making a choice and moving on

(204/365) (049/365)


If you’re older than 3, you’ve probably had your fair share of worries here and there.
You’ve worried about whether you should play marbles or chess, whether you should try out for the basketball team or not, whether you should ask Susie or Phyllis to the prom or whether you should go to State U or State Tech.  Decisions prey upon all of us from an early age, and stress boils up from each one.  We worry if we should do A or B, and project even further – if I choose B, then I’ll need to consider C or D.

Making decisions is not something that comes easily to me. I am not, by nature, decisive – I’m analytical.  When I buy light bulbs, I like to consider environmental impact, current cost of CFLs versus long-term savings due to long lives and the effect of harsher lighting on mood.  I don’t just buy a bulb – I buy a future.  I consider each and every possibility that can occur.

Once in a while, though, I have a glimpse of the future that doesn’t involve careful planning. As Curmudgeon recently noted, I am slightly obsessed with failure.  I agree, although I’d make a slight distinction and say I’m obsessed with crisis more than failure.  I’m obsessed with meeting the moment of decision and making the right decision (and therefore avoiding the wrong decision, which is a fear of failure).  But my nature is to avoid failure – not to seek success.  It’s a small difference, but making a hundred or a thousand decisions like that can drastically change your future.

We already made one huge decision – to move 1000 miles from where we live now. But now I’ve found myself trapped by stupid, small decisions – hire this mover or that one?  Rent this house or that one?  Keep the garden hose or buy a new one after we move?  These decisions are false choices.  I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if I throw away OR keep the garden hose I will not remember that decision in a year.  I will not even remember that it was a choice in five years, and in ten years I probably won’t even remember where the garden hose I own came from.  I know that these decisions will disappear in time, but I am seized by doubt in the short term.

So today I’ll look at each decision and ask myself a couple of questions:  is it a decision that affects the health of my kids or my wife? Does it harm my own well-being?  If not, I’ll make a decision and move on, because the worst failure is not making the wrong decision, it’s making NO decision.  Nobody can move through life debating each choice endlessly.  Eventually a choice is made – eventually a die is cast.

The choice of a path forward is critical, of course. When I returned from Moscow, I had two good job offers – one near my hometown down South, and one in New York.  I thought about the options, decided that both were equal – and then seized one.  I don’t know what the other route might have meant to me – maybe life would have been better, maybe worse.  But the choice needed to be made, and having made it I have no idea of what the future might have held had I stayed in the South.  My life in its current state would not have existed – no Bubelah, no Little Buddy, no Pumpkin.  It’s an almost incomprehensible difference in retrospect.  But having made the choice, I realize that it was the right choice, because it led me to today, and the past is done.  If you look at your life – or anyone’s – and the choices you have to make in order to live a good life, you’ll realize that living with your choices is never as difficult as making your choices in the first place.

photo credit: kimberlyfaye

12 comments

  • Great post, I think you and I may have been separated at birth. Choosing to avoid failure rather than go after success has caused me some problems as well. After a while, even the little points of indecision (like your example of the garden hose) cause a cumulative weight to hang over you until you make a final decision. Every so often, I have to go on a blitz of getting a lot of these little things in my life cleaned up so I can move on to the things in life that are REALLY important. Good luck in your move. Love the blog.

  • Chad @ Sentient Money

    Yep, many of the same issues. The decisions that always trip me up are the ones you can't find an answer to through hard analysis. I don't like making a decision without an obvious answer after I analyze the situation.

  • I don't base my decisions on the same criteria as you because I don't have a family or spouse, but I am more analytical and plan out my decisions for myself. I like to try to mentally determine how different decisions will play out and plan accordingly.

  • Thanks for the plug, Steve. Often I simply don't bother making a decision until the last possible moment. Under those circumstances, you simply make the most expedient decision, or the one that first comes to mind. And as you point out, a year from now (actually, more like an hour from now), you will find that the actual decision didn't matter.

