Everything has a price. The subtle art of decision making.

by | Jul 16, 2016

Decision making

{“Decide” – from the Latin decidere “to decide,
determine,” literally “to cut off,”}


Brexit has stirred up many emotions for us a country, as communities, as individuals. Most of all we realized how challenging it is to make a decision with an outcome that, for the most part, is utterly uncertain.

We make tiny decisions all the time and some are easier than others; Coffee or tea?, Walk or cycle?, the excruciating debate between ‘Hippo bum grey’ or ‘Fairy blush pink’ paint for the downstairs loo?

But what about the really life-changing decisions we can only make alone – the accountable-autonomous-adulty ones? Those decisions can haunt us for days, months or even years and are the choices we very often wish someone else would just make for us. That way we can fling our arms up and declare (with the appropriate level of fake disappointment); “I had no choice!”. It goes without saying that there are exceptions to the externally made decision that leave no room for humour; like being made redundant, a miscarriage, an accidental house fire, death…the list is long and coated in reality. Right now, I am not referring to the dictates of fate. I am talking about the antithesis of fate – actively, mindfully making a conscious choice all by yourself. These decisions come with no Hollywood movie last-minute race to the airport to catch the lover. There is no unanimous gold star award. These decisions are lonely, costly and unsure.

American existential psychiatrist Irvin Yalom in ‘Loves Executioner’ says; “Decisions are difficult for many reasons, some reaching down into the very socket of our being” (P.10 Yalom 1991). He puts forward that the challenge to the making of tough decisions is that they invariably involve renunciation – each option must result in the elimination or killing of other options. The fruitfulness that we hope will accompany a ‘good decision’ must inevitably come with a price tag. Sometimes that price tag comes in the form of a pay-off in our old behaviour. Sometimes the pay-off can be learned in childhood, deeply habitual or even a response to trauma.

Some hypothetical examples:

The unhappy man deciding whether to divorce his partner knows he will sacrifice the family unit and an identity they have worked for and accumulated as a family. He is unhappy…but entrenched in security and familiarity.

The obese overeater opting for a healthy diet must surrender the comfort that abundant unwholesome food provides. She hates her body but each day the pay-off is that she gets to gorge and stay true to the habits she has in place to comfort her.

Some pay-offs are complex and need careful psychological intervention and support. The teenage self-harmer wants to stop cutting…but the only way this young person can control their sadness or soothe the emotional suffering is to demonstrate and experience the pain physically. There is a pay-off that, in the moment, outweighs the possibility of change and healing.

Society likes black and white options. Society doesn’t like grey! Sitting on the fence is uncomfortable. Most of us are raised to please others and being stuck in doubt means we risk being seen to lack conviction. Who of us is confident we can please all the people all of the time? The reality of decision making, however, is that there is seldom a squeaky clean ‘right’ option and classic ‘wrong’ choices can take time to reveal themselves. So perhaps the issue is less about making the RIGHT decision and more about the resilience involved in accepting the discomfort and uncertainly of simply choosing and doing.



1. Check the price tag.

Honestly assess what the cost of your choice will be to how you currently support your idea of you on all levels. If you take something away – what will you be replacing it with?

2. What is the pay-off?

Make sure you know what the pay-offs are either way. You may surprise yourself as to what the REAL benefits are to staying put and changing nothing. And there WILL be a pay-off to apathy. On some or many levels there will be safety and familiarity in your current situation…nestled comfortably along side dissatisfaction and doubt.

3.Shop alone.

Ask yourself who you are making this decision for. Do get advice from trusted and impartial sources but challenge yourself boldly to check if you are pleasing others. BE A GROWN UP. Getting the nod from others is lovely, but you are the one who has to live with your choice. It is of the utmost importance you do not open the door to resentment and bitterness because you “did it for Aunty Mavis”. Own your options.

4.Trust the brand.

Trust the process of life. Playing it safe never teaches us as much as taking risks. Life is an ‘in it to win it’ game. Really question if doing nothing is serving you better than doing something. Check out with others the significant life choices they regret – and you will find that it’s the stuff they DIDN’T do that they regret more than the things they did do. “I wish I had said…”. “I regret not telling her…”, “I should have taken that job…”. “I almost said yes…”, “why didn’t I just…”

The steps above are distinctly aimed at the leap towards change. You might find you experience the opposite conflict in life; whereby you make rushed and frequent decisions instead of really processing your options. Your pay-off might be to never have to stop long enough to really think or feel!

Remember, if you are surrounded by opinions, pressure and obligations (welcome to the club) – step out of limbo and make your choices about YOU. Challenge your habitual behaviour…success lies on the other side of courage! And remember, you do not need to do this alone because there is a space where you can safely sift through your feelings and behaviour. This is somewhere that you can action lasting and positive change; the counselling room. Therapy is not just for the stuff that happens to you that you can’t control – it is also about taking control of what you need in order to grow and realise your potential. It is a confidential space to explore your options without judgement. Brace yourself for a very fitting cliché;

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always had.

Take the leap. CHOOSE.



Maybe you’re ready to make that big decision, or multiple decisions. Maybe you’re clinging awkwardly to the barbed wire of that fence. Maybe you understand why you’re choosing to stay where you are. What ever the case it could be time to stop facing your desire to make change alone.

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