Decisions are everything. We think it's willpower. We think it's motivation. We think it's passion. It's really much simpler than that. We just have to make up our minds and talk ourselves into it. We come up with a story that makes it clear what we're going to do, and then we decide to do it. Make the decision and the rest is easy.
Nowhere is lack of decision more clear than with clutter. My clients are totally stymied by what to do about each individual item in their homes. Do I need this pencil? I don't know, do I? What do I do with all this mail? What if I really do need fifty-five t-shirts? What if I don't feel like doing laundry for six weeks - then what will I wear? Learning to make a decision means living with the emotional discomfort of cutting off options.
Decision means "to cut away." At first, cutting away options feels scary and sad. You mean that now that I'm a grown-up, I'm really never going to be a ballerina-astronaut? Thirty-one flavors? But that means I can't taste at least twenty-eight of them today! The worst day of my life was when I finally realized that I couldn't read every book ever written. Cutting off options feels like death.
The truth is the opposite. Refuse to choose and you lose. (I just made that up). That desire to keep all options open means never doing anything. It makes you into a perma-bachelor of life. There are eight different foreign language courses on my Amazon wish list right now because I haven't decided which one to do first. Each week that goes by is a week during which I am not learning any of them. If I had just picked one last January, I would be a competent beginner by now, and I'd only have to decide between the other seven. Not choosing is choosing. It's choosing to continue with your default. If you love your default, then great! If not, then you have to choose between the current pain of the default, or the immediate but temporary pain of the choice.
Everyone knows that couple who are always breaking up and getting back together again. They can't decide.
Everyone knows someone who tries on a bunch of different outfits and leaves most of them piled on the bed. Can't decide.
Everyone knows someone who spends half an hour reading the menu and making the waiter come back later, only to regret the choice and covet someone else's dinner. Can't decide.
Decisions are the proof that we have free will. Indecision is messy. Indecision is painful and awkward. Indecision usually ripples out and annoys others. What we don't realize is that the most powerful and creative people in the world don't make many decisions. Most decisions can be made once, because they're really not decisions so much as systems, policies, or habit structures. People who live big lives do not waffle over what they're going to wear or what they're going to eat. They have bigger and more interesting things to do with their time.
One way to make these systematic one-and-done decisions is to aim for only the four- and five-star experiences. Only keep clothes that make you look great today, not things that might potentially be somewhat suitable for a possible, yet highly unlikely, unimaginable future situation. Only keep stuff in your house that improves your life in an active way. Do whatever it takes to make your personal environment and your routine daily schedule as awesome as possible.
We start at the wrong end and get everything backward. Being stuck in indecision means you're focusing on choices that were foisted upon you by the outside world. I'm looking at a menu someone else wrote and I can't pick one option. I'm looking at a pile of clothes and trying to decide which ones to pull out. Those are bottom-up decisions. From the top down, we have the aerial view, the strategic view. What do I want to eat? How do I want to look? What do I want my house to be like, inside and out? What do I want to do with my time? With whom do I want to socialize or snuggle today? When this kind of top-down decision is made, the smaller decisions become non-decisions. What do I want my office to feel and look like? I want it to be functional and to look like it was designed intentionally. When almost none of the objects in my office fit that description, then they need to go away. What's left is a bare surface, my tablet, a mug of tea, and a poster I like looking at. Starting with a stack of papers and wondering what to do with them is more likely to result in wandering away to "deal with it later." Accepting our external circumstances as the status quo almost always results in nothing more than a continuation of that status quo.
Why we are doing what we are doing should be self-evident. If someone asks, Why are you eating that? or What are you wearing? then that might indicate a problem. I'm doing this because I decided to do it, because it works for me. I made a conscious choice. I have one life to live, and I'm going to live it in this specific way at this specific moment. The decision is mine. Let it be that I recognize all the decisions that are open to me. Making the most of life means making decisions.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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