When indecision has you spinning – then what?
You know what to do.
Back and forth only fear…
You’re a doer… you know exactly what you have to do.
— Dr. George O’Malley
“Here’s to Future Days, Part I”
Although the TV series, Gray’s Anatomy, is make-believe, their script writers sure do know their stuff. So when O’Malley (T.R. Knight) advised fellow intern, Dr. Izzy Stevens, (Katherine Heigl) as she agonized over a life-changing decision – should she pursue her surgical career or sign up for aggressive cancer treatment because a malignant melanoma had invaded her brain – well, the wisdom of O’Malley’s remark deserved a salute! George knew what Izzy didn’t quite “get” yet:
…the most important quality of intuition is its ability to be our “inner compass” by letting us know what is the “right path” for us…
Thankfully, most of us don’t – and won’t – have to face an “Izzy’s choice”. But regardless of the magnitude of the decisions we face, our intuition will nudge us towards making the right decision. But beware, our brains will often keep us tied up in the knots of indecision.
Beware Your Brain’s “Oh Shit Circuit” and “Delete Keys”
Brain researchers have concluded that our brains have built-in defenses against “new” data that doesn’t agree with what we already “know” to be true.
… people are naturally resistant to new information; we search for evidence that confirms what we already believe. For this, you can thank the combined workings of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) … “Oh shit!” circuit, triggered when you see something wrong… and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) – our brain’s “delete key” that suppresses contradictory evidence [and] allows us to… overlook “wrong” information.
— Liz Barrett
post author on Outliers & Observations
Efficient? Yes – except when it isn’t. You see, there are two distinct phases to decision making:
- decide what to choose
- become very certain that you want to do something
I suspect that most of our indecisive whipsawing emanates from our desire to become very certain – a quest that is aggravated by the one-two punch of our brain’s Oh Shit Circuit and Delete Key… our world as we know it is changing but our biased brains want us to deny the new reality. And so we struggle to choose new ways of behaving, believing, doing.
Author Barrett added to her brain circuitry commentary, “What counteracts the delete key? Open discussion and debate.”
OK, So How Do You Discuss and Debate?
Neuroscientist Patrick Burg, in his guest post for GoodLifeZen.com, devised Nine Ways to Make the Right Decision; his first five recommendations will get you off to a good start and then follow this link for more of Burg’s advice.
Burg’s Ways to Make the Right Decision
The good news is that the field of neuroscience has made us well aware of the shortcomings of the human brain. By knowing these weaknesses, we can then use a simple strategy to work around them…
- Listen to your instincts but don’t let them boss you around.Ask “why did I think that?” or “why do I feel that way?”
- List your alternatives.Write down every option you have for the decision you’re making, get it out of your head and spend some quality time on each one.
- Rephrase the question.Whatever problem you have, try writing it down in three or four different ways.
- Anticipate history.Using history to make a decision requires that we remember what happened last time we were in a similar situation. Go slow and be critical with your recall – beware of only remembering your wins vs. your misses.
- Remember that time is on your side.Put some time between now and when you actually make the decision.
The best decision you can make here is just do the steps that appeal to you, in any order… Whatever you do, the only key to making the best decisions in life, is to want to.
Clearly Burg is offering advice that will allow us to navigate beyond our brains’ Oh Shit Circuits and delete keys.
If Indecision STILL Has You Spinning…
Still struggling? Then it’s time to tap into your intuition again. How? Heed Danish scientist Piet Hein’s sage advice:
Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind, and you’re hampered by not having any, the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find, is simply by spinning a penny. No – not so that chance shall decide the affair while you’re passively standing there moping; but the moment the penny is up in the air, you suddenly know what you’re hoping.