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  • When I find myself agonizing over many small decisions, I try to come up with a higher-level guideline I can use to benchmark. For example, in terms of what to take on a move (which is a perfect example) simply decide up front whether your moving guideline will be “it's time to simplify, take only the critical, we can buy a new one when we get there” OR “take everything, we'll be more comfortable, we don't want to buy a bunch of new stuff.” Once you make that single decision, all others can use the guideline.

    Another example. I decided several years ago that everything I buy for work would either be a) neutrals b) blueish or c) redish. Now everything matches everything else and I have a flexible wardrobe with minimal pieces. I can get creative (red shoes! a blue bag!) and still know that things will match each other. And I don't have to agonize over each item.

    Best luck with the move.

  • I tend to analyze way too much as well…I have gotten better about making decisions though. For most decisions it really doesn't matter which choice you make (ie garden hose) as long as you don't make a really horrible choice.

    It usually doesn't take much analysis to avoid a really bad choice.

  • I’ve never had a problem making decisions. Obsessing endlessly about stupid decisions I made, that’s another matter…

  • It was very interesting for me to see your comment:

    But my nature is to avoid failure – not to seek success. It’s a small difference, but making a hundred or a thousand decisions like that can drastically change your future.

    because I'm a student in a psychology lab and I'm currently coding people's goals, whether they are approach or avoidance goals, and I thought it was cool you notice the distinction, and I just want to share with you research on that.

    “…the approach-avoidance distinction is based on the focus of the goal. Approach goals are focused on a positive outcome or state, and regulation involves trying to move toward or maintain that outcome or state (e.g., “do well in school”)…avoidance goals are focused on a negative outcome or state, and regulation involves trying to move or stay away from that outcome or state (e.g. “not do poorly in school”… (Elliot, Chirkov, Kim, & Sheldon, 2001).

    However, the researchers also found that “personal goals that mismatched the cultural emphasis (avoidance goals in the United States) were negative predictors of [subjective well-being]” (Elliot et al., 2001) <–Approach goals are emphasized in the states (because they are an individualistic country/culture, the same finding is not found for some collectivistic cultures).

    In other words, if you're high on avoidance goals, you tend to have lower subjective well-being = less life satisfaction and less frequent joy. 🙁
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~
    I think it's great you have a realization that there is no point in fretting over a billion trivial decisions. I am constantly in the same mindset of trying to make the best decision (I'm clearly a maximizer) but there is obviously a point you have to make that decision and move on. I will use your tip for my own big move in the Fall! (I'm moving 4,000km away!)

    Good luck with the move!

  • It was very interesting for me to see your comment:

    But my nature is to avoid failure – not to seek success. It’s a small difference, but making a hundred or a thousand decisions like that can drastically change your future.

    because I'm a student in a psychology lab and I'm currently coding people's goals, whether they are approach or avoidance goals, and I thought it was cool you notice the distinction, and I just want to share with you research on that.

    “…the approach-avoidance distinction is based on the focus of the goal. Approach goals are focused on a positive outcome or state, and regulation involves trying to move toward or maintain that outcome or state (e.g., “do well in school”)…avoidance goals are focused on a negative outcome or state, and regulation involves trying to move or stay away from that outcome or state (e.g. “not do poorly in school”… (Elliot, Chirkov, Kim, & Sheldon, 2001).

    However, the researchers also found that “personal goals that mismatched the cultural emphasis (avoidance goals in the United States) were negative predictors of [subjective well-being]” (Elliot et al., 2001) <–Approach goals are emphasized in the states (because they are an individualistic country/culture, the same finding is not found for some collectivistic cultures).

    In other words, if you're high on avoidance goals, you tend to have lower subjective well-being = less life satisfaction and less frequent joy. 🙁
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~
    I think it's great you have a realization that there is no point in fretting over a billion trivial decisions. I am constantly in the same mindset of trying to make the best decision (I'm clearly a maximizer) but there is obviously a point you have to make that decision and move on. I will use your tip for my own big move in the Fall! (I'm moving 4,000km away!)

    Good luck with the move!