We’re in the middle of a string of self-loathing prompts! I must not have felt great about myself when I was writing these. Identity, fear of judgment, and today another big one, indecisiveness! I referred to this trait as paralysis by analysis, which is a term we used to through around a lot during my working days. And it has plagued me for years, as far back as I can remember actually. That’s not to say I’m not working on it, but it is slow going, maybe a two-steps forward and one step back type thing. Let’s get into it.
Generally I like to collect information before making a call. Performing due diligence, understanding as much as I can before taking a decision. And in this modern age, it’s pretty easy to get that information via the internet! But there comes a point when you’ve done the research, but you’re still not ready to make a call. Usually the underlying driver of the pause is fear of an uncertain outcome. And if it’s an important decision that requires diligence, of course the outcome isn’t going to be certain! If it was an obvious question, there’s no need to sweat it. But of course, you can make simple things complicated too if you want to, and I fall victim to that as well. Here’s one theory as to why this happens to me, maybe it applies to you too. There are legitimate, big decisions we all have to take that are going to impact our life and the lives of those around us too. And the answer to these questions are hard, and never obvious. Most people want to think them through, survey the options, and make a decision, but if you are still uncomfortable, that’s easier said than done. So you look for ways to procrastinate. And one great way to procrastinate is to distract yourself. And you can distract yourself easily by finding other things to do. Do you see where this is going? You can magnify easy choices by making them more complicated or involved than they need to be. This gives you the distraction you’re looking for, and allows you to avoid making the harder, uncertain choice. I’m not sure if this is why I make easy choices hard, but it does kind of make sense, right?
Ok, back to hard choices. I heard that if you can argue both sides to a stand-still, you would make a good lawyer? I don’t know if that’s a quote from someone or a general anecdote, but I buy it. Same as debate. I was never in the debate club, but as far as I understand preparation involves studying the topic from both perspectives. Being prepared for the strongest arguments you should expect to face if competing against an average or better debater. Is this what they call taking the steel man argument, which is strongest, as opposed to the straw man, which is what a lot of politicians tend to do? I digress. But what I am trying to say is there is value in looking at things from all angles as opposed to making some type of snap or gut level choice and then finding evidence that supports it. So I am not critical of doing homework. But as anyone who’s worked with stats, or debated, or works in law can tell you, you can find numbers that support any argument. So I am not sure if it doesn’t ultimately devolve into exactly what you were trying to avoid in the first place – making a gut decision when there’s no obvious answer. Actually I want to stick with that thread for a little longer, since I notice myself falling victim to something similar all the time. I go through the diligence process, I set my formal go / no go criteria, and I’m ready to let the chips fall where they may. But it doesn’t usually work out that way! Often times I’ll buckle, pull a complete 180 at the last minute and end up with an answer not at all in line with my rules. Why does this happen, and how does it happen? One variable has to be the pressure, and we know that pressure does strange things to logic and decision making. And you see this foible exploited constantly in sotfware and mobile apps. Limited time offers with timers come to mind immediately. Here’s a real example that comes to mind. Should I buy x? I do a long detailed analysis and decide not to. Case closed. But when item x magically is presented back to me at a slightly lower price, the rationale goes out the window and I buy it. What was the point of all that reasoning if my real motivation was really a 10% off coupon! Sometimes I get so disappointed in myself. Just a walking ape.
That last example is easy because it’s a purchase decision for something I can afford, but don’t want to pay for necessarily. And the long-term consequences of that type of choice are negligible, which might make you wonder why spending any time on it makes sense? I wonder that all the time as well. But what about bigger choices. I’ll give you another real one. I debated for several years if I should move back to Canada to preserve my Permanent Residence status or let it go and continue to live in the US. And I made lists, and had my mind made up firmly for both sides, but never took any real deliberate action. And ultimately I continued to debate it until the very last minute when it became clear that by waiting so long I had eliminated one of the options (going back to Canada) so the choice was in effect made for me. Going back for more schooling is another one. Deciding which city I want to live in. I can keep going. I am able to invest the time in thinking through the issue, but when it comes time to pull the trigger, I hesitate to put it lightly.
I already alluded to the types of smaller choices I deliberate on completely unnecessarily. Almost every time these are money related. And the sad part is the amount of money involved is not big. Let’s say, confidently, that it’s never over $100. I have a low bar. I have seen and heard all the talk about outsourcing any activity that occupies your time below you own self-defined hourly rate. And although I don’t fully buy into this, I really undervalue my time sometimes. Like $5 per hour type stuff. So I wish I could slow down with this type of obsessive behavior. But I am making some progress, not all is lost. At a minimum I am much more adept at catching it when it’s happening, and consequently reminding myself what an ineffective use of my time this is, at least from a $ perspective. And I have enough examples where I can pick up on my own pattern of letting dollars swing me around. Just stop!
So I am indecisive. Yes, I will admit it. I wonder if there is anything from a base temperament standpoint that is contributing to my tendency. This reminds me of the Big 5 test, where I tested high on pessimism? I am not sure if that’s the formal category or not, but one of the big takeaways for me was that I see risk and what could potentially go wrong first as opposed to someone who would identify potential initially. Seeing danger as through my initial filer I think gives me pause. That would be the underlying issue, but then again, I could be completely making this up. And I hope that test is wrong since it would be really nice seeing a world of potential opportunity, but having lived with myself for the last 39 years I don’t think it is. I am a base pessimist. I’m forgetting it there is another category relating directly to not liking or reacting well to uncertainty. And that tendency would also hinder decisiveness. I want to say I scored highly on orderliness, which implies a preference for schedule, routine, and predictability in general. And that too would line up with my experiences with myself as well. That could be story-telling too.
But, you play the cards you’re dealt. What am I supposed to do about it now? The first suggestion I would give myself would be to identify the real downside risk associated with any choice. I have to give the attribution to Tim Ferriss here, this is not an original idea, but I do like it. If the downside risk is low, you should not worry about the choice that much since even if it backfires you’re not going to end up on the street. And of course there is the famed “first principles” approach to decision making which again is touted in VC circles. And I appreciate this as well and generally follow-up, but like I mentioned everything can go out the window in a split second when the heat’s on. Maybe it’s just a matter of getting more reps while being fully aware that I have a tendency to get turned around. And this is one I just came up with but maybe my favorite. What if I can just remind myself that no decision is really that important in the grand scheme of things. Nobody is going to remember, let alone care about my choices a week after they’re made at most. Probably more like a day! So again my over-inflated sense of ego and self-importance might be causing me a lot more discomfort than is necessary.
That last point made me wonder. All of these writing prompts are about me. On one hand, Jesus Christ. Get over yourself. Nobody cares. On the other hand, is there another topic that I could spend 30 hours on. And is there anyone else in the world who is more qualified than me to write about, well, me? I am a subject matter expert after all. So maybe I should look to switch it up a little bit for my last 10 or so entries. But I’m not sure. I’ll think about it and let you know. 😂
46 Minutes. 1771 Words.