The Art of Indecision

Sometimes I marvel at my friends who can sit down in a restaurant, glance at the menu for less than a minute and confidently close it, decision made. Done and done. How do they do that? How are they so confident in themselves to know exactly what they are in the mood for without weighing the pros and cons of each item? Granted, I’m not that bad, but there have been times when I have placed an order and spent the rest of the meal regretting my choice. Pasta? Really? Why didn’t I get the steak tips? The steak tips would have been so much better!

Is this a cultural problem? A problem of our time and place in history? Are we spoiled with too many options and opportunities at our fingertips? Do we have this idea of how life should be and then spend every moment of our existence trying to make things live up to that expectation?

Jonah Lehrer, author of HOW WE DECIDE, calls this “paralysis-by-analysis” and explores our indecision with often mundane and insignificant choices (like what kind of cereal or toothpaste to choose).

Yes, these small decisions do leave me paralyzed with indecision but the big questions (where to live, when to get married, what is my life’s work), these tear me apart.

When I was in the 4th grade I had to memorize the Robert Frost poem, THE ROAD NOT TAKEN.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

An inspiring poem, no doubt. But unfortunately, I’m stuck at the fork in the road. I haven’t taken a road, I haven’t made the choice. Which is the one less traveled by? Which is the one that will make all the difference?

I was raised by a strong woman, my mother, who has been happily married to my father for over forty years. And yet she still advises me to be independent, build a career, do everything, be everything, live a wildly exotic and exciting life. Is she telling me not to get married? Is she saying I should be more exciting? More daring? Should I settle down and have children? If not now, when?

Do we have too many opportunities? Are they causing us to constantly keep our eyes peeled for something better, something more inspiring, something larger than life? Is this what causes our paralysis-by-analysis? Are we weighing our options too heavily instead of settling into what is comfortable?

Yes, these are bigger questions than what to order for dinner and what toothpaste to put in our grocery cart, but they all stem from the same modern issues, too many options result in too many paths and the impossibility of choosing “the road less traveled” that will make “all the difference.”

I don’t know what I’ll do or when I’ll do it. I have many choices to make and even though I should probably stop analyzing and start living, I can’t quite let go of my indecision. I am, however, holding tight to my decision to be indecisive. In the meantime, here are some great reading suggestions to help others understand the decision making process.