How Not to Decide
Imagine you are walking down an unfamiliar street and come to an intersection. Now you must make a decision: go left? Right? Forward? Or should you turn around and go back?
Some people have enormous difficulty making decisions when high uncertainty and risk are involved. When they reach that intersection and cannot figure out which way to go, they decide not to decide – or at least they believe they have not decided. In reality, however, they have decided–to stay where they are.
Sometimes, of course, it makes sense to postpone making a choice while you wait for more information. If you believe the cost of waiting is lower than the value of the information you are waiting to receive, then that is a wise course of action.
But it is dangerous to postpone a decision for long – because there is nothing more permanent than continuous temporary.
Let’s say you have decided to delay your decision. But if you wait long enough, the situation that has been frozen in place can no longer be called “waiting.” It is the new reality.
What has happened is that you did make a decision, by default: to stay put, to stay where you are.
Take me, for instance. I did not immigrate to the United States; I just came there to study. Then, after graduation, I decided to stay on temporarily, to earn some money and publish some articles before returning “home.” One day at a time, that temporary decision prolonged itself into a forty-seven-year stay.
Please note that to this day I have never actually decided to stay. But here I am anyway, forty-seven years later.
Here is another example from personal life: You might be a non-smoker who one day makes an impulsive decision to smoke just one cigarette, just to try it out. You do not decide to start smoking. But after one cigarette, you light a second and a third – and before you know it, you are hooked. Now you are a smoker – even though you never actually chose to become one.
Every action we take, whether we consciously decide to take that action or not, becomes a decision by default, if it is repeated often enough or for long enough.
In the beginning, the river stream creates the river band. Eventually, the river band will determine how the river will flow.
First function creates the form; then the form impacts the function.
Function, when repeated continually over time, becomes a form. And the use of the form in the short term is a function because the form has not been formulated yet.
Why all this philosophizing? Because it is important to practice what I call “conscious management”: Are you conscious, not just of what is happening between your ears and of the decisions you make, but also of the actions you take without actually deciding? Are you sure that your actions do not become your decisions, by default?
It is OK to decide not to decide; just be sure that your “holding” actions don’t add up, by default, to a decision you would never consciously have chosen.
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes