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Indecisiveness is a bi-product of thinking [IdeaMatt Reader Series]

(I get some insightful emails from readers - you're such a smart bunch. I thought I'd share this one from Michael Nicolls which is in response to When You Don't Want To Decide. I've not edited it. Related: Three Indecisiveness Phrases, And When (not) To Use Them. Keep 'em coming! -- matt)


Indecisiveness is a bi-product of thinking. It is a way of dancing around and playing with your resistences (e.g. expensive, unpleasant, and time-consuming) and desires (feel better) to a subject rather than fully experiencing yourself as discomfort, fear, anxiety, happiness or whatever. The circumstance is something to feel yourself as, and inside that feeling, inside how your holding that in your body, is the wisdom of the experience. As you allow yourself to reintegrate this energy the wisdom will come as impressions into your body, not just words in your mind. It will come when you quiet your thoughts, settle into your body, and allow every impression to consume you without creating separation with evaluations and judgements. In truth it will never separate from you, this is just a way of describing it so you might be able to notice how you have shaped this in your consciousness.


There are two things you can allow yourself to experience. The first is your not having a decision. So what does it feel like to want a decision but not have one? You describe the decision as 'damn' and your resistence as 'torture' These are handles to your resisted experience - starting points for your contemplation. The reality is that in present time you don't have a decision and you don't have the wisdom you desire. Feel what it feels like to not have that wisdom and accept yourself as unwise. This will open up opportunities for you. It will free all the energy you are now using unproductively. It is a way to become unstuck. It is freedom from your battling thoughts. It is enlightening.


The second thing you can allow yourself to experience is the issue you've built indecisiveness around (the 'Procedure'). Without indecisiveness what do you have left? Do you desire it or not? If so then schedule it. It not then don't. If neither yes or no then go back to the last paragraph.


When you separate your actions from your feelings you will no longer demostrate your anxiety with the need to do something and talk about it, or evaluate other peoples doings. Your blogs will have infinitely more meaningful content because there is infinitely more data in feeling than in thought, which will help others solve problems at deep emotional levels.


Reader Comments (6)

I'm not sure I'm following this, but if the message is "feel more fully," I'm on board.

Untangling one's resistance to tasks is a tricky thing, more complicated and more difficult than it would appear. Sometimes it's appropriate to say, "don't let thinking get in the way of feeling." But other times it's equally appropriate to say, "don't let feeling get in the way of thinking." I think many tasks we procrastinate are so burdened with unpleasant feelings that we stop thinking about them as a way to not trigger those feelings. In that situation, having an orderly and non-judgmental way of thinking about the problem can really help to stop the cascade of feelings that overwhelms any action.

I didn't respond to your indecisiveness post, but I'll say this here: sometimes (often) indecision is a way of protecting yourself against impulsiveness, against the unforseen, and against the consequences of decisions that have complex and far-reaching effects that may not be pleasant. Ours is an action-oriented culture, and we tend to value decisiveness in almost moral terms. Slow reflection is considered almost a character flaw. (Our political discourse has adopted this kind of moral vocuabulary -- we talk about "cutting and running" in Iraq, or a politician who changes his mind as having committed a "flip-flop;" reflection and consideration carry with them the possibility of changing one's mind, which in this culture is aligned with failing.)

When tasks aren't discreet -- when they're contingent and embedded in a decision-web -- making a decision may involve thinking through the whole chain of consequences. When tasks are unpleasant or costly -- financially, emotionally, or otherwise -- a little voice tells us to slow down and think this through. Some projects -- certainly going in for surgery would be one of these -- don't simply involve yes/no decisions: there's a submerged iceberg of sub-projects, tasks, and outcomes that a simple yes/no decision brings with it, and indecisiveness functions to create an opportunity to consider all of this. Feelings are part of this, and it may be prudent to focus on them as a starting point, but I think self-interrogation along several different vectors is useful. Generally, I've found that once you start deliberately asking yourself questions about what exactly the problem is, the skein starts to untangle itself -- not always with comfortable results. For myself, I've often found that even when resisting a decision is costly, I usually have a good reason for remaining indecisive.

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan Owen

Tangled resistances is a mental construct. It is a way of describing an experience you are creating in present time. This is the same for tricky, complicated, overwhelm, etc. Feeling isn't complicated, it is just feeling. Figuring out feelings is what can get complicating. There may be value in separating the two.

