Making Decisions

I have always struggled with decisions. I think I always waffle because I’m afraid of making the “wrong” choice. I worry about the other possibilities, the other things I might miss out on when I decide to go down a certain path. I tend to overthink all of the pros and cons of all of the possibilities, which usually just fuels my anxiety and sometimes prevents me from taking any action at all.

Case in point: When I was in middle school, I had to decide whether I wanted to take French or Spanish. Apparently my parents had to call the school several times because I kept changing my mind—and then I got an extension so I could have even longer to decide.

Recently, I’ve been trying to listen to my intuition, my gut instinct, and trust that it will lead me where I need to go. For somebody who feels the need to thoroughly check out every single option in the store before buying the “best” lip balm, this is pretty challenging. But, I’m making progress! The other day, my mom told me that my decisions have seemed “less traumatic” lately. Hooray! (p.s. In case you’re wondering, I’ve determined that the best lip balm is Dr. Bronner’s peppermint.)

In a talk about making decisions, Alan Watts says that letting go is one of the scariest things we can do. I totally agree with this. Being out of control is terrifying. I guess one reason that decisions are so stressful is that we think going through all the possibilities thoroughly and making an “informed” decision, we are more in control of the outcome. But as much as we like to think we can control outcomes, we really can’t. Going with your gut instinct makes it more obvious that you’re entrusting the outcome to a force that we don’t really understand. Intuition is not something that can be measured or explained.

One of the scary things about this is that people still hold you accountable for things that resulted because of your decisions. And it’s easier to blame someone (including yourself) for a bad decision if you think they at least made their best effort to make a good one.

The thing is, I think entrusting your decision to our intuition, even though we don’t really understand it, is probably our best effort. At least it saves us a whole lot of time and tears during the deciding process.

One of the reasons I love making art is that artistic pursuits are probably the area of my life in which I feel most comfortable trusting my intuition. I don’t mean that I don’t make any “bad” decisions when I’m making art—I have definitely created some really bizarre drawings and poems—but I feel confident in most of my choices in the process. And often things do turn out well.

Mr. Watts also makes the point that even seemingly disastrous decisions turn out to be okay in the end. You never really know what’s going to happen in the future anyway, as he points out, because even if you try to make a really well-informed decision, you can’t take into account all of the infinite possible things that could happen. And who knows, maybe things will end up turning out even better than you could have imagined.

Now you may be wondering what became of my tortured Spanish vs. French decision; Spanish won out in the end. And it turned out to be my favorite academic subject in middle and high school. Was that what my gut was telling me to do? Who knows. I was so caught up in my thoughts that I don’t even think I could hear my gut. But I survived. Plus, I can sort of speak Spanish now. ¡Que éxito!


Alan Watts on Making Decisions