The most common reaction when Pete and I communicated our decision to go location independent was, “Wow, how did [or what made you] decide to do that?” followed by “I wish I/we could do that!” To which the answer of course is, “Well, you can, you know, you basically just have to decide to (really) do it.” I realized how we got to the decision was pretty textbook when I began to encounter and study circumstances that lead people to choice. Once I started thinking and collecting ideas about the process of decision-making, they started coming out of the woodwork – when you notice the hammer everything looks like a nail perhaps? Anyway, now that these thoughts and ideas are somewhat organized, I’m going to present them to you.
I’m also going to talk about the consequences of indecision – because what I’ve observed and learned recently has been sort of a breakthrough in my own thinking about why we do what we do, when we do. As well, it’s beneficial to do all of this in a way that’s healthy, positive and most importantly, progresses us along the pathway. And into the mix I want to raise the ideas about the effects of being stuck in uncertainty, too. Here goes!
Back in the Stone Age while being trained as a territory rep for a Fortune 100 company, I studied The Seven Steps of the Sale. Implicit in this philosophy is the notion that just prior to a yay or nay decision, a prospective buyer experiences a form of temporary insanity, which can lead to buyer’s remorse if the decision is later seen as the wrong one. We’ve subsequently learned more about making decisions:
- they are made first on an emotional basis, and then they are justified with more quantifiable facts;
- the emotional basis for evaluating the decision is minimization or elimination of perceived risk;
- the decision to defer a decision is a choice, even if ever so sub-consciously made, passively employing a de facto outcome.
The need for change precedes every decision, regardless of whether we address the real need or mask it with another. Good salespeople, who are presenting a solution that the buyer can then choose, spend the majority of their time uncovering and addressing needs and projecting potential scenarios. “If our company could. . . then would you . . ?” Each of our paths will inevitably contain crossroads, branch off in a different directions, or even come to a complete halt while we cast about for a way to continue. When these milestones are approached, we begin to assess our needs to ensure we’re on the right track, and whether we should make adjustments in the form of decisions.
Our willingness to make change often depends upon whether we have chosen the circumstances leading to it, or if they’ve been implemented with less or even none of our consent. So, the very act of deciding to make a change will assist, like getting back up on a horse that’s thrown you, in making future decisions easier: you’ve chosen the circumstances preceding them, so you’re on board (pun intended) for the voyage.
When Pete and I married, our circumstances (like most people’s) were mixed in origin. Some were the result of decisions we had made individually, as well as those we had decided upon together. Additionally, we were dealing with circumstances over which we had exercised varying degrees of control, including none.
At what I now recognize as the beginning of the decision process that led us to location independence, we spent time in an emotional place where we fought certain things over which we had little or no control. In hindsight, accepting inevitabilities earlier would have resulted in faster solutions to troubling situations. When faced with a problem, pro-active folks try and effect change in a causative manner. If it’s important for you to be pro-active, you can inadvertently get yourself stuck in trying to change circumstances when changing the way you react to them will make faster progress against the problem.
Things we perceived as “unfair,” or more accurately out of our control, were maddening. The downturn in the real estate market made my house linger for over a year before we sold it at a financial loss. This event triggered a domino effect: we had none of the funds we had anticipated would pay for renovations to Pete’s house, which in turn precluded us from purchasing a place of our own together. The year we planned to spend in that home turned into almost five, no matter how hard we tried to compensate for the change in factors affecting our circumstances. It felt like we were being kept in that point of temporary insanity I had learned about long ago, even though we had made significant decisions with substantial impacts on other fronts.
Reaching a decision means you are exercising as much control as you feel possible over an unknown outcome. To do this process, you are aware of your level of fear of the unknown. You may choose a compensating behavior in the process that allows you to confront or suppress your fear sufficiently to forge ahead. You may decide to deny your fear altogether; your decisions and outcomes will modify as well. Writing at Life’s Little Inspirations, Wendi Kelly encapsulatesthis notion: “This is about all of us, and about the times we hide from our fears because of what we think we are supposed to feel and act and do, instead of looking at our real emotions, feeling them and then dealing with them once and for all.”
For most people, fear is based in the amount of risk we perceive. This perception is unique to each individual, though it can fall under general categorization. Christine Gilbert, in an excellent post entitled Talking About Fear, relates, “When people tell me they want to travel, but they are afraid for whatever reason, I know exactly what they mean. Life is complicated. What we want and what we are willing to give ourselves are not always the same things. We live under the weight of our history, of what other’s tell us we are, of our conflicting desires.”
The thrill-seekers among us aside, people seek to minimize risk when making a decision. Things get complicated, though, depending upon where our comfort levels are. The Harvard Business Review blog explains by way of what it calls “prevention focus” vs. “promotion focus”: The problem, in a nutshell, is simply this: when making decisions, lately many of us have been focused much more on what we have to lose than on what we might gain. If we perceive that we have a lot to lose, we’ll be persuaded by those things that appeal to our sense of security or how this decision will avoid our making a mistake. Conversely, if we feel the risk is bigger if we don’t do something, we’ll more easily decide to go ahead with the decision.
