Today was a day with a lot in it. Lots of meetings, actions, phone calls – even a trip to the dentist. I can list off the things that were done today, and yet there’s a much longer list of what didn’t happen. And that’s the tradeoff of time and it’s also a choice in how time was invested – both in what was done and what I chose not to do.
The brain, just like the day, is full of activity. And most of those efforts require a collection of decisions to go along with each output that happened. Some research has indicated that the average person makes more than 35,000 decisions a day. Now most of those are micro mental moments that we won’t even register consciously. Just going from room to room is a decision. You can stop walking at any time. But you aren’t likely making that decision every second. The brain decided to move and then the body set it in motion.
But this episode isn’t about what you are doing. It’s about what you’re deciding not to do.
The Bottom Line on Top is that indecision is a decision.
Brain scan imaging shows some of the science of decision making, and that it happens in a matter of seconds – often before we register it consciously. That first instinct that happens is an output of the supercomputer of your mind. It went and searched through its historical archives and even did scenario modeling before sending a cognitive signal to you for Yes or No on each decision.
Now that’s simply an initial output from the received input. It’s the next, more conscious level of thought where we spend most time in our decision making. This is when we’re either validating the initial reaction or we’re looking to counterbalance with additional options. Because life is very nuanced and that’s a normal part of our intellectual reasoning.
When we start re-examining the options or side-stepping making a selection at all, we are hitting a mental Pause button. Sometimes this is caused by decision fatigue, which is just the mental overload that happens over the course of a day – or over the course of a period of time – when it’s harder to make quality decisions after an extended period of making regular decisions. This shows up for me when I can make decisions all day long and then not have a clue what do for dinner. My brain just hit a wall.
The difference between feeling overloaded vs. avoidant is typically in the frequency of how often you’re using that Pause button and how long it is staying on pause. Being ambivalent to dinner is a consequence for today. But the intentional act of not making a decision – that’s when you’re making the extensive pro/con list or gathering all that feedback from people, reading articles and apps and books or moving that item from your to-do list to your other to-list – that can take hours, days, weeks, sometimes months. When you suspend yourself in indecision, you are avoiding something either intrinsically (such as “what if I fail?”) or extrinsically (“I don’t want them to be upset or disappointed with me.”)
Choosing to multitask, procrastinate, research, and sleep-on-it are all tools we use to avoid a decision. Yes, there are complicated, complex things in our lives that require a lot of thought and involve a lot of details. But details are actions once a decision is made. Details are the How you execute on the What.
So check in to see what you have been struggling with recently. Was there something today that you moved to the Later column in your mind? Or you’ve been moving frequently lately? Or is there a topic that you keep burying under other items? There is a difference between how you prioritize your time for decision making and how you shuffle the uncomfortable pieces into piles of procrastination.
Whatever you are still deciding on is what you are avoiding.
Watch where you put the question marks in your life and you’re going to find the corners where your mind is hiding:
“Should I apply for that opportunity?”
“Should I respond to that email?”
“Should I speak up about this?”
“Should I tell them what I’m really thinking?”
Those are all important question marks that are also indicators of what’s happening. This isn’t about waiting for the right answer to reveal itself to you; it’s about trusting that the decision you make today is the right one, for right now.
When you feel the pull of procrastination about making a decision, give yourself space to explore if it’s driven by an abundance of fear versus an absence of facts.
Start un-pausing and see what happens. And, remember, you get to change your mind. You just have to make up your mind first.
And making a decision is one of the many ways that we can take good care of ourselves.