonymous, yet lovely, humans for supporting life: examined through Buy Me a Coffee.