‘I’d rather be strongly wrong than weakly right.’ ― Tallulah Bankhead
Writing last week’s post about the trials of moving house, I began to explore why it should be quite so draining.
I wondered if it was because I was constantly being asked to make decisions, but that couldn’t be it – my professional film life was all about making one decision after another and people often told me they appreciated how swiftly I made the call.
Then I realised: what drains me is dithering. There is nothing more exhausting than not making a decision.
Love or money
Making big decisions is straightforward when my motivations are clear. For much of my life, adventure rather than money was my motivation. That was what kept me moving from place to place and choosing a mostly freelance career path.
Adventure no longer has the same pull for me these days. Shall I give five years to a multi-country multi-film project? Shall I stay in a place that gives me all the independence in the world because nobody is fussed about me? Shall I move to a new country for a new job earning far more money than I’ve earned before? No, no and no.
If I waver, my bestie Hilary shows me the light by asking, ‘Do you know what you want? Will doing this get you closer to that goal?’
It’s extraordinary how energising the best decision feels, as if everything inside is slotted in its rightful place; I feel aligned, I can breathe deeply.
Pink or orange
It’s often the small decisions I agonise over. Shall I have the burger or steak? I ask the waiter for guidance even though his/her choice is often as random as mine would be, though perhaps at the back of my mind I think that if I don’t enjoy my meal I can’t take responsibility for it.
Vacillating means one of the three is happening:
1. I’m not feeling strong enough to trust myself to make a decision I won’t regret later. Nothing weighs heavier than the fear of regret.
2. I haven’t figured out what it is I really want or need, so I end up taking a stab in the dark.
3. I’m confused because there are far too many choices in this world.
“You can have any colour as long as it’s black.”*
Having too many options results in paralysis. If I have 10 things in my wardrobe I can decide what to wear easily enough; if I have 100 then I get stuck.
Brands and banks know that once we pick their products or services we tend to be loyal if only to avoid rethinking about it, hence their tantalising offers to new customers.
Life is simpler when we make sweeping blanket decisions. Vegetarians can ignore half the menu. I don’t wear heels ever since I fell and broke my teeth (not that I was wearing heels at the time, but the memory of four months’ intensive dental work still haunts me) so I can happily ignore more than half of any shoe shop. Not watching television at all is easier than watching it sometimes.
In a Vanity Fair article, Obama’s Way by Michael Lewis, Barack Obama noted that he only wears blue or grey suits to minimise making decisions – as making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions – and he doesn’t want to go through the day distracted by trivia.
I am a little OCD in this manner. In London, where I’d swim daily, I had a ritual I followed in the changing rooms where each of the steps were very mundane (wrap my hair in a towel, apply oil on my face) but I basically ‘automated’ the routine. One time I got distracted talking to my locker neighbour and it upset everything.
I have friends and relatives who have genuine Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and I don’t mean to belittle what that actually signifies by claiming I know how it feels when I don’t. They can’t leave the house without touching the hobs on the stove in a certain order 42 times, or going out and coming back in, locking and unlocking the door a specific way 36 times. The reality of OCD can be traumatic, but the need for rituals is what we probably all share: the comfort of a routine. Reconfiguring daily decisions can drain the best of us.
Apples and oranges
When I’m less rigid, unexpected and often golden moments pop up. Taking one route arbitrarily over another that results in bumping into an old friend, or choosing a new dish which becomes a favourite.
Because it’s hard to tell which hat the rabbit is under, I used to often fret I’d chosen poorly. But over the years I’ve realised my ability to make decisions reflects my attitude about how lucky I feel. And really, I’m extremely lucky. Even when things go horribly off-track, I’m amazingly lucky. So, really, there is no such thing as the wrong choice.
I’ve also decided that having children is the only non-reversible decision. With everything else – big and small – it’s better to simply make a decision. Any decision. I can always readjust later.
*What Henry Ford said when he brought out the Model T car series in 1909.
‘An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.’ ― from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
‘Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increase the expectations people have.’ Watch Barry Schwartz give a stirring TED talk on The Paradox of Choice.
Watch Grey Gardens, a 1975 documentary by the Maysles Brothers, where an eccentric mother and daughter, aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy, live in isolated squalor.