Raise your hand if you've had this conversation before:
"Where do you want to go for dinner?"
"I don't know, where do you want to go?"
"Nah, I asked you. You choose."
"I don't care."
"Well you must want something. Do you want to go to Five Guys?"
"Where do you want to go?"
"I don't know. Where do you want to go?"
AD FUCKING NAUSEAM.
Nothing makes me want to put my head through the wall faster than this conversation, and it's one I've had dozens if not hundreds of times from both sides. And then something changed. This year, I decided I was going to own my decisions, whether or not they were raving successes or piles of hot garbage.
And you know what happened?
My relationships changed. I got more confident with each decision. I got more vulnerable, but also had better connections with the people around me ('cause that's how vulnerability works, folks). I learned more. I saw more. I did more— all because I was willing to take lots of very tiny risks. (Because honestly, most of these decisions are tiny on an infinitesimal scale. Whose life was ever changed by a choice in restaurant?)
So why do so many of us have these asinine conversations (which I'm pretty sure no one enjoys)? Why do we play this game with one another where we are both unwilling to commit to one choice over another (even though I'm convinced we all have an option we're secretly rooting for)?
Firstly, fear. (Because when isn't fear involved?)
1. Bad things will sometimes come of your choices
I promise. But bad things will come regardless. It's how you deal with them that matters.
Avoiding choices will in no way keep unfortunate life circumstances at bay— in fact, avoiding making choices difficult or otherwise will probably only compound any issues you fear occurring. Procrastination makes literally nothing better. (Or have you learned nothing from undergrad all-nighters?)
There are two things you need to consider here. The first is that there is much less to fear from your choices if you lower your expectations. Because we have so many options these days, our expectations are sky-high. If we have 163 dish soap options to pick from, one of them must be our ideal dish soap, right? And when it's not? We're disappointed.
This might be a trivial example, but this could be applied to nearly everything. You applied to six different universities out of dozens of options, therefore one of these universities should be the university of your dreams. Except perfect doesn't exist, no matter how many options we're given (okay, maybe if we were given actually infinite options, but I don't math, so let's just stay away from that).
If we stop expecting perfect, we stop feeling so let down by the outcomes of our choices.
The second thing to keep in mind, is that you only have control over your choice, not what comes of it. I know, that probably makes you want to slap me (which wouldn't be particularly Stoic of you, now would it), but it's an inescapable fact. Making a choice is like pushing a little paper boat out to sea— once its left your hands, it's up to the wind what happens. Once you see where you're going, you can decide what it is that you want to do.
And then you make another choice, and another choice, and another. It's turtles all the way down (which, by the way, was such a good read and I highly recommend it).
2. Lack of confidence is also a problem here
Past me (let's call her Danna 1.0) would have been petrified of making choices— big or small.
What if I make the wrong one? What if the movie I pick sucks (and they laugh at me)?
What happens if the restaurant I choose sucks (and they laugh at me)?
You can see where this is going here. Nothing horrified me more than the idea that the choice I made would somehow lead to someone else's displeasure or lack of enjoyment and they would blame me for it, and cast me aside (no one said this was logical, let's be honest).
Abandonment, ridicule, judgement. When we choose, we're vulnerable (a good thing). We're saying "I like this and I hope you do too." We open ourselves up to just a tiny bit of rejection.
And that's scary. So we say we don't care. We pretend we don't have an opinion or a preference.
Two things are happening here:
a) there are too many available options and it becomes impossible to decide what is best: the paradox of choice. (Easy solution).
b) we're pretending we don't care so as not to have to own our decision (a less easy solution, but probably the more common problem—although I could be projecting here).
3. NARROW YOUR CHOICES
Yes, choice fatigue really is a thing. We are faced with hundreds of little decisions to make every single day, with hundreds of options presented in each scenario. The result? We get stuck, unable to decide which of the options will be best for us, all the while having sky-high expectations. (With so many choices, one of them will be the perfect match for us, right?) If you're interested in exploring this idea more, I highly recommend checking out this short but impactful TED talk by Barry Schwartz.
The simplest solution here is to narrow your choices intentionally. Whether you're the choice maker or the choice giver, this guiding principle will make your life so much easier. Tell those presenting you with options to give you fewer choices from which to pick. And then just pick one. Worst case it's not that great and you've learned something new (like how to avoid that Thai food place where you got food poisoning on your birthday).
A scenario could go like this:
Lovely Person A: Hey, let's get food. Greek or Italian?
Spectacular Person B: I'm not so fond of Greek— Italian it is!
If you're the one offering the choice, you could follow the scenario above, or, if you're feeling particularly brave, offer only one option.
Lovely Person A: Hey, I'm really craving pizza. Want to come with me to my favourite place?
Spectacular Person B: Fo' shizzle.
This works much better than asking someone where they want to go for dinner when you've had a raging pizza craving for the past four days, and hoping that they stumble upon 'pizza' as the option of choice.
The hardest part will be finding people who still say fo' shizzle.
4. practising making and owning small decisions (then try for bigger ones).
If you're used to pushing decisions off on other people like I was, this will take some time. It will take some time to feel comfortable with putting your opinions out there, and leaving yourself a little bit open for rejection, and a lot open to learning from the mistakes that will come from owning your decisions (yeah, you get to own the mistakes, too).
You'll notice here I've mostly been talking about simple things that don't really have massive impacts on our lives: food, movie choice, etc. But practising owning these choices will help you when you've got real life-changing decisions on the line. You don't want something that is really going to have a great impact on your life being in someone else's hands because you were too chicken-shit to take control yourself.
When someone at work asks you what you think the next step will be for an important project, you're better equipped to tell them what you think.
When you're trying to decide whether or not to stick with a job you hate or pursue a business interest, you own that decision you know is right in your gut, rather than deferring to someone else.
When a relationship is failing, you take action to move things forward, rather than waiting for the other person to act (which, speaking from personal experience, may never happen).
Things will sometimes suck. They will suck whether you choose them or they happen to you involuntarily. Having the confidence to make choices means that your relationships are not going to be one-sided. It means you're both allowing yourselves to be vulnerable, get there, and let yourself be seen— whether it's with friends, family, or a romantic interest. And that confidence is magnetic.
Just ask yourself which person you would rather be spending time with: the person who carries on that nonsensical waste of time conversation ("You choose", "No, you choose!"), or the person who says "I would love to take you to my favourite restaurant. Do you want to come?"
If the people around you care about you, they will be happy to spend time around you even if you take them to see Transformers 8, even if you order shitty Greek food.
Maybe you will even laugh about it together.
Maybe you will pick their new favourite restaurant, or take them on the best vacation of their lives.
You never know unless you decide.