Figuring out requires mental workspace (psychic ram in David Allen's terms). This workspace is finite and is tremendously limited. It is highly unproductive for the circumstances we are discussing because how are you going to figure out how not to feel what you are feeling? You end up creating all kinds of things in your mind which you find exremely valuable, after all they did what you intended them to do. You create one feeling based on the existence of another feeling and tell yourself the original feeling no longer exists. Psychiatrists call this being dillusional or being in denial. Feel to the exclusion of thinking and now things start to clear up and life and emotions become manageable and intentional.

The world is shifting. Those who value intellect (organic) and cleverness (personality) as a way to persuade and survive will more and more realize the frustration in these limited tools as they try to expand their own conciousness, take responsibility and offer truly valuable economic service. Enlightenment is commonplace and a next evolutionary step for more and more people. As people open themselves to this step the mind settles down and thinking takes on a new meaning. Thoughts provide little value. You no longer fear the consequences of your decisions because you realize that the future is something that you create in present time as are consequences. You live from integrity where your emotional creations can be effortlessly reintegrated (allowed back) into your experience. And when you create from a fully integrated consciousness what you intend has no resistance.

What would life look like if your 'Next Action' was to do nothing. What does that bring up for you? What kind of mental activity does that trigger? What is all that wrapped around? A part of your life is in the middle of all that just waiting for you and there is much wisdom to discover right there.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Nicolls

David Allen's personal story involves confronting these very issues. For years his default Next Action was "doing nothing," as he explored spiritual enlightenment through meditation and drug use. He finally realized that, while enlightenment waited somewhere at the end of that path, if he was to live happily in this world he would need to engage with it fully by learning how to actually get things done. This is the impetus that's at the core of GTD: engaging with life through "doing."

"Figuring out" is what your brain is for. It's not a misuse of your mental capacity: it's the reason you have mental capacity in the first place. The human brain developed to solve problems, and while the two are connected, feeling isn't thinking. I don't know how much "psychic ram" I have, but I do know that it's purpose is to figure stuff out; in David Allen's world, he advocates not using this capacity merely to store your To Do list, but to save it for higher-order thinking -- like making decisions.

I don't advocate figuring out how to not feel what you're feeling. I don't particularly distinguish between comfortable and uncomfortable feelings, and I don't think we "control" our feelings. I think feelings are largely derived -- artifacts, if you will. But, nonetheless, they're powerful forces in our lives, and they impact the decisions we make on a moment-to-moment basis. Becoming immobilized in the contemplation of feelings is always an option, but if the life you've chosen isn't one devoted solely to contemplation, immobilization isn't the optimal path. -- not, to use your term, "productive." The idea here is to roll with the punches, and act while you feel. Feeling to the exclusion of thinking, as you advocate, is fine as long as you're able to do what you need to do in this business of living: making decisions, acting effectively, getting things done, feeling fulfilled. All of that requires thinking and doing.

It's fashionable now to talk about "creating your own future." Sometimes you create your own reality; sometimes your reality creates you. The practical business of deciding and acting goes on, every moment. You can choose to not participate -- as David Allen did in his time in the asylum -- but if you're going to play in the game of life, it pays to combine a big toolbox full of tools with an attitude of compassion toward yourself and others, one that allows everyone -- including yourself -- their feelings and enables you to cut a clear path through the work you've chosen.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan Owen

I'll just note here, Matt, that you're original post raised the question, "what to do about the problem of indecisiveness?" I think that Michael and I, despite the vast difference in the way we think about this, are actually giving you the same piece of advice: do nothing. Michael seems to be advocating letting your feelings dictate how you behave, and until your feelings tell you clearly what to do, do nothing. I'm advising you to respect whatever your indecisiveness is protecting you from, and to interrogate your feelings until you get at the underlying problem; in the meantime, do nothing (which, in fact, is exactly what you're doing).

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan Owen

A hell of a thread, Dan and Michael. What a treat it is to have you both here. It would take me a week of thinking to understand, if at all. I'd love to get you two on a conference call about this :-)

My experience is like Dan's relating of David Allen's story. For happiness I tried some traditional Eastern approaches (Westernized, though) such as yoga and meditation. My conclusion: Navel-gazing was a lot less helpful than action. That said, I know that eastern-like work was and is still helpful in learning about myself, and gave me tools I still use, though far less formally.

Thanks again.

December 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell
Indecisiveness, I believe will bring you to nowhere. One must learn to be decisive and take full responsibility of the decisions made.

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