Do you wish you could be more decisive?
Maybe you would be surprised if I answered, “When in doubt, do nowt.”
This is an expression from the North of England that suggests it is better to do nothing when you don’t know exactly what to do.
It is advice I often give to my friends who are a bit upset when it comes to work problems, relationship matters and teenage kids. In my experience, especially when we are feeling emotional, we can react to things automatically and rather too hastily.
At some point in time, we have all sent that quickly written email or text, or blurted out an ill-articulated decision that we have come to regret.
It is good sometimes just to let the dust settle and see where it falls. Many a time, what you thought would be a big issue dissipates into something quite insignificant.
But what if you are applying this philosophy on a regular and prolonged basis? And to all your life decisions?
Do you find it hard to have an opinion on things?
Do you find it hard to be more decisive?
If the answer is yes, then let’s talk about Angela Merkel
The German Chancellor?
Yes, that’s her.
Undeniably well-respected on an international stage, and particularly in Europe, maybe what you don’t know about her is that in her home country she is known for her “wait-and-see” political approach.
In fact, in German youth vernacular there is even a verb made out of her surname: “merkeln” meaning to do nothing and make no decisions.
Some people think her long response time is representative of her scientific education and analytical approach, but others insinuate that it simply allows her to be deliberately vague and not come down on either side of a debate. They want her to be more decisive
Back in 2015, this came to bite her when far-right militants held violent protests in the town of Heidenau, Merkel waited too long to speak out, and the hashtag #Merkelschweigt (Merkel is silent) started to trend.
She was in doubt and doing nowt … but for too long.
Indecision is a decision
So where is this fine line between allowing yourself time to think about your reaction or your response to a situation and spending so much time thinking that your silence seems to speak for itself?
After all indecision is a decision. If you decide to not react or answer, that is as indicative of your position as a definitive statement.
The answer, as with so many things, is it is somewhere in the middle.
You need to think it through, but not overthink it.
Beware of decision by committee
Politics is an arena where an enormous amount of consultation happens. Opinions are pulled from all stakeholders and, as a leader of a country, Angela Merkel will be seeking to find common ground with the opinions of those in her party.
This is normal, it is part of democratic politics.
In many ways however, we tend to replicate this in our everyday lives — and we don’t need to.
When we have a decision to make, we will reach out to a series of friends and family and ask them their opinion on the subject. Whilst accessing multiple layers of advice can help you see angles of discussion you may not have thought of before, it will also give you a wide and varying range of opinions that might be hard to reconcile in your head. Will it help you be more decisive?
Bear in mind too, that people will approach a problem or question from the bias of their own experience, fears and aspirations. Their advice may be well meant, but it will be difficult for them to put themselves entirely in your shoes.
And let’s be honest, they may also have their personal agenda for wanting or not wanting something for you, whether they are expressing that on a conscious or subconscious level.
Whatever the situation, the buck will ultimately always stop with whoever is making the choice.
Let your decision be about what you want and not what others want for you or what others would do if it was asked of them.
Better the devil you know?
What makes us seek the advice of others? Does it help us be more decisive?
More often than not, it is either fear of not making the right choice (a kind of fear of “failure”), or else it is apprehension with regards to the change that the choice will engender.
The desire to leave a relationship, to move home, to change jobs : It is often those big crossroads that we face in our lives that will leave us wondering whether what we have the opportunity to move towards will be “better” than what we have right now.
I remember when I first left the UK about 20 years ago to move to the Netherlands, some of my colleagues at the time said to me, “but what if you don’t like it there?”
They were projecting their fear of change on to my situation. And it was actually a fear I didn’t have. I told them I would simply catch a plane back if that came to pass.
That’s not to say I would have come back to the same job in the UK, but had life not worked out in the Netherlands, I would have got on a plane to the UK, or elsewhere, and found another job.
What this illustrates is that whatever decision you make today will not necessarily dictate the rest of your life.
Life is a chain of experiences, each moment linking to that which preceded it and that which will come after it. You make choices every step of the way and are master of your destiny.
Only idiots never change their opinion
It is one of my favourite French proverbs — Il n’y a que les imbéciles qui ne changent pas d’avis — that means just this.
We are actually quite tied up with what people think of us, rather than what we want for ourselves in life. This comes back to the decision by committee approach to decision making, but also our fear of what people may think of us if we make the “wrong choice.”
This is often just our ego getting in the way of what we really want.
It actually takes a bigger person to say, “So what! I have changed my mind.”
If we come back to Angela Merkel, she has done this on numerous occasions during her Chancellorship. In 2011, after the accident at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan, she announced that Germany would end all nuclear power by 2022, having previously agreed to extend the life of nuclear reactors in Germany.
And more recently, despite initially being vehemently against it, she demonstrated her capacity to do a U-turn and accept the principal of common EU debt as a way out of the current recession.
Decisions are, after all, by nature subjective. They are made at a certain moment in time when faced with a specific set of circumstances. There is no right and wrong.
And it is foolish to think that that specific set of circumstances may not evolve over time.
The answer lies in what your gut tells you
This is a tricky concept for some people who take a very analytical approach to life. Essentially if you want to be more decisive, listen to your gut. It won’t see you wrong.
All of us have this capacity.
In August 2015, Angela Merkel barely paused for thought. She consulted none of her European partners, when she opened the German borders to let in asylum seekers travelling up through the Balkans.
If you find yourself struggling to access your gut, try sitting down with a piece of paper. Write out the pros and cons with regard to whatever decision you have to make.
This isn’t a new way to make a decision or be more decisive. But I am not asking you to reflect what pros and cons you come up with.
What I suggest you do is simply try and notice what flows more easily, the pros or the cons. Then try and see where you are actually keen to find the most points. That is where your heart lies.
I haven’t always listened to my gut.
The plane I took out of the Netherlands some 15 years ago was actually bound for France and a new life. My gut was actually telling me it wasn’t the right decision. However I was listening to people telling me what I should be doing at that time of my life.
My ex-partner and I are now separated, but we have a wonderful daughter and I live a very happy life. So maybe I didn’t listen to my gut, but I can’t say it was bad choice either.
Don’t be fazed by making decisions. Try and be more decisive. Life has a funny old way of working itself out, whatever you decide to do.
Photo by Juan Rumimpunu on Unsplash