How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

How to Get Past Indecision

When choices begin to overwhelm, make a decision crisply, without overthinking.

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Ever wonder how some people make even the biggest decisions easily? One key is that they recognize when more ruminating probably isn’t worth the cost.

Imagine I lowered you from a helicopter onto the top of a frigid mountain and you had to get down. If you deliberated too long about which path to try, you’d probably die. It’s wiser just to peek down each path and pick the one that feels best. If you’re lucky, it will be passable and from there, you may see an even better side path. And if your chosen path leads you to a sheer cliff, you can return to the top and try another.

Here’s how crisper decision-making might be applied to three of life’s major decisions:

Careers. Most people who haven’t found the perfect career by age 20 would likely be equally satisfied in any of a number of careers. And even if not, it's wiser to choose one after just moderate exploration than to not start any career at all, in hopes of finding crystalline clarity—which is unlikely.

Consider this example: You’re deciding whether to be a comedian or an accountant. After just a few more weeks of reading, talking to insiders, and writing pros-and-cons, it’s usually wise to act: Start taking accounting courses and work on your comedy on the side, or pick either accounting or comedy and if it’s not working out, change directions then. Say you decided to try being a comedian. Circle a date on a calendar—maybe a year or two from now—and if no one is paying you at least modestly for your comedy by then, the odds are good that it won’t ever be your main source of income. In your life’s long arc, you’ll probably come to feel good about having given it a shot—but you didn’t spent so long committed to it that it becomes tough to change careers.

Investment. Many people get so paralyzed by investment choices that they keep most of their money in a no-interest account. Sure, other investments can lose money but most, over time, yield much better than zero. A crisp decision-maker would either hire someone at the standard 0.5 to 1% a year to manage their money or decide to save the fees and invest in a low-cost mutual fund—a  Vanguard All-in-One-Fund, perhaps, in a tax-friendly account such as 401(k). It really isn’t much more complicated than that.

Marriage. We all start out hoping to find the perfect mate. Alas, many of us end up having to decide how much imperfection we can accept. Of course, you may, in this most emotional of arenas, rely on gut feeling but it is possible to bring probabilistic thinking even to your choice of a partner by asking yourself, “Given what I bring to the table, is she (or he) likely as good a match as I’ll find before I’m ancient?” Of course, don't make the mistake of thinking, “Well, I’ll marry this flawed person now and then change them.” That typically leads to more dissension than progress. Better to just assume that what you see is what you’ll get.

All how-to advice is much easier said than done but your decision-making may be eased simply by keeping this word in mind: crisp.

Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to the articles here on PsychologyToday.com, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on www.martynemko.com. Of Nemko's seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. His bio is on Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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