That’s where Pete and I reached a turning point and accelerated our own decision process. We both agreed that there was greater risk in a life not lived, or things left undone. We had seen both of his parents reach the end of their days with things remaining on their list that they were sorry they had deferred. Their “someday” had turned into right now and passed. We knew we faced a limited amount of time based on our own age, and that we needed to get crackin’. We definitely had promotion focus in that we wanted to prevent regret.
Fortunately, Pete’s risk tolerance and mine are at fairly similar levels. We’re adventurous in a conventional way. 🙂 This made it easy to evaluate and eliminate potential outcomes. Each of us could say to the other whether something felt okay or was a little much without a lot of movement or concession on the other’s part. In one of the most significant decisions that led to location independence, our perceived risks deviated. Pete wanted to go completely nomad in an RV of some sort, arguing that it would be a less expensive lifestyle than home ownership. I wasn’t quite ready for that kind of adventure; I doubted my capabilities should I be required to drive the thing and I didn’t want to give up the security I perceived in keeping a home base to which we could retreat if things didn’t work out. We decided to try location independence along with downsizing to a townhouse with lower overhead, eliminating much of the risk we each perceived.
I’ve observed people get so overwhelmed by uncertainty that they use inertia as a defense. Wikipedia tells us this strategy is accessed when we can’t break out of the thought patterns we have used in the past when faced with new circumstances. I think there is a huge fear of being wrong that comes into play at this point, too. Some people can’t cope with the prospect of being wrong – either because of their own ego, or from external repercussions.
Constantly being reminded that you’re wrong or fearing that you’ll choose the wrong thing can put low self-esteem on steroids, creating a learned, yet complete helplessness. This is why rooms remain unpainted and hairstyles from decades ago don’t change. Narcissists and other toxic people actually feed this phenomenon in co-dependents, steering them to where it feels more emotionally safe to keep things unchanged rather than risk a perceived disaster to which their inferior capabilities might lead.
Along with this fear of being wrong might be a repetitive compulsion to revisit decisions that have already been made – you just weren’t sure enough to begin with, or there’s a possibility you still could be wrong even though you haven’t been so far, and there’s time to save yourself. This results in nothing ever being certain, or, if the Seven Steps are to be believed, a more than temporary form of insanity. Indecisive people believe it’s safest to cede most or all control to external circumstances. They don’t want to be responsible for outcomes and keeping things up in the air ensures no one can blame them for a less than desirable outcome. The one thing indecisive people can’t seem to understand is this tendency also puts them in a state of constant self-sabotage against making progress.
Ted Cadsby tells us Why Being Certain Means Being Wrong by saying, “Complex decision-making requires we defer the feeling of being right, by tolerating the tension of not knowing.” In other words, we need to get comfortable with the possibility that we might be wrong. What’s the worst that could happen if we actually are wrong? What would we do if that catastrophe actually happened? Indecisiveness can actually be dispensed with when someone feels like they’ve nothing to lose. Boldness can seem less fool-hardy when the potential for loss is reduced or eliminated. We can throw caution to the wind and go for broke, or at least achieve a breakthrough from our self-imposed limbo.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter allows for the impact of values and purpose when we want to think beyond uncertainty: “Emphasizing who we are and what we stand for reminds people of the long-term, of the march of history beyond today’s uncertainty.It provides grounding. It helps focus on the times ahead, not just today’s troubles. It helps people remain connected to one another. Clouds eventually give way to clarity. What separates the best from the rest is whether leaders communicate, improve, engage, invest in relationships, and remain true to principles. This can make the difference in getting stuck or emerging triumphant.” Looking back over periods in my life where I couldn’t reach a decision, I realized I had failed to completely examine my value structure along with what else was amiss. Once I did identify my values, the choice was simple, even if executing it proved difficult. I knew where my decision was rooted.
For Pete and me, values and purpose were the deciding factors that remained clear through the overlay of our individual circumstances. They drove us through the decision process and changed our pathway: we wanted to see as much of the world as we could in the time we had left; we wanted to incorporate our work – which would be necessary in the face of not being able to retire – into a routine that allowed us to be where we wanted to be when we wanted to be. By choosing to be self-employed with diverse revenue sources, we felt we would reduce the risk of vulnerability and maintain our need for autonomy and freedom.
This is a lot to think about in terms of the decisions you might be facing right now. What we can tell you for certain is that we believe making any well-intentioned decision is better than making none. My dad used to say, “If you’re gonna make a mistake, make a big one,” and oh, how I have followed his direction. The reason that advice is still so good today? I’m not as afraid of the unknown as I might be. I can look the consequences of indecision and uncertainty in the face and keep moving.
- Moving Through the Quagmire of Indecision (projectmanagementessentials.wordpress.com)
- Wishy-Washy? Help in Making Good Decisions (psychcentral.com)
- Indecisiveness – How Much Can Annoy (skeristhisandthat.wordpress.com)
- I Just Can’t get Enough! – Why are we too slow with our decision making? (timkla.wordpress.com)
- Decision Making Skills are Essential for a Good Income (moneyning.com)
- Effortless Decision-Making (zenhabits.net)
- What We Learned in Our First Month of Location Independence (passingthru.com)