Have you ever found yourself hungry and willing to eat anything but the person (or people) you’re with can’t seem to make up their mind on where to eat? The vacillation is painful and exasperating. You’re yelling, “just make a choice!” (in your head, of course).
Vacillation in decisions can be a minor issue like choosing a restaurant or a major issue like dealing with a business crisis. For example, Facebook has recently come under fire from all sides after leaked internal documents were provided to the WSJ. It shows that Facebook knows that their product can cause mental health issues in teenagers, and yet, their strategy was directed at getting more teenagers on their platform.
The company is now vacillating on how to move forward. They have stopped all initiatives that focused on children — such as Instagram for Kids — but it’s not clear if this is a short-term pause or a long-term change in strategy. The vacillation is likely to continue.
Why do we vacillate, and what can we do about it? That’s what we’re here to learn. I think there are three reasons (and solutions) for most vacillation.
Reason #1: Ambiguity is Too High
Some ideas and situations are inherently hard. Take macroeconomics, for example. There has been a debate as to whether the US economy is stagnating or growing. Is the US still the best place for people to live a prosperous life, start businesses or live comfortably? The debate on this topic has raged for years with people on both sides.
Before the pandemic, I would have faulted you for thinking that the US was stagnating. And yet, COVID-19 changed things. Despite the widespread lockdowns, the US economy is thriving. In the first half of 2021, 60% of new firms were founded, then in the same period in 2019. Most of them are small businesses, especially in retail. Individuals are also on the move. In July 2021, nearly 3% of workers left their jobs in search of better ones.
The point is that macroeconomics is complex. There are so many variables that it can be impossible to predict what might happen. As a result, the situation is inherently full of ambiguity and difficult to sort through. Lucky for us, most of the situations we will come across don’t require an advanced degree in economics.
At work and home, we can break things down into tangible elements. For example, I recently helped a client with a marketing campaign that seemed difficult to pull off. It was a Bingo game for thousands of users. We broke everything down into clear steps and worked through the technical challenges one by one.
Reason #2: Take the Weight of Certainty off Your Shoulders
I still remember the first time I attended a Tony Robbins seminar. I was beyond excited to see Tony in real life. The man is huge. One of the most popular ideas that Tony talks about is raising your standards. Higher standards will lead to a higher quality of life.
Over time, I have realized that this idea is being taken too far by some people. Their standards are now too high. They expect perfection in their work, or they expect to know everything before making a decision. The weight of their standards is mentally and physically exhausting.
Will Durant has a beautiful quote that I think captures the foolishness of high standards:
“The first lesson of philosophy is that we cannot be wise about everything. We are fragments in infinity and moments in eternity; for such forked atoms to describe the universe, or the Supreme Being, must make the planets tremble with mirth”Will Durant
Despite our advancements, we still got hit by a pandemic. Governments continuously made the same errors through it. No one saw the impact the internet might have or that smartphones would come to play such a crucial role in our lives. Some things only make sense in hindsight. Relax your standards and realize that you will make plenty of mistakes in your life.
Reason #3: Upon This Rock, Build Your Muscle
If you struggle with something, don’t start with the hardest task. For example, if you can’t seem to enjoy exercise, you wouldn’t start by trying to run a marathon. That sounds incredibly painful and unhelpful. If you vacillate in decisions, don’t try to fix them during your most important and high-stakes decisions. Instead, start with the easy ones, like choosing where to eat.
Small things can become grandiose. Look at the Catholic Church. It is estimated that 40 years after the death of Christ, there were only a few hundred Christians in the world. By the year 300, there was close to six million. Christianity grew at close to 40% until it dominated the Roman Empire and the Western World. It all started with a handful of people.
I was reminded of this idea with my new puppy, Remy. He’s learning all the basic commands like sit, stay, and down. You start by teaching these commands at home in a low distraction environment. You can then try to teach the commands in progressively difficult environments like a dog park. Building on small wins is easier than trying to always hit a home run.
Vacillation isn’t something that you’re stuck with. You can slowly change your decisiveness by tackling easy decisions and, eventually, difficult ones. For example, your partner and friends will be happier when you don’t make them wait while hungry.