Almost any decision is better than no decision at all. - Brian Tracy
Clutter is the result of postponed decisions. - Barbara Hemphill
I'm terrible at decision-making. - a lot of my clients
Many of you have heard these quotes, or something akin to them. Or maybe you've repeated one or two of them. They resonate because they feel true - and I know this both through experience and instinct. I recite the one from Barbara Hemphill to people a lot, and it always hits home - but I also know that for many it's simultaneously easy to digest and difficult to execute. What all lies behind making what seems like a simple choice? Quite a lot, in my observation, and we miss an opportunity when we stop at the end of the quotes.
Sometimes when I'm working with someone on a space attempting to provide homes for too many objects, the client will hold up one of those objects with a look of distaste. Or maybe even complete revulsion. I can see it on their face or in the way they handle it. It could be anything from a picture frame their ex gave them to a wall calendar from 2003. I wait to see what's going to happen next, and I hear them ask, "Can I get rid of this?"* or "Should I keep this?" or "What should I do?"
Of course, you can get rid of it. Of course, you can keep it. Of course, we can discuss it if we need to. But what in the client needed me to approve one of their options, when it was pretty evident that they already knew what needed to happen? It's not my stuff, and honestly it's not even my job to force someone to get rid of things. Sometimes, too, I see people get totally locked up with decision-making. They aren't seeking approval, necessarily, but they freeze at the thought of making a choice. For whatever reason, choosing is scary.
It happens just as frequently with schedule clutter, or head clutter. Who gets to see me for lunch on Saturday, who gets my time for a volunteer gig? Which goals do I want to pursue, which do I want to postpone, which do I want to let go of entirely?
I observe the process getting hung up in three distinct ways:
There's a ton of neuroscience about how making decisions plays out in the brain. Doing a little research for this post, the following passage from the website Applied Attention caught my attention:
"Even simple decisions are complicated. We have a clever brain that leads us to believe that we came up with our reasons first and then we made our decision – it turns out that it often happens in reverse. Neuroscientists have found that, in many situations, we make a decision first and then come up with our reasons to support the decision afterwards (emphasis mine)."
It seems to confirm what I notice when clients clearly, with their body language, indicate that they already know what they need to do about something.
I also came across this gem: the average American makes roughly 35,000 decisions a day. Granted, many of those are really small and quick (Which coffee mug am I going to grab? Sweatshirt...or flannel?). But decision fatigue is a real thing, and the role of intuition and mindfulness in decision-making is all but lost. I think this loss is due in no small part to a) the gargantuan level of information we can consume 24-7-365, all with a few clicks, and b) the gargantuan level of stuff and opportunities we've been presented with, also all with a few clicks. Who wouldn't be fatigued?
My thought is that because there is so much cheap and easy information, people gravitate towards relying solely on head decisions, to the exclusion of heartfelt or embodied decisions. We're taught to make "informed" choices, ask for opinions, subscribe to Consumer Reports, check out how many stars there are.
If we don't carefully read through all 27 reviews of the bed & breakfast online, we'll make the wrong choice for our vacation, and then it will absolutely, totally, suck. Someone will mock us or think less of us if we select the wrong type of coffee maker. There are 10,000+ planners available on Amazon, but if we don't identify The One, our lives will disintegrate into an unscheduled, goal-less wasteland. We've become accustomed to calling for backup of some sort on every move we make - and wow, there's a lot to parse through in that backup.
What happened to trusting your gut? There's nothing wrong with collecting some knowledge if you don't have it, and certainly if the stakes are high (buying a house, getting married, changing careers) we want to utilize our brains as well as our hearts. But really, where do we draw the line on things like keeping old bank statements? Or the jeans that don't fit now? Do those decisions require brainstorming?
What if you could exercise the intuitive, gut-level decision-making muscle in some small ways, with some choices that aren't make-or-break? With life slowing down for many of us right now, there's a fabulous opportunity to play with the process. You might work with it this way:
Journaling or keeping a log of how these kinds of decisions work for you over time can give you some great information. How many times does instinct work out for you? Could you be trusting it more, and coming out ahead as a result? You might even try timing yourself on small decisions, limiting the opportunity to fall into that head-based process.
I'll end with another quote:
Every decision brings with it some good, some bad, some lessons, and some luck. The only thing that’s for sure is that indecision steals many years from many people who wind up wishing they’d had the courage to leap. - Doe Zantamata
* We'll drop the grammar rules in this case for the sake of colloquialism. No one ever says to me, "May I get rid of this?"
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, dog-lover, author. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?