On Indecision

Many of us have been there before. Frozen at a crossroads, where every turn looks no better than the last. Whether it be about career, family or finances, we make monumental decisions every single day. Every choice affects what we do with every minute of our day.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Luckily, not every decision we make is difficult, albeit life-altering. You decided to wake up today. You decided to get out of bed, take a shower, get dressed, go to work, eat lunch. We make millions upon millions of little choices that, if not made, would wreck the entire day.

What if you didn’t get out of bed? You would be late for work or school. What if this was the last straw? You would be kicked out of class, of your job. Your sense of self would take a blow and even more difficult choices would be spread before your feet: to search out new employment, or starve.

The good decision-maker makes the smaller decisions – waking up, eating responsibly, reading the news – automatic and easy to do. In so doing, when the hard questions crop up, he or she has a full and ready reserve of willpower to make a sound choice.

Such as resisting this thing right here.


(It was so hard. I had to have a cup of Earl Grey to keep myself from succumbing to the sweet, creamy joy of the Dairy Queen Blizzard.)

But it’s proven: making the smaller decisions automatic saves your energy to combat the evil Blizzard at the end of the day. Three lovely guests to NPR had researched the effort (and actual energy) needed to make decisions; the brain has a finite reserve of energy set aside for decision-making. Meaning that the larger the number of difficult decisions you have to make, the more drained you will be (and more prone to ill-fated choices). You can listen to the entire marvelous story here.

So, making a choice (let alone the right one) is truly a draining process. There are a few ways to channel one’s energy to efficiently use brain/willpower to an advantage.

By no means an exhaustive list:

  • Make the decision… *before* it’s time to make it. This could be resolving to not have that Blizzard while satiated or going to bed early to make the morning easier to cope with.
  • Make the little things automatic. If you want to read more, replace the handy laptop with a book. If you want to eat better, keep tempting food outside of the house. If you have fewer “temptations” to confront, you keep your reserves fresh for more difficult choices that lay ahead.
  • Make a to-do list. I’m not kidding. Part of the hard thing about making decisions is simply deciding to put them into action. Physically writing it out gives you a head start in getting the ball rolling.
  • Split the big decisions into smaller ones. If something is huge and complex, break it down into its parts. Overwhelming yourself never helps anything!

Those big decisions are never easy. Just remember to work with your decision-making muscle and use it wisely!


5 thoughts on “On Indecision

  1. I completely agree with breaking things down into smaller, more manageable pieces! Too many people try to do too much too fast, and that’s their downfall. Know your strengths and play to them, but take your time. Great post!

  2. Really thought-provoking piece. What do you say to the people who would have us believe that to do lists are pure procrastination, and that we should just get on with whatever needs doing instead of wasting time writing it down?

    1. It may be procrastination, but for some (like myself), lists are more than that. It is a physical manifestation of priorities, dissolved of mental baggage. Being a visual person, it allows me to place priority where it is due and to hold myself accountable for what I have set to pen and paper. Some people may do this as a form of procrastination… which is unfortunate. I have many to-do lists that went unfinished. But it often alleviates the mind of anxiety; what must be done is already been committed to being completed.

      1. I suppose like most things it depends on the individual. I have to confess to being more in the procastination camp, but I also find that sometimes making the list gives me a small sense of achievement. This then gives me an extra boost to go and actually do the things on my list

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