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Decisions, Indecisions, and Deferrals

January 22, 2012

It occurred to me today as I was at that pinnacle of childhood frivolity, Chuck E Cheese, and was presented with a most mundane series of questions that there are two prerequisites to indecisiveness.  I say this because the lovely young lady who was the establishment’s facilitator for my daughter’s birthday party asked me what drinks were to be made available and what toppings I wanted on the pizzas.  To be honest, I was like the proverbial deer in headlights and actually ended up asking her, as the expert, what usually worked and we went with that.  This of course, once the children went running toward the bright lights of overpriced entertainment, caused me to wonder what causes indecisiveness in people who are in other circumstances perfectly capable of making a decision.

I came up with the following theory: indecisiveness stems from two factors, unfamiliarity and fear of failure.  I presume that any combination of the two may result in the same end but it is important to note that the two prerequisites are not exclusively linked and may occur singularly. Lets examine each in turn.  Unfamiliarity is based on a lack of experience or situational foreknowledge.  Without a suitable base from which to found a decision a feeling akin to disorientation arises, heightend in cases where a perception of limited time is present.  This often fuels the second prerequisite, a fear of failure.  A fear of failure is obvious to define, harder to substantiate.  Such a fear may arise from any number of preexisting conditions, including introversion or low self esteem, but is always linked to the individual putting a high degree of importance or emphasis on the outcome of the decision.  In most civilized situations, and I feel this to be an almost exclusive statement, such emphasis is disproportionate.  Let’s take the following case study:

You are at the automotive repair shop and the mechanic tells you that your vehicle is leaking transmission fluid from a leaky gasket and that you need a complete fluid exchange or the vehicle will simply burn itself up.  People are behind you waiting to discuss their own problems so you in essence have an audience.  You know you have little knowledge of how such things work on your vehicle and you also know that the price quoted is beyond what you can easily pay at this time.  What do you do?  There are two common responses.

The first response is to ask somewhat sheepishly if there is a discount of some kind or to jokingly address the issue with the mechanic.  This is, of course, a delay tactic while your subconscious continues to wrestle with the situation.  Having gained a few seconds and being fully aware of those around you you ask the mechanic just how serious it is and ask if you couldn’t possibly wait.  To which the mechanic responds with a cryptic but ultimately unhelpful summation of the likelihood that making the wrong decision could cost you considerably more money.  In the end you acquiesce, essentially deferring the decision to the mechanic.

The second common response is to argue and ultimately create a sense of righteous indignation.  Refusing to admit such a thing is possible you fuel your ire and leave with what you have convinced yourself to be a justifiably scornful demeanor.  Rather than actually make a decision you have again deferred it, though this time you have deferred it to another time rather than to another person.

But deferral is in itself a decision you say?  I am not so sure.  Yes, it may lead to the same result as one of the options (e.g. repair the vehicle or not) but deferral is a style of avoidance whereas a decision is based on a fulcrum point within the mind that sways one’s thinking in one direction rather than another.  Deferral of an issue keeps that issue in limbo and the balance of your options in flux.  Decision making binds an issue to a resulting course of action and settles one’s course toward a specific option.

In essence, as the children went to play and I sat at the table acting as the keeper of the tokens my mind considered why it was so difficult for me to decide what toppings to put on a pizza.  The answer is quite simply…I had no knowledge of what the kids at the party liked or disliked and I certainly didn’t want to make a bad decision and embarrass my daughter who definitely deserved a fun party.  In the end, the entire saga was for naught because…as it turns out, one of the kids was lactose intolerant and pizza, nearly without exception, has cheese.

So…in a nutshell, let the mind wander but beware, the cheese will get you.


From → Nature of Man

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