There was much talk about the difficulty of making decisions lately, so I thought this was a good time to contemplate on the the subject of choices and making decisions.
This is what it comes down to – making a choice. To go left or right, to do this or that, to move or to stay, to engage or withdraw, to be joyful or miserable. We are making choices each waking second of our life. We make conscious choices involving our intellectual capacity – or reason – and we make unconscious choices based on our conditioning or acquired preferences. Even if we leave the choice to someone else – we make a choice. There is not a single instance in our day, when we are not making a choice.
To be alive means to make choices and it seems natural to look further into the decision making capacity. It appears to me, that a decision is of a higher organising principle than a simple choice. A decision seems to involve deliberation, pondering, reason. A decision seems to be so much more firm and serious than a simple choice. The Latin “decidere” means literally to “cut off” and this is already giving us a hint, why decisions are in general regarded substantial. Basically, decision making is a mental, cognitive process, resulting in the selection of a course of action among several alternatives. Every decision making process produces a final choice and the output can be an action or a firm opinion.
So the operative word here seems to be final. Once I made this decision, I basically have to stick with it for some time and consciously experience the effects of my decision on myself and the world around me.
And here we are already coming across that agonising quandary of any reluctant decision maker: “What if I am not going to like it”.
Decisions are a tool to bring about change and we do have certain expectations regarding their outcome. When I decide to take up yoga classes, I may have the expectation of being more relaxed. When I decide to start an education, I may do so with the expectation to improve my professional skills and do a better job. When I decide to read a book, I may have the expectation to be educated, entertained or stimulated. When I get married, I may have the expectation to raise a family and when I file for a divorce, I may have an expectation to be free again.
Expectations are a snapshot of our view of the future. It is where we see ourselves today and where we want to be tomorrow. Expectations inherently hold a prospect of the future, and they are tied to the decision making process. I am making a decision to get from point A to point B, and I have a certain expectancy what that will do for me. So along the way, I will do whatever I can, to make sure my view of the end-result does pan out right. Just observe yourself closely, following through with a decision and you will see what I mean. We tend to manipulate our environment based on our expectations and this does cost a lot of energy in the process.
To give you an example – let us say you go on a weight loss program. Your expectation may be to lose a certain amount of unsightly fat and it also includes the expectation of a more attractive, healthy, glowing you. So the decision to eat less is not based on a need to give your body what it needs, but an expectation of how your life will improve once you have lost the excess fat. And this is how diets fail to work over and over again.
Expectations are directed towards the future, but they are rooted in the past. So whenever we are in the process of making a decision, we also have to ask ourselves, what is the basis for wishing to make a change. Is it that my life situation demands it, is it something I need, or want? Always remember, that not making a decision is making a decision too. I often come across people who have a really hard time, making up their mind and often let a decision drag on, to a point it generates actually a lot of drama. So we really have to look at our own way of making decisions and ask ourselves, what is driving us – a real need or a sense of purpose, or is it rooted in – fear.
Many decision we take – and that again includes the decision to stay put – is simply rooted in naked fear of change. What will happen if I leave an unhappy situation, an abusive partner or a stressful job. What will happen to me if I stand up to the bully, or speak up for myself. What will happen, if I go with what I feel is right for me, as opposed to continue doing things in my old way, that are exhausting and take the life out of me.
This is the reason why so many people have a hard time to make a decision. The outcome is not guaranteed to be in line of the view of ourselves and very often we project our own unwillingness to change on to others: “What will happen to my partner if I leave”, “I cannot leave my job now”, “ I cannot disappoint my friends”.
Well, guess what – it is never about the other. It is always about yourself.
So it is a good practice to actually ask yourself what you gain from staying where you are right now. Mostly it is about wanting to keep a sense of security and control – it is a bad situation, but at least it is a bad situation I can count on being there tomorrow.
I think we all have made these experiences. Decisions that were hard, took a lot of analysing and deliberation, had consequences. Then there are those instances everything in us wants to move on, but we never make the decision to change and follow through with it. And then there are all those other decisions we do not even think about. Like what we put in our mouth, what we say, how we treat others and what we think and how we judge. Each judgement is a decision.
For myself I am arriving more and more at the insight that I do not need to make decisions so much, but rather work with intent. This again drives the choices I have to make and it is always straightforward and clear. It is not always easy or expected. For example, one surprising choice for me has been to withdraw for a certain period of time, without really knowing why. For quite some time I struggled with my own image of myself of being in charge and in control. What I have learned going through this process is, if choices are based on intent, as opposed to expectations – the choices I make are aligned to the intent and not rooted in my desire to manipulate my reality. This has been a very surprising insight for me, because it made me see and understand how much I had struggled all day, to keep a certain image of myself alive. It was not true and what is emerging now feels a lot more authentic to me. I have replaced the desire to control – or manipulate – the outcome, with the process of letting go.
So decisions may not be necessary at all, if we live aligned with truth. We make choices according to the need of our body and the greater purpose of our life. Agony and deliberations are not necessary and things fall in place effortlessly.
Worthwhile to reflect about it.