How do we make up our minds?😕
Deciding to decide
This month I’m venturing into a topic that intrigues me, and I hope you will enjoy pondering it with me.
How do we “make up our minds”?'
As a professional thinking partner, I often find myself listening to people who are attempting to do just that. Indecision appears to be something that plagues a good many of us human beings.
In a recent thinking partnership programme, all four participants came back from an extended time in which each of them had had time to think about a topic from their lives, at the end of which time they had been invited to articulate a further outcome they would like to pursue their thinking on.
All four of them wanted to get started on something. All four of them had wanted to get started for a while. All of them were stalled, standing at the threshold of their desire to begin, but not doing so.
What stops us from making the decision?
I was lucky enough to learn in my twenties that there was no such thing as a right choice, or decision. Not really. Realising that the motivation to get something right can stop a person dead in their tracks was liberating. From the same source of inquiry from which I encountered this unleashing awareness, I also learned that getting good at failing was a worthwhile pursuit.
John Curry, the British Olympic ice skater, had famously moved from being stuck at Bronze and Silver to Gold when he hired a new coach who spent the four years since his last Olympics teaching him to fall.
The incandescent folk singer Beth Orton has a stunning line in one of her songs: “what are regrets, but lessons we haven’t learned yet?”
My freedom to leap into the unknown was further encouraged by the understanding that labeling something as a mistake was simply a way of avoiding taking responsibility for the outcome of any choice I had made, and by coming to terms with the fact that it was inevitable there would be outcomes from any decision that I could not have deduced at the time of making it.
I became good at getting things wrong. I was twice divorced by the time I was thirty-one. I agreed to an “open” relationship in which I was faithful whilst the love of my life was not…… an experiment that left me devastated when the relationship ended at thirty-four. I narrowly missed breaking my neck diving from a boat in the Caribbean into water way shallower than I had assumed, and I finally found myself living alone for the first time in my life in my mid-thirties facing an inescapable level of loneliness and despair.
From all these (mis)adventures I developed resilience, and an unquenchable belief in possibility. I refused to be defeated by life’s vicissitudes.
But as I have aged, as with just about every topic on which I used to have certainty, I have become acutely aware that the business of choosing and deciding is far from black and white.
Motivations are often sub-conscious.
There are a whole host of variables, revolving door moments, and undetectable external influences that have a bearing on what I decide to do or not.
Of all the Ten Components of a Thinking Environment, Information is my nemesis: and it plays a huge role when it comes to deciding. Do I have all the relevant information I need to do a good job of killing off all other avenues of possibility in favour of the one I am choosing? Is that even possible?
And even if I have explored as many of the assumptions I am making that are stopping or causing me to move in a direction I am pondering, what about the ones I haven’t yet faced because to do so would rock my boat in ways that I have not yet cultivated the courage to be able to bring myself to consider?
The best decision I ever made, to become a mother, has brought with it not only profound joy and satisfaction, and the grace of unconditional love, but rending heartache and loss of confidence born from sleepless nights battling all sorts of terrors about mistakes and wrong turnings that the seeming certainty of the philosophy of my twenties and thirties cannot neaten up into a bow-tied box.
Deciding shares the same suffix as all the other terms we have for killing. If at the crucial point at which one is committing to terminate the other options one chose instead to pause, and breathe, and wait, might one discover a new piece of information, or develop an awareness that completely changes the landscape in which the decision is about to be made?
The truth is, we cannot know the answer. This is the existential angst. This is why I am a fervent believer in cultivating courage. Because as human beings we are doomed to be free: the only choice we do not have is to have no choice.
We must choose, and face the consequences, and learn and grow. We must forgive ourselves and each other. We must be strong-hearted. We wake to face another day, and live it as full heartedly as we can. A good sense of humour is of invaluable assistance. And each of us for each other. We are as well.