Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Make A Decision, Period

The most frequently visited page to this site, by a large margin, is to the post titled "How to Make a Big Decision."

In that post, I dispensed some advice, based on my own experience, on how to use your imagination, reason and emotions to pick the correct path when faced with a difficult choice.

Recently, I realized that there's a different kind of decision-making process to take into consideration. This realization came after talking to a friend who is in a hell of her own making, but not because she can't make a decision. Indeed, she's made many, many decisions. Many of them even appear to be wise, good decisions, that should help her travel a successful and happy life path.

But, nope. So what's the trouble then?

I think it boils down to a lack of commitment. For various and sundry reasons, she can't get behind the decisions she makes. There's no conviction, no faith, no whole-heartedness.

In fact, that lack of heart is the crux of the problem. The reasons the decisions look good from the outside, and indeed, might be great decisions for any other person is that they make intellectual sense.

Indeed, many of our decisions start out, and even rely on, the rational faculty. A cost-benefit analysis. A list of pros and cons. For the extremely rational, the geeky and analytical, a post like this can certainly help. But creating a "grid analysis of multiple criteria" or "calculating the expected value of every outcome" can only get you so far. It's true that you can base a big decision on this kind of analysis, but beware: You might end up like my friend.

You may know someone like this. He or she makes a decision. To take a new job, let's say. And it looks, on paper, to be the right thing. The pay is better. It's in a nicer city. It has a clearer avenue for advancement.

But if this person does not choose--mind and heart--to be there, to really inhabit that decision, the chances are good that the decision will only lead to later paralysis and despair.

You might think, given this, that to really commit to a big decision that you'd have to be 100 percent sure, or at least more than 90 percent certain. Ironically, I don't think certainty plays into whether a decision will stick or not.

As with so many of the most important things about this human existence, making a decision that works comes down to faith.

So many people, it seems to me, lack this ability. And I'm not talking about the ability to believe in a higher power, either. I mean the ability to put aside hesitancy and simply leap. To believe whole-heartedly that this is your path that you've chosen and you're gonna stick with it.

So what stops people from doing this? I suppose a lot of it is fear, but to a larger extent, I think it really reflects a lack of practice. Somewhere along the way we have learned to trust others to make decisions for us--parents, teachers, government, authorities--and so we've lost the ability to trust ourselves to do this kind of leaping.

Just as in art-making, the more you get comfortable with the unknown, with the uncertainty of it all, the more you can make your way based on your inner compass. Your true self and your decisions begin to align. Your decisions, even when made with uncertainty, are based in something authentic. You are not inhabiting a false self, living a false life for others. Instead, you are choosing a path that is yours, one entirely of your own making.

1 comment:

The Kandles said...

Thank you for this post following your "How to make a big decision" post. I couldn't even believe I was googling the above statement today but I am so happy that I did and found your blog! I am deciding to not be a homebirth midwife, to instead continue assisting other midwives, but not be the person "in charge". The hours are hell and the responsibility is overwhelming to think of. I am instead choosing to be available to my family and really explore who this person is inside of me. What *else* would I like to do...? My current big decision has been whether or not to stop the academic curriculum involved in midwifery education. I think I can live with my decision, thank you for your suggestions and points to consider.