Decisiveness is a skill. Indecisiveness is a learned behaviour. Luckily, therefore, like most learned behaviours, indecisiveness can be unlearned.
So where do we begin?
The cause of indecisiveness is the key to its solution. So we need to understand where indecisiveness comes from, to stop it from coming back again and again.
Decision-Making: It’s Child’s Play
Let’s consider childhood. At this point in our lives, making decisions is simple and instinctive. We know what we want (and, more commonly, what we don’t want), and settle for nothing less.
But where does this decisiveness come from?
The answer is simple — as children, we tend to operate out of our bodies rather than our minds.
When someone asks a child whether they want a chocolate or vanilla ice cream, they make this decision based on a visceral instinct, rather than trying to figure out what’s best for them, how choosing vanilla might make them look, or how many calories there are in each respective scoop.
They just listen to their bodies, make a decision and cut out the middle man — the brain.
Decision-Making in Adulthood
As adults, we take the opposite stance. We take one decision, and consider it from so many angles that it actually ends up becoming multiple decisions simultaneously.
When deciding which book to read, for example, the question in our minds isn’t just: Which book do I want to read?
Instead, we consider this question from many angles: from how it might make us feel, to how it will make us look, to whether or not we will enjoy it.
In other words, we try to make a decision represent something bigger about ourselves, and the direction in which our life is going.
When every decision is a test of character, indecisiveness is unsurprising.
The problem with decisiveness in adulthood, then, isn’t the number of decisions that we have to make. It’s the fact that we generate more choices for ourselves, by trying to intellectualise decisions, instead of simply acting on our instinct.
Why So Indecisive?
Let’s go back to the beginning. If decisions start out as a bodily reaction, what blocks them?
The simple answer is: life. We are taught, over and over again as we grow, to ignore our inner voice in favour of external authority. This starts in school, where we are first told when to get up, eat, pee and rest, and continues into adulthood and our current workplace system, which requires us to fit our needs around a rigid 9–5 corporate structure.
Simply put, every time we ignore our internal voice and prioritise an external one, our connection with this inner knowing gets a little bit fainter, and our ability to make decisions from this place of certainty gets a little bit weaker.
What Can We Do Differently?
You can’t solve a problem at the same level of consciousness that created the problem
– Albert Einstein
To make better decisions, then, we need to do two things: listen to the body, and quieten the mind.
Step 1: Listening to your body
In adulthood, re-gaining the ability to make decisions from that instinctive place of knowing means strengthening the connection between yourself and your body.
This is where muscle testing comes in.
In principle, muscle testing is extremely simple. You pick a movement or gesture to represent “Yes” and the opposite to represent “No”. For example, you can make a circle with your index finger and thumb on one hand, and your pinkie and thumb on the other. Then link these together to form a “chain”. Ask yourself a question. If the chain holds, this represents a “Yes”. If it breaks, your body is telling you “No”.
Other alternatives include standing still and asking yourself the “Yes” or “No” question. If your body sways forward — that’s a yes. If it sways backwards, it’s a no.
These are only two options, and you can come up with many more yourself. The main thing isn’t the method, it’s what you do next.
Next — you start re-building your instinct. You do this by testing out your new “Yes”/“No” system. At first, do it frequently, but on simple things. Do you want a tea — yes or no? Or a coffee — yes or no? Do you want to read a book — yes or no? Or watch TV — yes or no?
Every time you do this, your connection with your bodily instinct will get a little bit stronger, and your decision-making will follow suit.
Over time, you won’t even need to use the method anymore. The voice of your instinct will have become strong enough that you can hear it above the noise of any indecision.
Step 2: Quietening your mind
Problems are solved, while dilemmas are resolved through a shift in perception
– Alan Watt
Making decisions isn’t scary. The value we assign to those decisions is what makes them scary. If we believe that a decision is irrevocable, we will treat it as important. If we believe that a decision can be re-written, we will take it lightly, and course-correct as we go along.
That’s what the second step is all about. A belief-system change. Because very few decisions are actually irrevocable. And the best way to learn is from your own experiences.
All you need to do is train yourself. Again, take small decisions and start from there. And set yourself time-limits. If the decision is choosing what to eat at lunch, set a 3 second time limit. Then just pick something.
Sure, you might make mistakes along the way. You might send an email which, had you taken longer over it, you would have gotten just right. Maybe.
But what if you hadn’t?
You’d still have to spend time correcting it, but in this instance you’d also have wasted time by obsessing over it in the first place.
Because that what indecisiveness really costs you. The most valuable asset that you have. And the only non-renewable one. Time.
- Making decisions starts out as a bodily instinct
- As we get older, we lose touch with this instinct and start to deal with decisions solely in the mind.
- This means that, as adults, we generate more decisions for ourselves by thinking about what a decision means rather than how it feels.
- We can re-claim our decision-making instinct. There are two steps to this: listening to our bodies and quietening our minds.
- Step 1: Listening to our bodies with Muscle Testing. This is a simple technique to re-create the connection between yourself and your bodily instinct. A movement or gesture is picked to represent “Yes” and its opposite stands for “No”. You then use the technique on all decisions with a “Yes” or “No” outcome. Eventually, your instinct will become so strong that you won’t even need to use the technique.
- Step 2: Quietening our minds with a shift in perception. You can never ultimately predict how a decision is going to turn out. This is why making decisions can be so hard. But most decisions are reversible. At worst, therefore, making the “wrong” decision costs us hypothetical time in the future i.e. the time taken to correct the decision. Indecisiveness, on the other hand, costs us time in the present. This is the most valuable asset that we have. By shifting our perception in this way — to focus on what indecisiveness costs us in the present, rather than what making a decision might cost us in the future — we can make decisions more quickly and course-correct as we go along.