delete. edit. undo.

To be, or not to be?

Decisions, decisions. That’s what we’ve been talking about for the past five weeks. Decision making. Fear of making a decision. Fear of not making a decision. Here, its more like, “To do, or not to do?” (“To be, or not to be” is a big decision. BIG. A bit too big to cover here in the blog of an English major not-exactly-professional-counselor.)

To the five questions already covered, I would add this one: 

Is this decision irreversible? 

If I decide to do (or not do) this thing today, does that mean I’ve committed myself to it forever and ever amen? No chance of reprieve or plea of insanity?

Often, we convince ourselves it is when in fact, it’s not. We get ourselves all worked up and terrified to try going in one direction because we’re sure we can never change course. We’ll be stuck. It’s like we don’t remember there’s an “off” button on the blender as well as an “on.” Once we start the whole dang thing going, we’ll get sucked into that mix forever and never be able to extricate ourselves.

OK, if we’re continuing with the blender analogy, that may be true—it’s tough to put a strawberry in and retrieve it before it’s strawberry banana surprise puree. But an analogy only goes so far. Work with me.

In fact, some things in life are irreversible. If you decide to get pregnant and succeed, you’re kinda going to have to go through with it. To my knowledge, “control-alt-delete” has no effect there. Likewise, once you decide to say “I do,” you did. If you decide to jump off a cliff into the ocean and partway down think better of it, you’d definitely better still know how to swim.

But those things are big, rare, life-altering things that, by their nature, happen infrequently. (Like, I will never, ever jump off a cliff. It’s that infrequent.) Most things can start out one way and then bend down the road a bit when the need arises. Why do we tend to forget that we have control over changing our mind?

Case in point—our trip to Europe. We had planned a detailed itinerary (and by we I mean I, seeing as I am the only one who plans vacations and the other four usually follow like lemmings to their doom). But because of transportation strikes, unavailable trains, and the French being, well, French, things didn’t always go as planned. We detoured. We traveled in unexpected manners. We changed course as needed, still focused on the final destination, but the journey took lovely twists and turns we would not have found had we believed our original itinerary decisions to be unchangeable.

Why go to college? I’m just going to change my mind on what I want to do.
Why start writing a book? I may find out I was all wrong half way through.
Why volunteer for this organization? I may not have the time or passion for it later.

Yes, you may. But does that totally negate the part of the journey you already took? Does the fact that we never got to Geneva toss out all that we experienced in Paris and Barcelona?

We refuse to make a decision because we’re afraid it may not be the perfect solution forever. Nothing ever is. Everything adapts. But if we fear starting because we may not end where we thought, we’ll never get to Paris at all. And what we learn in Paris may have been the whole point. That, and what we’ll learn in the detour.

Is this decision irreversible? Probably not. Does that help you to make it? I hope so. Have you had experience in detours? Anything you’re facing that you can change? Tell me what you’ve learned in the way.

Do you have five years?

This is week five, the final, the ultimate, the World Series last game (Oh, they have seven don’t they? Which sport has five? Whatever.) week of talking about Gretchen Rubin’s questions to ask when you have a difficult decision staring you in the face.

Fateful Question #5 (This is it, folks):
If I were looking back at this decision, five years from now, 
what will I wish I’d done?

I actually do use this one a lot. I use it in parenting. If I say yes or no here, what will it matter in five years?

I use it in ministry. If I choose to go in this direction, what might the cost or gain be in five years?

I’m thinking maybe I need to use it in my eating habits, because imagining my weight gain in five years just might get me to reconsider that brownie making its way into my mouth completely on its own power.

But since I’m a strategist by nature, I use this question to help clarify–what really matters in this decision?

Case in point—Child #2 asked my advice in college choosing. Go to the school seven hours away from home or the one fifteen minutes from home? Mother’s from-the-gut answer: Um, there’s a choice there? Go to the hinterlands of Minnesota or stay here with your loving loopy family where you can do laundry for free and pilfer pantry items at will? Really? Im not seeing the conflict here.

I desperately wanted to give her the answer—Stay. Here. With. Me. Because I did not want to lose my baby.

But I didn’t. Because if I asked, “Five years from now, what will I wish I’d done?” the answer would be, “I’d wish I had let her make her own decision and go where God was leading her to go.” I knew that five years from then, she would be gone anyway, and she had to be going in the right direction for her. So my decision was to keep my mouth shut.

Taking your hands off the wheel is a scary decision. Asking yourself, “Five years from now, what will I wish I’d done?” helps lessen the scary factor, because it forces you to examine the long-term outcome and gain some perspective on the decision.

Perspective. Such a key word. Paralyzing decisions become less so when we stop focusing on the wall in front of us and look farther out, envisioning where we want to be if we decide to scale it. Or where we could still be if we don’t. That’s the alternative. Sometimes you may envision the future of a choice and realize, “You know, I think I don’t really want to go there.” Or, “Hey, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to still be here.” Good or bad, you’ve gained perspective.

Finally, five questions to ask yourself when faced with a risky or uncomfortable decision:

What am I waiting for?
What would I do if I wasn’t scared?
What steps would make things easier?
What would I do if I had all the time and money in the world?
If I were looking back at this decision, five years from now, what will I wish I’d done?

I think I may have one more of my own to add. Next week. Sorry—that’s a teaser designed to get you to come back. That’s how this whole gig works, dontcha know. (Why yes, I do have Wisconsin roots, why do you ask?)

Whatever you’re feeling fearful or paralyzed about right now, I help they help you figure out whether it’s a yes or a no on that decision. Either way, make the decision. What are you waiting for?

all the money in the world

See, I knew that title would get you to read.

This is week four of talking about Gretchen Rubin’s questions to ask when you have a decision to make that look a little . . . iffy. Scary. Risky. Un-com-fort-a-ble.

Fateful Question #4:
photo by Jef Poskanzer on Flickr, Creative Commons

What would I do if I had all the time and money in the world?

Well, at least this one is fun to ask. It reminds me of the game I used to play with the kids when I wanted them to stop whining while helping me with chores. “If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it?” The top vote getters at the time were: “Feed all the hungry people in the world” and “buy a giraffe.” We had diverse interests.

So, what does asking this question do for your decision-making capability? It tells you where you would put all your effort if you could do anything.

If I had all the time and money in the world, would I still write? Yes, I would, and I would fund a giant marketing campaign to get my work actually seen by the Amazon-buying public. That and travel the world, which I could do as a writer since all I need is a laptop, an internet source, and a chai latte.

This tells me I would put all my heart and soul into writing even if it wasn’t a job. I would take the risks of rejection and bad reviews because I wanted to. That’s a powerful statement about what you truly want out of life and are willing to risk for.

How does it help you make a decision? If I know what I really want to do, I am freed to start making plans to find a way to do it. If I ask myself, “Would I still want this if I had all the money and time in the world?” and the answer is, “No, I would fly to Fiji and drink coconut milk and marry a tattoo artist,” perhaps the decision you’re looking at is something you aren’t that attached to. Or you have really unrealistic life goals.

Sometimes, we decide to do what we don’t really want to do short term–so that we do get a longer term goal. Or, we do it to help someone who needs it because that’s what decent people do, even if they don’t want to. Sometimes, the instant payoff sucks, like getting up with the baby three times during the night and being projectile vomited upon every time, but the long-term is well worth it. (Having said baby become a best friend and the joy of your life. Plus help with the cooking.)

But long-term, if you could do it, no obstacles, would you? That gives you something to focus on while making a decision. Then back to Question #1—What are you waiting for?

one small step for you-kind

Fateful Question #3.

“When I’m reluctant to take a risk or face something uncomfortable”–the next important question to ask is:

What steps would make things easier?

Oh, this one is so important. So often, we don’t tackle a decision because it’s completely overwhelming. Our family has this issue—big time. We have trouble with big, looming “things that must be done” because we know they are enormous, and we don’t know where to start. So that makes them scary.

If you’re like us, you know what happens. Nothing. Nada. Zip. We look at that big scary hairy thing and think, “Yeah, maybe I’ll stalk my friend’s new boyfriend on Facebook for a while and get back to this one.” Except we never do.

Enter question #3–What steps would make things easier?

Ah, manageable, small, steps. I can do that, right? This works in big and small ways.

For instance, you know what happens when you tell your kid, “Clean your room!” He goes to his room, moves two things from the floor to the top of the dresser, then flops down on the bed and plays Xbox. Not because he wants to disobey you (although that may be in the mix, too), but because he has no idea how to approach something as humungous as, “Clean your room.” Small, manageable tasks. Pick up your books. Make your bed. Clean the fish tank. See if the fish is still alive. Bring the dishes to the kitchen. Flush the fish.

Say I am staring at a blank page for a proposal I know is due, and it may just be the best-selling NYT-list book that gets me that trip to New Zealand, but I can’t think of anything better than “Publish my book because it’s amazing and squirrel, tree, monkeys in trees playing with squirrels, banana!” Am I going to give the whole thing up and go drown my sorrows at Starbucks?

No. Well, maybe. At least that last part. But I won’t give up. I’ll break it down into steps. Research topic. Look for competing books. Brainstorm chapter outline. Go get Starbucks. Make raspberry truffle brownies. Surf Pinterest for a better brownie receipe. Off. Track. 

What steps would make things easier? For you? Today? To do that big thing that scares you?

Make a list.
Put it in order.
Plan when and how each step will get done.
Get what you need to do it.
Do it.
Celebrate at Starbucks.

Back to Question #1—What are you waiting for?