Can you tell I’ve been a little focused on decisions lately? Probably because I have a big one (or maybe several small ones, depending on how you look at it) coming my way. And sometimes they can seem seriously impossible. Maybe because we make too many, or because logic disagrees with our gut instinct, or because making a decision means saying goodbye to something.
I recently learned that the Latin root for the word “decide” means “to cut off,” or “to kill.” (Think about other words you see the suffix “cide” show up in… yeah, they’re mostly nasty ones like homicide and genocide). So making a decision is difficult not because we’re not super excited about the thing we’re choosing, but because in order to choose it we must fully let go of the thing we’re not choosing. And sometimes that thing can feel like a safety net, a logical path that we might regret not taking. Fear of failure comes into play, fear of looking like an idiot, fear of missing out, fear of wasting time, etc.
Have you ever weighed a decision’s pros and cons to find an extremely logical conclusion, only to feel like somehow that answer was just wrong? Because logic and intuition don’t always agree - the pros and cons list might be perfectly reasonable, but your gut tugs you in the opposite direction. So how do we choose? How do we know when fear and logic are the only things holding us back from taking a worthwhile risk?
Let me tell you a story. About four years ago I lived in Boulder, CO and decided to take a big solo roadtrip to California. The reasons I felt I needed to get out of dodge are for another blog post, but suffice to say I got this urge to do it and planned the trip in a matter of weeks, only to bump my departure date back by a day (or two?) when I got scared. Now I couldn’t put it off anymore, if I was gonna go it had to be tomorrow, but I was shaking in my boots. What was I gonna do out there? That’s a lot of time alone in the car, driving across a desert. Solo camping? Yikes! Maybe I’ll just stay here and take the week off and chill out. Why would I do this to myself?
I called a good friend for help, and he gave me the best decision-making advice I’ve ever heard.
He told me: Megan (because he’s the kind of person who always uses your name when speaking to you), I want you to finish this sentence for me. Imagine it’s a week from now and you call me up and say, “Ronnie (that’s his name), I just got back from my roadtrip and it was _______________.”
Phenomenal. Super fun. Maybe a little scary, but I made it. I did it.
Now, he said, try this one, “Ronnie, I decided not to go on my roadtrip and I feel _______________.”
Disappointed. Lame. Sad. Unadventurous... Dissapointed (again).
The answer was clear. I left the next day. I cruised across Utah and Nevada and into California. I camped in National Parks on my way there and back. I built myself campfires and cooked food and made s'mores. I got a room near the beach and chilled out. I met four Belgian guys who became friends, and who played a bigger part in my story over the next few years than I could have ever imagined when I first pulled up and saw them there, speaking a language I couldn’t decipher. I got a taste for adventure, proved to myself I could totally handle this solo traveling thing, and almost immediately began plotting my next trip.
If you know the rest of my story, you know that this roadtrip is, in large part, where everything began for me. So imagine if I’d let fear take over, if Ronnie hadn’t given me such sage advice. I’ll never forget that phone call, as I stood in the sun outside a consignment shop in Boulder, CO, with a nervous belly and a worried voice, and was reminded why I had planned this adventure in the first place.
It was that tug in my gut, an idea that got planted in my mind, one that I couldn’t not do it.
I return to Ronnie’s finish-the-sentence exercise when I get stuck on decisions (it helps to actually write it down), and I often refer to my theory on mistakes, too (that being, they don’t exist). If I’m feeling out of touch with my gut, I meditate to quiet all the noise, or just take some time to unplug. And when all else fails, I ask my magic eight ball. Similar to the flip of a coin, this method reveals the answer not by what is displayed in that little answer window, but in that brief moment just before the magic eight ball weighs in, you get that pang in your belly, telling you what you hope it says, and what you hope it doesn’t say.
Oh so you wanna know the big decision I'm trying to make? Funny thing, it's about a roadtrip...
How do you make tough decisions? Where do you usually get caught up? Share in the comments below!