18th June 2012

(Graphic from the July 2012 edition of O Magazine. Are you the graphic artist? Please let me know in comments, so I can link to you.)

I admire decisive people. One of the surest ways to make myself insane is by wringing my hands over opportunity cost. That passage from The Bell Jar haunts:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

But there’s good advice in this month’s Martha Beck column ( July 2012, O Magazine), “Get Unstuck: How to Make the Right Decision Every Time.” My favorite bits:

When you trade indecision for choice, you’ll be rewarded with either success or education.

“Indecision brings its own delays, and days are lost lamenting over lost days.” -Goethe

The body truth goes ahead of the mind lie.

That last part is especially true for me. My body has very strong, sometimes visible reactions when I’m making a choice that goes against my gut. That used to embarrass me, but now I feel lucky to have such a strong internal compass.

What about you, do you guys ever have trouble making decisions? How do you make important choices versus little ones?

18 thoughts on “Choose

  1. Melanie

    Ha! YES. It’s weird, but “Where should we go for dinner?” is sometimes a harder question than “Should I move to Los Angeles to try to be a screenwriter?”

    I was lucky enough to see Elizabeth Gilbert speak in Seattle a few years ago, and she talked about how overwhelming and paralyzing having so many different options can be. We get stuck in our space just because there are tons of different ways we could go. Our brains just think about scenario after scenario, which is EXHAUSTING.

    I”m better about it than I used to be, but that’s only because I’m properly medicated. :)

  2. SAWK

    This is so, so true and so, so appropriate for me right now!

    I am a waffler to the extreme! . . . I just need to suck it up, make a choice, and either triumph in success or learn from my mistake.

    The end! Be well, Maggie Mayhem.

  3. Jenny

    Thank you for sharing the passage from “The Bell Jar”. My own personification of indecision comes in the form of the childhood “Create Your Own Adventure” books. As a kid, I read “If you want to follow the clown to the circus, turn to page 27. If you’d rather have your palm read, turn to page 102.” As an adult I think, “If I stay, I may never be happy. If I go to get my MBA, that’ll be three more years in a holding pattern.”

    It’s nice to know I’m not the only one!

  4. CheesePirate

    If I am really having a hard time choosing, I make a “practice” decision. I pick one option and sure with it and see how I feel with that as my choice. If I feel good, I think about the practicalities, and if I feel good about those, I keep it. Of it makes me uneasy, our the practicalities are entirely impractical, I try on another option for size. This had yet to fail me – even things that don’t pan out the way I think they will give me something to move forward with.

  5. Evani

    I have SO much trouble making decisions in my life, especially important ones. I’ve been thinking lately about a career change meaning security versus the unknown and I literally have felt ill about it for months. I love that quote about a choice leading to either success or education, I think that’s something I’ll definitely carry with me. Thanks for sharing all your wisdom Maggie, I truly appreciate it.


  6. Jennifluff

    Should I say or should I go? It always boils down to that Clash song. I usually agonize for way too long, and then in 20 seconds of courage/craziness, I make my decision, mainly because I (and all of my friends) am ready to have something new to complain about. Not a strategy I recommend!

  7. sugarleg

    I LOVE making big decisions. it is such a thrill for me to get caught up in the energy and momentum of gathering of information, and connections, and the buzz of all that potential!

    my problem is that I don’t get to make as many big decisions in my life like I once did. so many of my figs got neglected because I had to become fallow to ultimately survive and then heal. now I just feel like I’m in some kind of middling ground, grateful yes for the truly good people and health and job and in my life, but frustrated that there are so few opportunities I can’t pursue for the very practical and mundane reasons of legal financial obligation.

    I feel much clarity (yes, it starts in my body) on how to make big decisions and have a vision for what they will look like on the other side, so to be hemmed in my such a rigid boundary as time keeps ticking by… well, I fear I will not ever get to experience the adventure of my decisions.

    thanks for sharing Maggie.

  8. jen

    I love that quote. We tend to make big decisions rather quickly and if they don’t turn out, we don’t have any qualms about changing course and choosing something else. It’s still scary though. We waffled for years about moving to a city we both loved and wanted to settle down in “someday”. We finally decided to just do it and see where it took us. We are so happy. Deciding to have a child though…that’s something we can’t course correct later. Scary!!

  9. Joanne

    This comes as a good reminder for me… I trust my mind WAY too lunch, and doubt my heart… and have floated my way thru this life so far. I need to make some changes, and appreciate the wake-up.

  10. dgm

    Looks like I’m a strategizer (if by “heart” this really means “gut.”) I am a very sensitive “gut reader” but I’m also uber-analytical about things, especially my intuitions.

  11. Amy | Minimally Invasive

    I’m a world-class ditherer, mostly. I get stuck for ages, then just leap. It’s probably not the best combination for a successful life, so I’m working hard at trusting my heart and head. Things are starting to move along now, which is such a relief after years of being static! Thank you so much for posting this today; I needed to read it.

  12. Sarah Berry

    I read this article also. For me, the most fascinating part of this is the thought that your body knows before your mind.

    I would LOVE to see that topic delved into more deeply – both by you and your own experiences as well as readers’ experiences.

    It’s always a beautiful reminder that we always have the answers within us all along.

  13. jenG

    The only thing that ever keeps me from making a tough decision is the fear of failure. To push through that fear, I remind myself of something you wrote here a while back (to paraphrase): Sometimes failure is the shortest distance between ignorance and enlightenment.

    Which is a lot like that success/education quote, isn’t it? ;)

    The more important the decision, the less I really dither. My gut knows the answer long before I’ve put together spreadsheets to prove it out.

  14. Roxanna

    I have an impossible time making decisions. I blame it on being a Libra, but really, it’s because I’m afraid I’ll make the right choice.

  15. Sassafras Mama

    I’ve gotten pretty good at big decisions, mostly because in small decisions I learned to trust my instincts. When I’m really fretting over a big decisions, I walk myself through the “how could this go wrong?” options and that usually girds my brain and heart to make up my mind. And once I’ve decided, I’m all in…I don’t want to let my anxiety undermine the decision.

  16. LaurenR

    I love that you wrote about this. I love that passage from The Bell Jar. I’m probably what one would consider middle-aged but I remember very well that when I was young, my most fervent desire was to have “an interesting life.” I never had trouble making decisions — I made too MANY decisions. But it was interesting. These days my fig consumption has slowed a bit, and I choose the ones I will eat very carefully… but even in my forties, every single one of those figs looks delicious. I try to chew slowly and savor the taste of the one in my mouth… and enjoy the fine view from the crotch of that tree.

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