Decisions We Make and Why We Make Them
Life requires choices, and choices require decisions. The decisions we make reflect our character. Who we are inside, and what we deem important.
Making decisions often forces us to step outside our comfort zone. Things in our lives are rocking along, and wham! Something happens and it demands a decision. If it is a decision we want to make, have been looking for an excuse to make, we make it. That doesn’t mean we make it without any anxiety, but internally we can easily justify making it and enduring the inevitable changes it will thrust into our lives because it aligns with what we want.
It’s when our wants are opposed, when we like the status quo and coasting within our comfort zone, that we find making decisions more difficult. We know that things will change and we don’t want them to change, or we don’t want them to change the way we believe or fear they will change.
Maybe we fear the unknown, unintended consequences that could result. Or maybe inevitable changes can’t be avoided and we don’t want to be inconvenienced by or burdened with the interruptions that will follow. Or maybe we are so comfortable within our comfort zone that the idea of stepping outside it is a price we consider too steep to pay.
Whatever the reason, our reaction defines us and our situation:
1. We know the costs of our decision, but we act.
2. We fear the unknown costs of our decision, but we act.
3. We know neither the costs of our decision nor the final outcome, but we act. Will this prove smart? The best thing we’ve ever done or the worst?
Note that in all three cases, we act. What isn’t blatantly evident in these situations is that the action can indeed be to act or it can be a failure to act, which is also an action.
In the first two situations, we act with both knowledge and understanding, and that defines our character because, whether we act or refuse to act, we contribute to that definition of our character because we are not inadvertently “falling” into the situation’s resulting consequences. We are making deliberate choices to act or not, understanding the possibilities and potential results. That can make us a hero or a villain, or just someone stuck in a bad place with no good choices.
The third situation—where we must act not knowing the costs or final outcome—defines us, too. More heroic in ways because the outcome is in greater doubt. But be careful not to make false assumptions on what it all means.
Some actions carry price tags that we logically and rationally consider and deem them too steep to pay. (Consequences where others, innocents suffer, for example, or they’re put at unnecessary risk.) It isn’t that a choice to not act makes us bad people or cowards (physical or moral) cowards. It makes us people who have weighed and measured and decided the costs are too high either to ourselves or to others and we choose not to pay them. Or, we are morally or spiritually bankrupt–cowards–or we are people who simply choose not to pay those costs of taking an action because we don’t want to pay them.
Motivation’s Role in Making Decisions
My point is every decision, no matter how large or small, carries consequences, and only we can set the criteria we consider significant and determine whether or not the anticipated results are a net positive or negative. In other words, it is our motivation for making the decisions we make that determines whether the act of deciding to act or not act and then doing it is brave or cowardly, protective or destructive, honorable or shameful.
We often use social mores or universal emotions to select those criteria, and we often factor in how others will react to our decision to act or not act. What I mean by that isn’t that others determine our choices, but that we weigh others’ reactions to see if their reactions are the reactions we want from them. The more influence someone has in our lives, the more weight we give to their reactions to our decisions.
An Example: You Need Advice. What Do You Do?
For example, you need advice. You go to a trusted source. Someone you respect and admire who likely has successfully navigated the waters you are swimming in now. You don’t go to someone you don’t trust or respect or admire. Your motivation is to make an informed, wise decision, and, for that, you seek informed and wise counsel. If you don’t know and can’t find a trusted source, you likely do without others’ counsel and rely on your own judgment.
In basic terms, you don’t ask a brain surgeon how to fix the brakes on your car. You ask a mechanic who knows his stuff. You don’t ask a liar for the truth. You ask someone you know to be honest. You don’t ask something from someone—from anyone—that you know they are incapable of giving.
What all this about decisions leads to is anchored motivation. It is in your motivation for acting or not acting, for acting the way and at the time you act—or not—that the logic and reason for the decisions made or not made are seated.
If logical and reasonable, whether acting or refusing to act, understanding the motivation for the decision you make leads to comfort with making it. Leads to making peace with having made it. Leads to acceptance of the results—intended and unintended—and the consequences.
I touched on this above, but it’s important and requires emphasis. Not making a decision is making a decision.
Why Not Making a Decision is Making a Decision
If you (or your character) is a procrastinator, in denial, rationalizing to avoid being forced to take action, avoiding something because it’s easier (on the mind, heart or soul), and ignores the problem or challenge or obstacle, that is making a decision not to decide and not to act. Not deciding and then acting carries consequences, too.
People choose not to act for the reasons stated and more, hoping the problem will resolve itself and they won’t be back -against-the-wall, forced to make a decision they do not want to make. Recognizing a problem requires you to do something about it or live with knowing you didn’t. This “ignore it and it’ll go away” resolution doesn’t typically work out well because ignored problems tend to become bigger, more complex, and more complicated. (Handy in fiction, but a source of misery in life.)
Decisions can be active or reactive. They often fall into the following categories:
1. Active. Events or situations occur that are within your control. In these, you actively choose your course of action for addressing them.
2. Reactive. Events or situations occur that are not in your control. They are the outgrowth of others’ decisions that impact you. On those, you reactively choose your course of action for addressing that which impacts you. The decision you make won’t resolve the underlying challenge. Only your course of action to cope with the impact.
Decision-making can be challenging. It can be overwhelming. But it is always telling. Character—and characters—are defined by motives, by the way people control themselves or fail to control themselves, by intentions and by the events and situations in which they choose to act and not act and why and how they incorporate their decisions in their lives.
If you’re indecisive, you know the torment and trouble that comes with being reluctant to make decisions. Depending on the significance of the decision to be made, the muddling, worrying, fear of doing the wrong thing–it can all be a relentless burden. You know that sense of going back-and-forth, of feeling torn and twisted into knots. You know the cold sweat and cold chills that come with the fear of being wrong and it negatively impacting another.
Being indecisive speaks strongly about a person’s character, too, based on their motivation for being indecisive. To protect themselves? Not so admirable, but understandable and human. To protect another? More admirable, and interesting—why is the person compelled to do this? Because of past poor judgment or errors in judgment? More human and understandable, making others more sympathetic to the indecision challenge.
Two people who must make the exact same decision can evoke very different reactions in others. One will be beloved and one despised. Why? Motivation.
Struggling with Decisions
My point is to chat about decisions because many struggle with them, and many don’t realize how telling their process is, or how much that process reveals about them personally. In a discussion on this topic recently, I was asked, “Which is worse: to be slow to decide or right when you decide?”
I responded, “That depends. If someone’s swinging an axe at your head, I’d say being slow to decide to defend yourself is a really bad decision. If you want to live, you’d better act—now. If you’re debating on whether or not to offer or accept a marriage proposal, take your time. Your future insists you be right.”
In other words, not all decisions are equal. They must be weighed, evaluated. We must determine how important something is to us, overall.
We live in shades of gray, which makes decisions at home in shades of gray, too. Whether we act, choose to not act, act in ways that seem logical and reasonable to us and to others depends on the situation and our motivation. And key factors we consider in deciding are anticipated results, impact, and consequences.
The bonus for us in taking a deeper look at the decisions we make and why we make them is that we better know ourselves and we’re less quick to judge whether someone else’s decision is a good or bad one. We know far more is involved than the surface clutter we see. And we can’t see all they consider. We’re less critical and more empathetic. We decide.
© 2015, Vicki Hinze
© 2014, Vicki Hinze. Hinze is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is My Imperfect Valentine. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s online community: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact. www.vickihinze.com.