The Epidemic of Indecisiveness

I call it the cereal-aisle dance. It's the aisle that I avoid at all costs. The aisle that I actually find entertaining as long as I'm not the one on stage. Walk into that dreaded aisle and you will find the most seasoned shoppers developing sudden bouts of anxiety as they put the right arm out to grab the Cornflakes and then the right arm in when they notice the Raisin Bran. The left arm out for the Raisin Bran and then the left arm out when they spot the Fruity Pebbles just a few feet away.

The problem is that the possibilities are endless. There are 4 brands of Raisin Bran! Then you start price comparisons only to restart the process when you see 2 boxes of Multi-grain Cheerios at 2/$5. Knowing your spouse prefers Honey Bunches of Oats and your kids are split between Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cap'n Crunch--there really is no way to succeed. Ultimately realizing that this is a lose-lose situation, you accept your fate and clumsily walk to the next aisle, with your head down, carrying 5 boxes of cereal and the multi-pack with an assortment of 6 others.

Did you win? Kind of. Depends what your goals were. Make everyone happy? Maybe. Efficient shopping? Probably depends on how much storage you allocate for breakfast cereals! And then there are some places that are entirely dedicated to orchestrating your next anxiety attack.

Like wine stores. The situation could not get worse. It's literally all the same. At least if you're a novice like me. So we choose based on the pretty packaging, the better price and the praise of the self-proclaimed wine connoisseur who is pretending to be the checkout cashier.

The easier way to succeed would be to limit our decisions to areas that we are actually experts in. Issues that we are confident about. But often that is a struggle too. You know you love feel-good movies and you love the feel-good comedies even more, so how hard could it be to choose the next thing you watch on Netflix? Uh, harder than I thought.

So let's try and explain what is at the root of this global epidemic of indecisiveness. It starts with risk. And ends with consequences.

At the outset of every decision we ever make, no matter how meaningless it may be, is the possibility of failure. To be disappointed. The decision to utilize our time, money and energy doing 'A' creates the risk of losing the opportunity to do 'B'. And then there are consequences. If 'A' goes wrong, you're the only one to blame.

It's a necessary form of gambling; putting your chips on 'A' turning out to be more fun or satisfying than 'B'. That's really how we spend the majority of our lives; making decisions about what careers we will pursue, what partner we will commit to and even what we'll eat for dinner. But sometimes these common everyday decisions trigger incredible amounts of anxiety. Because they come with the potential to fail, to rouse disappointment and judgment from others and to demand a certain amount of responsibility that we may not feel comfortable with.

A situation which I have come to hear fairly often is that of a young couple who, discovering their infant nursing a fever in the middle of the night, realizes that they need to administer a dose of Tylenol. The mother reads aloud, "5 mL for 6-9 months". "OK, go for it" says the father. But then her thoughts begin, out loud, "But he's just barely 6 months old". "And he is below the 50th percentile in weight", she continues. "But the fever might rise if we wait until morning. Maybe we should just call an ambulance". Completely understandable. The risk of causing harm to your newborn child greatly outweighs your medical confidence. But then something fascinating happens...

"It's fine, I'll do it. I'm sure it's fine", says the husband. And although still unsure, the wife comfortably defers to her husband's medical expertise. (He's an accountant!). What just happened is quite obvious. She doesn't want to bear the responsibility; she fears the worst and the guilt that would come along with it. Let's carry these thoughts over to a more common and relevant scenario.

When choosing a career, the possibility of taking responsibility for our failure paralyzes us from being able to commit. We delay the decision, hoping someone else will step in to take that responsibility off of our shoulders. If we are able to blame someone else, it would make the decision so much easier.

So how do we evolve and move towards healthy decision-making? Well, it's always easier said than done, but let's start by saying...

It boils down to the desire to succeed. The greater one's desire to succeed, the more risks that will need to be taken to get there. Success is the result of learning what doesn't work...and then finally, what does. Quotes credited to Thomas Edison ("I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work") and Wayne Gretzky ("You miss 100% of the shots that you don't take") have become motivation to thousands.

What's most vital to remember is that we all have that desire to succeed. Some may have had the privilege of nourishing that desire with past success. But all of us have that burning desire to show the world, and more importantly ourselves, what we're capable of. Decision-making is the opportunity to succeed. It holds the keys for your success. And the more of them you make, the more you'll probably get wrong, but the more likely you'll choose the right one as you continue.


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