Photo Courtesy of Frank Grimm / Trunk Archive
The Trick to Making Good Decisions
Life coach Allison White doesn’t believe in big decisions. Which is why Elise Loehnen, goop’s chief content officer, calls White when she’s having a hard time making one. White takes the pressure off by showing why the stakes of any given decision are never as high as we think. And she makes the most logical choice clear: Move on.
(For more from White, see her ongoing relationship series, She Said/He Said, which she writes with her husband, David. And if you have questions of your own for the Whites, email us at [email protected])
Decisions Are Overrated
In his book Which Lie Did I Tell?, screenwriter William Goldman tells a story about watching a bunch of dancers on stage standing around doing nothing while a choreographer sat silently in the front row. Broadway director George Abbott suddenly entered the theater and demanded to know why nothing was happening. The choreographer said, “I can’t figure out what they should do next.” Abbott jumped onto the stage: “Well, have them do something! That way we’ll have something to change!”
The point is remarkably simple: Decisions are overrated. It’s making the decision that’s important. Without our taking action, creating movement, we have nowhere to go. Of course, we make small decisions all the time, simple choices that inform our everyday experience: what to eat, what to wear, whether or not to work out, what show to watch, etc. These decisions are easy because the stakes are low. They have predictable outcomes and give us a certain sense of control.
“He suggests we see all our actions as part of a ceaseless process, like stringing together similar-size pearls. The problem occurs when we make something too important, turning one of the pearls into a boulder.”
Decisions that represent risk (emotional, financial, or physical), on the other hand, are often attached to fear. This is because too often we view decision-making as an all-or-nothing prospect. Make the so-called right choice and we’ll experience fulfillment, prosperity, and eternal happiness; make the wrong one and there goes our life’s happiness. Whether it’s quitting a job or accepting a job, breaking off a relationship or committing to one, moving to a new city or staying put—these larger life decisions throw many of us into a panic. I’ve had clients who have become paralyzed, refusing to make a choice for fear the wrong one will saddle them with crippling regret for the rest of their lives. They’ll ruminate obsessively, waiting for their gut to kick in, or for a friend to finally point them in the right direction, or for an app on their phone to give them the perfect answer.
Ultimately, what I try to point out is that their real problem isn’t the decision before them; it’s their inability to decide. And for that, the solution is simple: Make a choice, and move on.
You need to have faith that while one decision may not lead you down the exact path you expect it to, it will lead you somewhere—and that somewhere will inevitably open up new possibilities you simply can’t foresee and that certainly aren’t available to you now.
“The more fear attached to something, the more likely it’s worth doing. This requires that we leave stagnant comfort zones and relinquish the myth that we can control results. We can’t.”
The key is forward motion. Psychotherapist Phil Stutz talks about not making anything an ultimate event. That is, something so big that it stops everything from moving. He suggests we see all our actions as part of a ceaseless process, like stringing together similar-size pearls. The problem occurs when we make something too important, turning one of the pearls into a boulder. All progress stops. No decision should be perceived as an ultimate event, but merely as an opportunity for forward movement and, ultimately, growth.
Despite my firm belief that decisions are overrated, there is one trick we can use in making them: Let fear be your guide. The more fear attached to something, the more likely it’s worth doing. This requires that we leave stagnant comfort zones and relinquish the myth that we can control results. We can’t. This isn’t to say we can’t shape our lives and choose our directions, but in the end, very few of us ever end up exactly where we thought we would. For the many people brave enough to move forward without knowing exactly where they’re going, the outcomes are often far more wonderful and expansive than our limited (and fearful) imaginations could have ever predicted.
Do yourself a favor: Stop sweating the decisions. Just start making them. They will lead to something.
Life coach Allison White was personally trained by psychotherapist Barry C. Michels, a coauthor of the New York Times bestseller The Tools. She uses his techniques, as well as her own, to guide her clients toward more disciplined and fulfilling lives. She has been in private practice since 2007. White has a BFA from the University of Southern California.