Get Unstuck From Indecision

Feb 27, 2017 |Eric Demeter
tennis shoes in front of two diverging arrows

Making life's big decisions can be paralyzing, but the act of choosing has a bigger payoff than we realize.

One time during high school I wanted to go talk to a group of cute cheerleaders. But to infiltrate the sea of pompoms I needed to traverse a low-hanging rope. Under normal circumstances, the rope was simple enough to overcome, but I deliberated: Should I jump over the rope or simply step over it? The first option would probably give me cool points, but the second was safer.

As I approached the rope, my anxiety grew and my thoughts became like scrambled eggs. Inevitably, I didn't choose. Without warning, my legs became entangled and SMACK! I ate the ground hard — a high schooler's worst nightmare.

Though embarrassing to me at the time, my moment of indecision is funny. Not so funny, however, is the paralysis we often face in making life's bigger (and more important than impressing cheerleaders) decisions. Maybe you're stuck deciding whether to spend thousands of dollars studying accounting, art or engineering. Or perhaps you feel like you're knee deep in mud as you struggle to choose between accepting a job near your parents or in another state.

Then there are the indomitable relationship questions. Should I ask out that acquaintance or try online dating? And if I start a relationship, how will I know she is "the one?"

Left untreated, indecision becomes like a disease. It camps us at a crossroads when a choice should only be a brief stay. Life is too short to dwell at intersections. Based on my personal experience with the subject, we move forward by choosing wisely, not indefinitely. Let me explain.

How to Choose

To begin, the answers to any dilemmas that contain moral components must align with Scripture. God gives us a big yard to play within, but it's guarded by His moral fence. We find these boundaries when we ask questions such as, "Is it OK to marry a non-Christian?" I'd point you to 2 Corinthians 6:14, which specifies believers are not to enter into any type of binding relationship with those who serve other gods. Are you deciding if you should forgive someone who has seriously wronged you? In that case, consider Matthew 6:14-15.

While uncovering God's boundaries shouldn't be our primary reason for studying Scripture, much practical wisdom and help with decision-making can be found by engaging daily with God's Word. Jesus modeled prayer, as well as solitude and fasting, as ways for us to hear God's voice.

But what should we do when Scripture doesn't contain the answer to our decision? In other words, when all the options in front of us don't violate Scripture, how do we choose?

I believe one of the things at the heart of indecision — particularly for the Millennial generation — is FOMO (fear of missing out). We experience FOMO when we knowingly or unknowingly desire to keep every option available at all times. It's based upon the fallacy that if we simply wait long enough, the perfect option will present itself.

Part of FOMO is anxiety over making a mistake, or the wrong decision. What happens if you commit to a particular job, then a better one arises? You'll be miserable and full of regret! The first lie is obvious: A perfect job doesn't exist. The second lie is less clear: You can avoid making mistakes by simply not deciding.

But there's a cost to delaying important decisions. A plane stuck in a holding pattern over a runway will eventually run out of fuel. In the case of a job, you'll eventually need money. At some point, you need to land the plane.

The Loss in Choosing

One thing that holds us back from "landing the plane" is the feeling of loss that can come with making a big decision. In economic terms, this is called opportunity cost. Opportunity cost can be defined as the loss of alternatives when one thing is chosen. It's the cost of what we missed out on by deciding to do something else.

For example, the opportunity cost of moving to Seattle is that you didn't get to live in San Francisco. The opportunity cost of marrying Frank is that you don't get to spend your life with Fred. In both cases, there is the loss of the alternative.

Eliminating options can be painful. In fact, the words "decide" and "incise" actually originate from the Latin word, caedere, which means "to cut." Making decisions cuts off other possibilities. And sometimes this hurts.

After graduating college, I searched for my first "real job" for almost six months. When a less-than-thrilling IT position arose, I had to choose whether to commit to this organization or wait for a better fit elsewhere. My student debt loomed over me like a dark cloud. The organization needed an answer right away, and the practical part of my brain was incredulous that I was considering turning down a steady paycheck. Eventually I said no, which lifted an emotional weight (though not a financial one).

Removing choices is a healthy habit. Why? Making decisions is emotionally taxing. "Decision fatigue" is a new psychology term that describes the condition when our brains become overloaded with too many options, complex decisions, or prolonged analysis. Our minds become tired from excessive deliberating. It's not hard to incur paralysis of analysis when we live in a world with a sea of information and seemingly endless options.

Over time, the feeling of relief in making decisions often replaces any feeling of regret. When I turned down that job opportunity, it was painful (and risky). Months later, however, God gave me the perfect job to begin my career — one that was a much better fit.

A Decision-Making Paradigm

As we seek to move past indecision in our lives, God speaks to us through a combination of our experiences, His Word and other people. The acronym A.I.R.E.S., which I picked up from one of my college professors, can help us navigate the discernment process.Concept modified from Dr. Timothy Nelson, former professor at Bethel College in Indiana.

Authority
Who or what is your authority? What person or what knowledge do you rely upon to help you make decisions? What information holds the most credence in your life? Followers of Christ often rely upon God and the Bible.

Intuition
Your intuition is your gut feeling. Some people have certainty about a decision simply because they possess a deep, intrinsic knowledge that a particular decision is the right one. The Holy Spirit can also work through our intuition, giving us peace or a lack of it, but we must be careful not to confuse Him with our own feelings and emotions.

Reason
Reason is logic. But more than that, it's a thoughtful consideration of the path ahead. Proverbs 4:26 states, "Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure."

Experience
How do your past experiences inform your future? What has life taught you from your good and bad decisions? What trends do you see in your life?

Sages
Along with your personal experience, gathering the experiences and insights of others who are ahead of you on the path of life can be invaluable. It's important to invite outside wisdom into your life — those with similar experiences or those who have walked beside you for a while. Proverbs 15:22 states, "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed."

Trading Perfection for Progress

AIRES can help you tackle big decisions. As you work through the steps, pray and look for strands of commonality among each letter. If necessary, repeat the process. Taken as a whole, this framework can help you move from postponement to progress.

Whatever you end up choosing, any decision will require some faith (and likely some risk). I need to trust that God will use the big decisions of my life — and the "cutting off other options"— for His glory and my good. The Bible says, "And without faith it is impossible to please him" (Hebrews 11:6).

Forget about perfect outcomes, because imperfect ones are life's norm. There is no perfect person, perfect job or perfect place to live. If you make a choice that doesn't quite work out, even after exercising wisdom, rest assured God will redeem it. In fact, much wisdom is gained from making wrong decisions.

I believe God cares as much about the process of decision-making as the actual decision. Why? As we consistently knock on His door, we are drawn into closer relationship with Him. In addition, "buyer's remorse" may be a part of life. But often, the relief and satisfaction of making a choice outweighs any regret.

So stop flying in circles. Take a godly risk and land the plane. Oh, and don't allow indecisiveness to cause you to crash land in front of a group of cheerleaders.

Copyright 2017 by Eric Demeter. All rights reserved. 

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