“Indecision may or may not be the problem.” – Jimmy Buffett
Have you ever gotten to the point where you think you know what you want to do, but had a hard time actually committing to doing it?
This story of one person’s experience attempting to overcome indecision can help shed light on how we can all find the strength to make that leap boldly when the time comes.
“People jump from that?”
Once, not so long ago, my son and I were traveling in Costa Rica. One beautiful, warm day we rented some All-Terrain Vehicles for the afternoon. There were four in our group plus Marco, our guide. We had a blast following him on roads and trails through the jungle and along the jagged ridgelines near the Pacific coast.
At one point mid-afternoon, we spiraled down a steep, slippery descent until we came to a place where water cascaded down a rock face into a clear blue pool by the side of the trail. We stopped to swim and cool off.
After a while, Marco mentioned that there was a deeper pool just above us, and then higher still on a cliff wall he pointed out a small wooden platform jutting out over the water.
“People jump from that?” we asked, incredulously. “Claro!” Of course!
The platform measured maybe five feet long by three feet wide, and looked almost as old as the rocks it was perched on. The only way to reach it was to scale the steeply sloping rock face, sometimes with the aid of a knotted rope dangling from an ancient tree above.
Marco went first, plunging 30 feet into the water below with a loud whoop and a big splash. It looked like a blast, so one at a time we took turns. It was exhilarating, dropping like a stone and plunging into the cool water so far below. For three of us it was a little scary, yet fun.
But the last person to go was paralyzed with indecision.
Making the Leap
Once on the platform, she couldn’t seem to get off of it. The guide offered her a lower place to jump from. We shouted up to her that she didn’t have to jump at all if she didn’t want to. But she wanted to do it from the platform, like we had.
So we encouraged her, told her to make a good strong leap to clear the sloping face of the cliff, and even helped her count down a few times. Finally, on the third countdown, she summoned the courage to go. Only she didn’t, really.
In the midst of leaping off, she seemed to change her mind after it was too late to stop. The result was a tentative step. She barely cleared the platform as she began her fall; I thought she had hit her head on it.
A few feet later she gave a shriek as she bounced against the rough rock wall. From there she caromed and slid down the cliff face until finally toppling forward into the water at the bottom.
We dove in to the pool to help her, fearing injury, but she was laughing giddily, a mixture of surprise and shock. We helped her to the side where she could sit on the rocks and recover – shaken but thankfully uninjured.
Once we knew she was OK, I couldn’t help thinking that she would have had a much better experience if she had just fully committed to the jump. But getting over indecision can be hard.
It’s easy to tell someone else, “Make a bold leap” but we’ve all been in places like that high platform where it’s hard to commit. So the next time you find yourself anxious about taking that next step, maybe these seven ideas can help you commit.
Add up the cost. One way to spur yourself into action is to consider the cost of inaction. Like the squirrel in the middle of the road that can’t decide which way to go, sometimes any decision is better than no decision. Think about the car that’s coming, and get out of the road.
Decide not to decide. There may be times when making an immediate commitment is not a good idea. In the Army we called it “Tactical Patience.” The best course of action is sometime to let things develop a little longer.
Just be clear about that decision, too, so that others understand what is happening. It is helpful to set a clear trigger that will cause you to revisit the issue, like the passage of time, or when a particular event takes place.
Avoid paralysis. Before deciding, we often wish we knew more, had additional facts, crunched more numbers. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the details, deluged in data.
But we’ll never have all the relevant information, and at some point, a few more data points may not make a significant impact anyway, Meanwhile, time is passing and opportunities may be slipping by.
Of course do the homework. It’s foolish to take a “ready, fire, aim” approach. Know what you need to know before deciding. But like counting down before the jump, setting a time limit can help you get through the indecision and moving forward.
Boil it down. Sometimes our indecision has to do with “options overload.” Last week I was looking for a set of headphones to use while exercising indoors. There were literally hundreds of options, from shape and size, to color, configuration, and storage cases.
To cut through all that noise, it helps to focus on the top three most important things, and not allow ourselves to be distracted by all the other features.
Go for a walk. It can be easy to go into vapor lock when we stay in one place for too long. Eyes glaze over, clarity fades, and momentum dies. It becomes hard to focus.
When that happens, move your body. Take a walk, go for a run, get outside and breathe fresh air, and get the blood circulating again. The burst of oxygen, change of scenery, and physical activity can combine to lift the mental cloud, help us overcome our indecision, and take that next step.
Avoid the future “shoulda.” Often as we look back, the things we regret are the times when we had an opportunity that we didn’t take. “I shoulda applied.” “I shoulda tried something different.”
Of course it’s impossible to know how something will turn out in the future. But once we arrive there and look back, we can feel better knowing that at least we took action and tried hard. Far better that than letting something we “shoulda” done slip away as we watched passively from the sidelines.
Decide on the next decision. Sometimes we fear making a commitment because once we do, we are locked into one course of action. A way to get past that is to think about what the next decision will be after this one.
Like having a well-constructed goal, when we have a plan to measure our progress and have identified the next decision point, it’s easier to commit to giving 100% up to that point.
Overcoming Indecision – The Takeaway
Only half-doing something or failing to fully commit can be worse than doing nothing at all. You risk becoming a flat squirrel, or richocheting off cliff walls in an undignified manner.
So once your decision is made, take these ideas into account, take a deep breath, and make that leap off the platform with full commitment.
As Goethe suggests, you may find that stepping forward boldly has a magic and power of its own:
Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Or if you prefer, remember what Yoda counsels: