Greetings, Fine Souls.
I’ve been pondering decisions in this New Year. Oh, wait…did you forget it’s still January? Because with the crummy weather and cabin fever all of your days have run together, and you’ve got serious, pandemic-era, time-means-nothing flashbacks?
Well no worries. You still have time to set some goals and think about what you want for your year (just as soon as the kids are out of your living rooms and refrigerators, and back in class).
Of course, setting goals or naming intentions (or however you’d like to frame it) means deciding what you’d like to pursue, focus on, or work towards. And there are so, so many choices. In his book Four Thousand Weeks, Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman writes:
“As I make hundreds of small choices throughout the day, I’m building a life—but at one and the same time, I’m closing off the possibility of countless others, forever.”
There’s the first hurdle – accepting you can’t do everything you’d like. Burkeman can be a bit of a buzz kill, but he’s not wrong.
And once you do choose, it’s just the beginning. How will you get started? How can you break the thing down into steps? What or who will make a difference in your success (assuming some degree of success is what you’re going for)? Should you go into it with easy expectations or shoot for the stars? No wonder the gym is empty by February 1.
When our friend Burkeman further states that “arguably time management is all there is,” following after, I’d say that arguably, decisions are the only way we move and breathe within time. They’re like the temporal Uber ride that gets us from one event or milestone to another.
Unless, of course, we don’t make them.*
I work with a fair number of folks who identify with the Enneagram Type 6 – The Loyalist. They have many beautiful qualities as do all the Types, but a fear of making major decisions is among their challenges. They are absolute geniuses at thinking things through, considering all the angles, and making the pros and cons lists. (Aside: some you may know pros and cons is a shortening of the Latin phrase, “pros et contra,” meaning “for and against.” It’s been in use since the 16th century, which tells you decision-making has been a thorn in the side of humanity, Type 6 or not, for quite a long time).
Thinking through all that stuff is laborious, and energy-sucking, and often leads to the Uber ride to nowhere – burning fuel and adding wear and tear on the engine with no final destination. This lack of conclusion is something we all experience from time to time. I’m kind of in it myself at the moment (it’s how I got here for a post – writing the stuff I need to read).
Here’s the thing I’ve been wondering about – are they really cons? If you set out all of your options and weigh them, the pros are usually reasonably evident. Otherwise, why even consider the decision in the first place? But I frequently observe that what we deem cons are based upon lots of assumptions – sometimes I call them “whatifisms.” Scenario:
If someone is considering whether to move forward with a job offer, the cons they list could include –
- I might not like it (what if the boss is a total narcissist?).
- They might not like me (what if I’m not as good at coding as I think I am?).
- My dog might develop separation anxiety (what if I don’t like working in their office?).
- Other people will be disappointed if I quit my current job (what if people get upset with me?)
And so on. None of these situations or their potential outcomes can be proven in the moment. They aren’t so much “againsts” as much as they are possibilities based on fears, and a concern of not being fundamentally ok with however the situation rolls.
(Ironically, we often make questionable decisions knowing objective “againsts” anyway – choosing to eat a particular food that we have a sensitivity to, or running that extra mile on a bum knee, for example. That’s probably another post.)
When you consider a decision in a decluttering process – say, whether to donate or sell an old chest of drawers that needs refinishing – you might go through a whole host of perplexing questions. What if I donate it and no one can do anything with it? What if I try to sell it and I have to deal with strangers? What if I can’t get the price I want? Does it matter if I make money off of it? What if it doesn’t find a good home (and hey – who decides what a “good home” is)? What if I get rid of it and then realize I still want it? What if someone who ends up with it doesn’t know how to refinish it?
More assumptions and fears, and lots of energy expended. You might ask, what’s objectively true here, right now?
- You don’t like, and no longer need, the chest of drawers.
- If the chest of drawers is out of the house, there will be more space.
- Keeping it means not having said space.
- Donating is the first thing you thought of, until you started asking all those damn questions.
Some research indicates that many decisions come from a gut-level understanding first, with objective data points coming in after to support that understanding (maybe because we can’t believe the decision could be so easy). I would call that understanding intuition, which is invaluable and underutilized.
I know – using your intuition is easier said than done. It’s worth practicing (and may be worth yet another post; such a big topic we’ve got going here).
You have no way to know all of the answers and possibilities for certain. And that’s ok. We don’t have a responsibility to control every outcome, and we very well may make a mistake. And that’s ok too. Most decisions are not matters of life or death; this is where trust comes in. Trust that we can handle what we consciously choose. Trust that even if we make a decision we later regret, at least we’ll further along on the ride than we were before. Trust that no one is perfect, we’re not perfect, and even when we carefully line up all the pros and fears, we might still choose something that turns out to be less than ideal.
Or…it might be amazing. Wouldn’t it be a shame to never find out?
“Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a person does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if they know what it is not. ”
*And here I resist the temptation to quote Barbara Hemphill’s “All clutter is the result of postponed decisions,” not because it’s not a wonderful and relevant quote, but because every organizer I know, and many of my clients, are already thinking it. I’m avoiding the phrase, “analysis paralysis” for the same reason. Just an aversion to organizing clichés, I guess.