Decision Fatigue Pt. 4: Differed or Postponed Decisions

This is probably the primary cause of Decision Fatigue, so I saved it for last. Differed decision making is basically just procrastination.

There are times when holding off on a decision can make sense. Maybe we need a little more information to make a knowledgeable choice. Or perhaps it is one of those fun decisions, like planning a family vacation and you have some time to luxuriate in the options. But most of the time it’s because making another decision is so overwhelming, we end up being unable to do anything. We avoid making any choice at all and do nothing.

Eventually, though, we must deal with whatever issue we’re facing. When that happens, we are either in a time crunch, or the problem has grown. On top of that, we probably have additional, daily decisions to make and it feels like a never-ending cycle.

It can be.

But you can dig yourself out of this hole. It takes time, thought, and mindfulness.

When I’m at that stuck point, when making a decision seems just too much, I usually do one of a few things. Sometimes I do all of them, just to shake myself up and out of inaction. I put them in question form because it helps me to look at possibilities instead of problems being something cut in stone.

Can I break this problem into smaller chunks, and make decisions on those? I may sound corny, but I like to think of the decision to be made as a garden (gardens are a favorite thing, so I try to make the problem more palatable that way). Is there a way I can separate out the daffodils, pansies, and lavender and just decide on just planting one of those, instead planting the whole garden today? I know me and I know that if I start planting one, and I’ll be inspired to plant the rest.

Most decisions consist of just bunch of smaller decisions.

When Chris and I were going through all of the potential places for him to go to college (see the previous too many choices post), we broke it into chunks. 

What did he want to study?  He knew he wanted to study Japanese, so that part was done. Check!

What state did he want to study in? California, as close to home as possible. Check!

Did we know what colleges in California had good Japanese language programs?  Chris had done some research. San Diego had a good program, but San Jose State also offered courses of study in Japan in the student’s Junior year.  Since Chris wanted eventually to move to Japan, this would be a great opportunity for him to experience the country and see if this was what he really wanted to do. Check!

Can we afford the tuition? Because Chris already lived in the same county as the university, he was able to qualify for two tuition discount programs, right off the bat. His tuition was half the amount of out of state students, and there was also an additional discount for certain counties of residence. We also found additional grants he was eligible for, later in the summer. Check and double check!  

Did he want to live on campus? Yes and no.  Chris knew he wanted to be on his own but didn’t really want to live in some of the on-campus housing.  Eating there and living close was fine, but he didn’t be on campus 24/7. When I looked through the living options, I felt a pang of nostalgia. One of the off-campus housing suggestion was International House.  This housing mainly for foreign students, but it’s also open to a limited number of American students. We visited, and signed Chris up.  When I was in college, I was a frequent visitor to International House and made a lot of great friends there. I was sure Chris would enjoy it, as well. He stayed there for the two years before leaving to study in Japan.

We were able to take what at first seemed to be a huge life decision and break it into smaller chunks. We found we had a lot of the needed information on hand and quickly found additional answers online. We were able to make confident choices, quickly.

Is there really a wrong choice? What would happen if I made that choice? A lot of the time our choice really does matter. Usually, it falls into the area of macro decisions, financial, health, housing, and so on. But other times there might not be a clear choice that seems perfect. I’ll talk more about that a little farther in the post.

Something to remember here: No matter how hard we try, there are times when we will make the wrong decision.  It happens.  And while no one wants to make a wrong decision, we learn more from our mistakes, than we do from our right choices. You can also just change your mind. If you decided to do something and it not working out, The faster you acknowledge that you are going in the wrong direction, stop and change course, the less damage will happen. Wait too long and it takes longer to fix it and make it right. Just give yourself permission to change direction.

And lastly, can I do a couple easier decisions and then comes back to this when I feel fresher? This is a form of deferment, but I use it as a last resort when nothing else is working.

Depending on what’s going on in our lives, sometimes deciding on one more thing is just too much. There are times when it’s really okay to postpone deciding. But I still ask myself this question because maybe, just maybe, I just need a short time out. Maybe I just need to clear my heard for a few minutes, instead of walking away entirely. So many times, after that short break, I can go back and face the music and get it done.

 When I was doing my reset a couple of months back I got stuck on my sentimental items. I’ll give you a quick little back story: I did my tidying shortly after Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up came out 6 years ago.  In 9 months, I got rid of all of my excess. I even successfully got through all of my sentimental items.

So why was I clearing out sentimental items again and why was I stuck?

I decided to do a life reset when I realized that my life was starting to feel out of whack again. After my cancer treatment it took awhile before I felt somewhat normal again. During that time I was trying to figure everything out again. Cancer has a way of really shaking up your life.  You learn to focus on the important stuff; like sharing a meal with people in your life, the daily interactions, walking my dog Avalanche in the fresh morning air, feeding the birds in the yard, enjoying my garden, watching a favorite show with Greg. And none of these require a lot of stuff. I felt blocked from moving forward.

I was realizing my neutral point was heading toward minimalism, but I’ll save that for another post sometime.

Anyway, I went through each room in the house removing all  the belongings that I wasn’t using. Eventually I got to the trunk in my office. All of the sentimental things with the exception of those pieces I actually used in my daily life, were in there.  Over the next week, I went through the trunk, once, twice, three , then four times. Each time I purged more. I was finally left with  a very small stack of hard copy pictures and my mom’s harness horse racing scrapbook.

That wasn’t where I got stuck.

For the life of me could not decide what to do with what I was letting go of. In my mind, these were previously curated treasures. And even though I had realized that I had outgrown my need for them, I felt they had value. Should I sell them, donate, give to friends? I couldn’t decide.

So I left them in a pile in on my office floor. For weeks.

I tried doing other, easier projects and got a few done. But I was unsettled.

Everyday I would see that pile. Everyday I felt dread and disappointment in myself that I couldn’t finish this one task. I would waffle between selling some things, then I’d change my mind and decide to donate or worse yet keep it.

Bear in mind that I had no personal attachment to these things anymore.  It was strictly a custodial decision.  Selling did seem like a good idea for some of these things, since I could get $50.00 a piece or so for some. The only reason I thought about keeping any of it was because the pile on the floor was driving me nuts. And that would mean I would have to decide again later.

I finally realized that whatever money I could get for these things was far less than the current cost of the guilt of my postponed decision.

One day I decided to just donate it all. I’d just had enough of stuff from the past, and I was really anxious to start anew.  As I mentioned, these weren’t things that mattered to me.  I was keeping them because I wanted to make the best choice in letting them go. And while this was well intended, it wasn’t really a necessary thing to do. What was necessary was for me embrace where I was now. As soon as that was really obvious to me, I was able to move quickly.

Once the pile was gone, I was at peace.

We will always have to big, small, and daily decisions to make. We can’t get away from that. But what we can do is face them head on. It’s okay to acknowledge the tough ones, embrace the fun ones and put the routine ones on a schedule, or break them into chunks, and pause when we need to.

Decisions can be either something you dread which adds weight to your life or they can be something that inspire you to seek out new frontiers. In the end the choices you make are just the beginning of the journey.

Once we figure out our personal decision-making rhythm, things get an awful lot easier. We can sort through maze fairly easily and save our energy for what’s most relevant for the day.

See you next time,


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