Why do smart people so often have such a tough time making decisions? So often we—the friends and helpers—want to say, “You’re overthinking it!” But that’s not quite right. Saying “you’re overthinking it” is like saying “you have too many people in your lifeboat.” Okay, fine, but who do you suggest we throw overboard?
I’m going to tell you who—what—to throw overboard when you’re stuck with a tough decision. It’s a great hack.
The last instance where this came up was with Megan. She was stuck in a dead marriage and a dying long-term affair. The affair provided the sexual outlet her marriage couldn’t give her. But she didn’t like or respect the affair guy all that much.
Still, as long as things were what they were, it worked for her.
But then affair guy started getting needy. Problems had come up in his life with his kids. Just when Megan had started slowly, maybe imperceptibly, making distance from affair guy, he started making more demands on her. Some of which made her feel guilty for not helping him with them.
So she was in a state where she both wanted out of the affair all the more but was finding it all the harder to get out.
So where does this stuck part come from? You always have to ask yourself this. What’s making a not-so-hard decision feel like a very hard decision?
For Megan, sloughing off the affair would be good except for bye-bye very welcome sex and for, now, guilt.
Here’s the magic question that broke the deadlock. “Megan, for each one of these things, the losing the sex and the guilt,
is this a cost of making the decision
a reason not to make the decision?
This is a great hack because this is where we all get stuck most of the time. There are always reasons not to make a wonderful decision. It’s your anniversary. You’re wanting to go to an amazing restaurant to celebrate. You know it’ll be—GULP!—really expensive, but you say, screw it, it’s our anniversary!!
Look at what you’ve just done. You’ve said, hey, the cost of deciding to eat at Chez Moolah is the expense, but that’s not a reason not to go there. How many times does your 19thanniversary come around?? You can survive the dent Chez Moolah will make in your wallet.
On the other hand, given the state of your finances, the cost of flying to Paris for breakfast really would be a reason not to do it, since it’d be 100 times the cost of dinner at Chez Moolah.
The implications of “cost of making the decision” vs. “reason not to make the decision” are simple.
If it’s just a cost, you take the hit.
Let’s say you have two young boys, and you’ve wanted a daughter. But you’ve been pretty clear: enough kids. So if that’s where you’re at—enough kids—then you say—maybe with a big sigh—I’ll be grateful for two fine boys, and we won’t keep throwing the dice in the hope of a girl turning up. That could be a lot of throws of the dice! It’s sad, but it’s okay.
I’m not saying that’s what you should decide. I’m just saying that’s how you can turn what feels like an impossible decision in to one that’s do-able.
But if it truly is a reason not to, then you don’t.
A woman I knew lived with her troubled adult son. He acted erratically and could be threatening. She didn’t feel safe with him. The issue was, should she have him removed from her house. Her own son.
His staying with her didn’t help him and did put her in danger. That’s tragic but it’s true. So the cost of his staying there was her being and feeling in constant danger. To those of us who had expertise, it was clear that this was definitely a reason for him not to stay with her anymore. The presence of real danger made her feelings of being threatened a not-worthwhile cost.
This is a healthy thing for us to understand. If your goal is to a) make a good decision and b) get unstuck and stop dithering about making it, you will have to face
hard but clarifying realities.
These realities are your friends!! They get you from stuckness to clarity, from no decision to a good decision.
If what’s been keeping you from making your decision is a cost, but it’s just a cost, then face it, take it, and be okay with it. It’s like hiring movers. No one wants to pay guys to shlep your stuff, but it’s a cost of going to live in a better place. Good for you!
And if you realize that something is a reason not to make a certain decision, then, well, whew! You’ve saved yourself from making a huge mistake. Life mistakes can be very costly... As we all come to realize.
We’re all pretty good at sorting this out, once “cost of” vs. “reason not to” is brought to our attention. When you apply this hack to your decisions, you’ll see how quickly you get unstuck and how the quality of your decisions rises.
Note: the last picture here is of the current Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas.