How I Learned to Confront Indecision

Several years ago, I decided to hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. In the months leading up to the trip, I scoured hiking websites, reading review after review in hopes of finding the perfect gear. Shoes, backpacks, socks, trekking poles, tents, even food—there were hundreds of reviews for every item on my list and each review offered an extensive list of pros and cons. Often times, I’d find myself so overwhelmed by information that I’d exit a whole slew of pertinent websites and turn my attention to something more soothing, like magazines featuring celebrity interviews.

In the week leading up to the trip, I had yet to purchase shoes, a backpack, and a water filtration system. I vacillated among my options, convinced I’d make the wrong decision. With time ticking away, though, I finally had no choice. Mere days before I left, I drove to REI with my shopping list and purchased whatever felt most comfortable in the moment.

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Every day, we are required to make decisions—sometimes big, many times small. Whether solicited or not, others’ opinions bombard us as we try to decide the best course of action for ourselves. Armed with pros and cons from all directions, I give weight to every decision I face—Should I choose an airline mileage or cash back rewards credit card? Should I have salad or pasta for dinner? Should I head to the gym for an indoor class or outside for a hike?

Suddenly, I find myself stagnant, unable to make any decision for fear of failure or of making the wrong choice. Too often, I can be found sitting on my kitchen floor nibbling a hastily made cheese quesadilla at 11:30 p.m., reviewing yet another credit card offer, exercising completely forgotten.   

A number of years ago, a friend’s father casually mentioned, “Usually things work out. Most choices are not irreversible.” This is not to downplay times when we are confronted with large decisions that truly require thoughtful consideration, especially if others’ lives are impacted by our choices. However, it serves as a reminder that many of the decisions I’m confronted with don’t have severe consequences and that there can be more than one right choice. Even decisions that seem large at the time—where to go to college, what major to choose, what job to accept—these, too, can have multiple right answers.

Over the years, I’ve developed a rule of thumb when faced with a decision: If the safety or livelihood of myself and others isn’t a factor, there’s a good chance that any choice I make will be the right choice for the moment. I’ve found it’s OK to give something a try with the understanding that I may need to adjust my course later on. Shortly after my job ended in Memphis, I decided I wanted to live in a new state. I made a list of places that interested me and started poking around for jobs. However, nothing quite drew my attention and I started questioning if I really wanted to start over in a brand-new community. Instead, I decided to discard my list and return to the place where I already had a built-in support system. While it wasn’t my initial plan, I quickly realized that moving back to Montana was the right decision for me in that moment.

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Naturally, there are still times when I get bogged down, unable to feel confident in my decision-making ability. During these times, I allow myself a few minutes to wallow before determining the smallest, least life-jarring decision I can make in the moment. For instance, do I need a coworker to look over a run-of-the-mill email I wrote, or can I hit send immediately? From there, I try to work my way up, decision by decision, seeking advice when it’s truly needed and moving forward on my own when it’s not.

Four months after I started my hike, I rolled out of the forest and back into the city. As I reflected on the trip, I was surprised by how well my gear had worked out, even the items I’d impulsively decided upon. My shoes were comfortable, my water filter held giardia at bay, and the tent didn’t collapse. Sure, there was the occasional dud that I swapped out or discarded along the way, but nothing that derailed the trip. Just like the hiking gear, I’ve learned that most decisions have more than one right choice, and it’s OK to test these decisions out. What I’ve also learned? That sometimes it’s OK to hit pause on everything and pick up that latest issue of Vanity Fair.

Originally published on October 17, 2018. 

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