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50 Flavors of Indecisive — Sweating the Small Decisions

In a conversation following a lecture about being future-ready, a twenty-something year old participant shared her concerns with the group: "The future seems so far away to me," especially when I have to make a small decision. I don't sweat the big decisions," she continued, "but, put me in front of a freezer with 50 flavours of ice-cream and I can stand there confused, indecisive and helpless for an hour."

—"And when the hour is done?" asked the group.

"I will take the same flavor that I always take — and will go away frustrated, unsatisfied and angry with myself."

—"Have you tried to flip a coin?"

—"Can you ask someone else to recommend a flavor?"

—"Why don't you taste a few options, and then decide?"

Were some of the helpful suggestions of the group. I remained silent, even though inside I was really dying to tell her: "Let's talk, this isn't about ice-cream — is it?!" I didn't want to patronise or condescend: it's not like I have the cure or anything. I felt very strong empathy with the situation. When the realtor brought my husband and I to see the house that we currently live in, I stepped over the threshold, tugged at my husband's elbow and whispered, "we're buying this house..." and sure enough, we did. But, ask me what restaurant I want to eat at, or what gift I want for my birthday, I will shrug or stare at you blankly. In my case, it's not because of indecision per se. Thing is, I don't really know, and I don't really care. I will happily go with the flow. I will find something to eat wherever we go, and I really don't need any gifts.

However, there is a difference between her indecision and my 'apathy'. I will go into the ice-cream parlour, not know which flavour to take and instead of wasting time, I will choose whatever catches my eye. Maybe I will like it, maybe I won't. No regrets. I inherently accept that since I have nothing invested in the decision — I can't regret the outcome. It is the same as doing a coin flip — fate has spoken! But, indecision, on the other hand, can be crippling. To be unable to conquer the insurmountable wall of decision, and then, no matter what happens, to regret — taking or not taking, tasting or not tasting, cookie dough and cream, or mango sorbet — that is debilitating. It can also be — please excuse the rather dramatic statement — soul-destroying. If I don't know myself on this issue, can I really trust myself on something that is potentially a life-changing decision? The seeds of indecision on the small things will eventually sow a row of shady doubt on the big things.

That's why indecision on the small things is never about choosing ice-cream, or stating a preference for a night out, it is about living with regrets, it is about living with frustration, it is about living with the sense that you cannot shake, that you don't know yourself well enough to know what you really want: whether you are looking ahead to the future, or just living in the present.

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