Big decisions are still a struggle for me. I've become a competent and fairly confident decision maker in my work life. But decisions to do with my personal life have long been something I have had a difficult time with.
When I was growing up, I was often told that I was making bad or risky decisions. My young mind did not yet know to interpret this as a mere opinion, and set to agonizing over every decision large or small. I spent most of my life doubting my instincts and experiences as being reliable in guiding my judgement. It was only when I was in grad school, having anxiety attacks, and feeling pretty miserable about life that I first went to counseling, and through it found some perspective on this.
This is not to say that I've been fully cured of my decision-making struggles, but I can say that I have a lot more faith in my ability to make decisions that are solid and well thought out, and that I can deal with the consequences of any decisions that aren't great ones.
Despite getting over this hurdle for the most part, which has helped me take charge of my course in life, and feel empowered, I still struggle with the really big decisions. The kind that will have a huge and lasting impact on my life and my well being.
A few weeks back, faced with having to make a big decision (whether to take the plunge and rent a new place in East Van that I'd looked at) in a short amount of time (overnight), I felt my old big decision paralysis coming back.
Out of curiosity, I Googled "How to make a big decision" to see what wisdoms the internets had to offer.
Left Brain Decision Making
The first useful hit was a post on Lifehacker "Geek to Live: Four ways to make a big decision". Lists and weighted grids abounded:
The PMI (Plus/Minus/Implication) method includes weights for pros and cons and adds an implications column. A possible implication counts as an interesting point to consider, ie, if I get this particularly vocal dog who I love anyway, she might bark all night and keep me awake.
I worked through a pro and con list about the place I had been offered. I stared at it. It was clearly middle ground. The weighted tables in the post made my brain hurt. This was clearly not helping me feel less cornered and panicked about the task at hand. I moved along.
Right brain decision making.
I came upon a video interview with Stephen Fry on the topic. If the Lifehacker article was totally focused on a left brain analogy, his approach was its antithesis:
I would always say...I think feelings always have primacy... So, it's really that problem I've mentioned before, and one that you run up against all the time in life...identifying your own feelings. It's so odd, you'd think you'd be able to more easily [identify what you feel] than identify what you know...what am I really feeling?
Ok, this was helping me get somewhere. Because, of course, my evaluation of the decision was blatantly irrational (despite my thinking I was being so pragmatic about it). I was worried about the cost, not because I couldn't afford it, but because I felt some mixture of guilt/not deserving it/not wanting to appear spoiled/not being grown up enough to have a real, grown-up home. And I was worried about it being too much for just one person.
Well what the fuck is that about?! Like it or not, I am (kinda?) a grown up, and there's no real reason I shouldn't live in a grown up place with functioning appliances, space and storage, and quiet surroundings. It was in the area I wanted, it fit nearly all my criteria (far more than any of the other places I'd looked at). Why would I even considering not taking a place because I thought it was too nice?
Good enough doesn't equal best choice
After reading through this post from the Association for Psychological Science's "We're Only Human" blog I found it started making more sense. To my equal pleasure and dismay, one of my favourite concepts from human geography was playing itself out right in front of me. I am a satisficer at heart. (More about satisficers vs. maximizers on the Happiness Project site.) It's the reason why I never get rid of appliances or technological gadgets till they actually die beyond any hope of salvation, and the reason why I am fine with less than I ideally want or am able to have. There are good and bad points to either side of the spectrum, but this definitely shed some light on that one. Having been living the student life for many years, I was so used to just having whatever was good enough, that considering having more than that felt very awkward. That was about as far down the road of investigating how my feelings were interfering as I wanted to go, but that didn't really answer the question of whether I actually ought to take this specific place.
Practical advice that respects feelings and logic
Finally, I found three fantastic posts on a blog (that is actually full of inspiring posts, but sadly seems to be no longer actively written). The first post is about visualizing the outcome of the decision, which sounds a little cheesy and obvious, but was actually challenging for me. It helped me investigate more of the "feeling" side of how the decision might play out, and trust my gut. In my imagination, visualizing living in this new place felt exciting but also peaceful, and more supportive of my needs (having things like a dishwasher and insuite laundry, space to accommodate visitors, and being nearby to good friends as well as shops and transit). But imagining it also felt... a bit empty, as the place is pretty spacious, and I might feel a bit lonely being there all by myself.
Having lived alone several times, and currently for almost 3.5 years in this place, I am very used to being on my own so this was strange to me. I haven't really wanted to go back to living with roommates because let's face it, I like my own space, messy and/or loud people annoy me, I don't want just anyone sharing my home. So I thought about options here. After a few calls and skype chats, I had myself set up with part time roommates (good friends who live in the city part time) and some additional houseguests (of the parental variety) that will hopefully come fill up my new home for some months of the year. Best of both worlds.
Reading the final two posts on the Gimme Bliss site clinched it. The 2nd on living with your decisions and even moreso, the 3rd on committing to a decision were eye opening for me. Sure, I agonize before making a decision, but like the author's friend in the 3rd post, I tend to keep agonizing over whether I've made the best decision long into the future. All that does is cause unnecessary stress, as unless I'm actually going to go back on the decision, there's nothing to be done about it! So, I resolved to commit to this decision whichever way it went, and use it as practice for committing wholeheartedly to future decisions as well. When it came down to it, there was no right or wrong decision, just a choice I needed to commit to:
You might think...that to really commit to a big decision that you'd have to be 100 percent sure, or at least more than 90 percent certain. Ironically, I don't think certainty plays into whether a decision will stick or not.
As with so many of the most important things about this human existence, making a decision that works comes down to faith.
So many people, it seems to me, lack this ability. And I'm not talking about the ability to believe in a higher power, either. I mean the ability to put aside hesitancy and simply leap. To believe whole-heartedly that this is your path that you've chosen and you're gonna stick with it.
Then because I wasn't about to totally change something so ingrained in a matter of a few hours, I slept on it, just to be sure.
The next morning, I woke up and I knew. This place was more than I'd hoped for, and this was not a bad thing! The neighbourhood I was hoping for, lots of space, a dishwasher!!!!!!, and I could get the move over and done with before the end of the summer (and before I was driven crazy by the next phase of construction in my building, which involves lots of concrete drilling). That afternoon, I signed the lease.
It will be tough saying goodbye to the West End and the ocean view I have grown to love, but this place has served me well through a really big transition in my life, and I am ready for the next chapter and a (quite literal) change of scenery. Whatever adventures come with my move, I'll do my best to embrace the change with conviction.