“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Steve Jobs

Indecision

By Cindy Trevitt, Registered Professional Counsellor and Master Practitioner in Clinical Counselling

Comfortably stuck or stuck uncomfortably?…A fine distinction, which can seem imperceptible at times. We feel we’re stuck in a rut or it seems we can never progress from where we are to where we think we want to go. Why is that? It could be that on a deeper level we are avoiding something, likely emotional experiences such as uncertainty, vulnerability, fear and so on. For some, indecision is a coping mechanism. It’s an attempt to suspend time through avoidance. If you don’t go forward you won’t be confronted with your deeper fears and you stay comfortable while holding a reassuring thought that (albeit somewhat of an illusion), potentially, at some time in the future, you could be somewhere else. In reality, you are neither here nor there.

Too many options or too many people involved can complicate the decision making process. It might flood our mind until we are incapable of choosing. A menu with too many pages can create such an affect. It is better to remove yourself from the options and the wants of others and get clear on yourself first.

Occasionally, we hold delicious dreams in our pocket. A precious unfulfilled fantasy may give us relief from the mundane or harsh realities of life. Hopefully this does not override a realistic acceptance that life is tricky. We need a healthy willingness to engage life with emotional resilience.

On an unconscious level, unfulfilled wishes may help us with our fear of stagnancy or death. We might believe that if we have the illusion we could be moving or headed somewhere that we are alive and meaningful instead of the terrifyingly bleak and inevitable prospect of meaninglessness or death. Unfulfilled dreams of the future can be like the child who continually comes up with requests and stalling techniques to avoid the inevitable bedtime. It’s both charming and annoying simultaneously.

Indecision can stem from not knowing ourselves enough. Many times people are waffling between what they think they should do and what they want to do. A critical super ego or the influences of family, society, communities, obligation, status, etc. can cause a great deal of confusion and muddling through life. The clearer and more peaceful path is one aligned with your own bona fide needs and desires.

A double bind can create a quandary. Common instances occur in jobs and relationships. To stay provides familiarity, comfort and security. These are vital in the schema of human needs. To leave represents risk taking, possible adventure, uncertain futures, vulnerability and often pain. Staying might mean accepting a certain degree of dissatisfaction but to go might mean facing intolerable discomfort. Leaving may allow you to discover more desirable circumstances but also to discover the same or worse. There are no guarantees and uncertainty is daunting. Hesitancy to make a decision could be about wanting to keep the security of the present situation and obtain the freedom of the future option without any of the uncertainty, loss or risk. Usually such choices are hard, or impossible, to achieve. With decisions come the realistic acceptance that there is no perfect world and it will be uncomfortable, for at least a time, and then you will discover a new familiarity and likely a new discomfort that will be the same, worse or different depending on the choices you have made.

Some people doubt their own perceptions of the current situation. They may ask, is this normal? Am I being negative? Can this situation be helped? Am I the problem? Should I trust my feelings? Sometimes people do not have enough of a developed self to make these decisions. It may be possible that you need help to gain clarity and create a realistic and desirable personal narrative or construct a sensible plan.

Occasionally we have already made a choice without realizing it. We are staying in the job or the relationship even though we’re contemplating otherwise. Just notice that you actually have made a decision for the time being. This may feel counterintuitive but consider validating the comfort you live now might actually suit you quite nicely (it is often the case but our critical superego often confuses us with messages of our inadequacy). Consider possible ways to make your present life work. Think about how your ‘foot out the door’ mentality might keep you feeling free but simultaneously trapped and stressed. Are there courses of action you could take to help accept your situation? Are there ways you could appreciate the value of what you have?

Sometimes, it may seem unimaginable, but the life you already have is the one you were meant to live. The bravest actions are sometimes the decision to stay. Why not make the best of it? Remember, the definition of happiness is, wanting what you have. And you can always set goals if you wish.

It may help you to know that the beloved and renown hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, was indeed a homebody with one especially significant adventure. Perhaps you have an itch for an adventure from time to time and perhaps, in your own hobbit way, you need to gift yourself that while mainly living in your comfy burrow.

Are you avoiding responsibility or accountability for your life? If you remain in indecision, is this a defense against critical attack? If you live in fear of what others think, this is possible and can lead to constant immobility but give you the illusion of freedom from criticism as you’ve seemingly not made a decision.

The experience or dread of missing out is a part of the universal and often tortured human condition. We experience a sense of missing out as if there is an alternative, idyllic life where we live with ease, if only we could just take a different path, move differently, leave, change, etc. etc. etc. We can experience some sense of peace if we can accept that it’s not possible to live every alternative before us in this lifetime and no life is perfect. With every choice you make, you will miss out on something but try to focus on drinking in the rich experience of the choices you have made.

Don’t stay stuck circling the same indecisive path too long. If you’re obsessing, you may be in danger of shaping your personality and developing a paralytic prison and a kind of mental burnout.

If you find you are perpetually wrestling with indecision, immobility or futility you might need a fresh perspective to unlock you from your well-trodden circle. Try putting the decision aside for a generous period of time. Try changing directions for a while. Try looking at other people’s lives or getting different feedback (some will be unhelpful but some might help at least a little). Try reading the biographies of people who have struggled with decisions. As mentioned, try accepting things as they are. Try seeking the help of a professional if you think it might be a deeper quandary you are wrestling with.

If it’s a matter of too many choices, try boldly eliminating the least desirable choices to shorten the list.

Try asking yourself what the worst outcomes would be if you moved towards your goal and truly examine your fears and doubts. Ask yourself what you would do if each fear was realized (try writing this down as it lends a sense of order, concreteness and reason to the process).

And over all, validate and befriend this quandary. It is the human condition and you are in marvelous company. Most of us have endured this at one point or another in our lives. It is part of the existential mystery and we are meaning-making creatures. For most, it causes some angst but on occasion, some even enjoy the process of marveling at, or even discovering, the infinite possibilities.

Remember the quote, “When you come to the fork in the road. Take it.” – Yogi Berra

And the poem by Robert Frost, The Road not Taken, that starts, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both…”

If you wish to copy this material to other publications please ask for permission by writing cindy@mycounsellor.ca. Thanks for your friendship. To download a PDF of this article, please click here.