Indecision: How to Overcome It and Escape No Man's Land

Decision Making
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8 Minute
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Indecision is the no man’s land of decision-making. No one wants to be there, but most of us end up there at some point in our lives.

It’s the home of the undecided.

Frozen in place, choices pull them first one way, then the other. The middle marker on the tug of war rope knows this place so well. Never one way or the other does the marker go. For the undecided, the tease of one outcome on one end, another at the other end. Indecision, the home of the middle marker is often the winner.

It’s that horrible place where decisions get left unmade.

Of course, decisions left unmade are decisions in themselves. The undecided have unknowingly decided, though it’s not a decision they’ve made.

Escaping no man’s land and overcoming indecision comes down to having a process of knowing how to decide.

Before we learn how to escape this unwelcome space, we should take the time to understand what causes indecision. Why do we freeze, caught between choices of outcomes we can’t control? What stops us from deciding? If we can remove those, then deciding becomes easier and we have a way to escape the darkness of no man’s land.

The 4 Areas of Indecision Which Lead Us to Frustration

There are, broadly speaking, 4 areas that contribute to those moments of indecision.

Each one is enough to cause doubt and hesitation in our decisions. They paralyse us, putting us right back in the wet and windy landscape of no man’s land. To escape such a place, we need to grasp each of these areas and use them to overcome our lack of decisiveness.

1. Permanency

Deciding with speed can only happen when you consider the permanency of a decision.

Indecision lingers when we don't consider whether a decision is reversible or irreversible. Understanding a choice can be undone—and holding upside for you shouldn't delay you in saying yes. What have you got to lose?

Of course, seeing a decision as irreversible offers a clear pathway to further consideration. This isn’t a moment of indecision. No, it's a moment for you to assess the information you have. It's time to ponder the consequences and consider the second-order effects. Such is the impact of an irreversible decision.

Failing to consider the permanency of a decision ahead creates another moment of indecision.

2. Strategy

What’s strategy got to do with indecision?

A lot.

Having a clear idea of a goal—along with the steps you're going to take to achieve said goal creates a benchmark. This line in the sand gives clarity to future decisions. Questions lead us to check what we are doing and why.

  • How does this choice align with my goal?
  • What does this decision do to further me to my goal?
  • What am I not doing if I say yes?

You should never make a decision in isolation of the future.

To have a say in your future, you need a strategy. Without this plan in place, decisions ahead offer limited upsides. How can you expect to compound anything without a long-term goal?

3. Uncertainty

The late Tommy Cooper once said: “I used to be indecisive but now I am not quite sure.” Never has a quote felt so at home for the indecisive, and yet, so out of place for those who make decisions.

Indecision comes from a desire to make binary decisions.

Decisions should be certain; the outcome a given. Uncertainty leads us to doubt, and this takes us to the middle marker on the tug of war rope. We should be hedging—assessing risk—and checking probable outcomes, but instead, we dither. When the choice isn’t clear, few of us know what to do next.

We want certainty, just as much as we despise uncertainty.

The reality is this; nothing is certain.

It doesn’t matter how often it’s said, our brains don’t want uncertainty. We strive for the known and shun the unknown. Our belief system struggles because of biases like survivorship bias.

It’s easier to focus on what we can see, than what we can’t see.

4. Risk

We either ignore risk, or we fear it so much we avoid deciding.

The fallacy is simple.

You can’t—and shouldn’t ignore risk. Otherwise, it will get you. Ignored, it has the power to surprise you and frighten you in equal measure. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Assessed, quantified and considered, the risk becomes another source of information.

Pausing, and considering the risks of a decision leads you towards more information. Second-order and third-order effects come to mind. Now, the implications of a bad outcome appear, as we ponder the downside—risk in its true form.

When you ignore risk, you’re exposing yourself to an unknown downside. It is this fear that leaves us in the space of no man’s land and indecision.

Overcoming Indecision

Understanding the 4 areas of indecision; uncertainty, strategy, permanency, and risk explains why we end up stuck in no man’s land.

Each area offers an upside to improving our decision-making. Here’s how we can use each one to overcome indecision.

Permanency

Permanency should be an intuitive consideration in every decision you make.

Think of the time you can save. Indecision becomes a moment of history as you become tuned to the reversible or irreversible nature of a decision. Reversible choices allow you to move quickly, as you know you can always turn back.

Irreversible decisions; the permanent ones do need deeper consideration. And that’s fine because you’ll now have the decision-making capacity—previously lost to indecision—to make more considered choices.

That’s the power of permanency.

Strategy

How can travel somewhere if you don’t know how to get there?

I see a strategy in exactly the same way. In moments of indecision, being able to look at a choice and say does this align with my goals before deciding is crucial. Without a strategy, you can’t make that call.

You are stuck in no man’s land again.

Defining a strategy might mean defining some life goals, and that’s fine. Life goals allow you to dream, and the strategy allows you to live your dream.

Uncertainty

Uncertainty is life.

Accepting it, understanding it, and embracing it, means you can live with it. More importantly, you can make decisions with it. When you accept uncertainty, you also accept the difference between a decision and its outcome.

The decision you control. The outcome, you don’t.

This is why embracing uncertainty is so important. You need to control what you can control. The moment you leave a decision unmade, you’re giving the choice to someone else or entropy—and that rarely ends well.

Risk

If you deny risk, you risk everything.

Accept risk by looking for it and your decisions improve. It is so simple. As I mentioned earlier, the risks are information. By assessing it, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to improve the quality of your decision.

You might not remove the risk, but you can prepare for it, limit it, and so live with it.

Concluding thoughts

Every moment of indecision comes from our failure to use these 4 areas as platforms to not only decide, but to decide in a better way. That’s the pivot from indecision. To become a person who considers permanency, who works within their strategy, who factors in uncertainty, and who assesses the risks of choice—is the person who becomes a great decision-maker.

A decision unmade never remains unmade.

It’s a fact we choose to ignore.

Unmade decisions leave themselves open to the judgement of others. Of entropy and the potential horrors—good and bad—of randomness and fortune. It is far better to give yourself control over something you control than not.

I’m going to end with this quote from Israelmore Ayivor as it feels perfect:

“Don't forget, when you refuse to make the right choices, you have already chosen to live the wrong way! Indecision is a decision to live wrongly!”

Image credit: Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

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