I’ve struggled with making quick decisions for a large part of my life. According to my Mom, I was the kid who could spend hours in the candy aisle trying to make up his mind.
This ambivalence didn’t exactly disappear in my thirties, which left a lingering sense of frustration. A couple of years ago, I sat on my meditation cushion repeating the intention ‘I am decisive’ every morning for a month.
The societal pressure to make clear, quick decisions comes in many forms. It’s seen as a necessary ingredient to be a successful leader. Our partners become exhausted with us when we can’t make up our minds about plans for the weekend. We start to become convinced that if we don’t know what we want at a moment’s notice, it’s a sign we don’t know what we want in life.
It’s not as if some of us can’t make decisions. It’s that the process of making decisions – and the internal debate – can quickly start to feel like a waste of mental and emotional energy.
We might hear others talk about having “in-the-moment” gut responses and find ourselves unable to relate – we long for that kind of spontaneous certainty!
It wasn’t until I discovered Human Design that I realized my back and forth process had a purpose. Not only that, it was a source of intuitive wisdom I could rely on to make better decisions, and not something that needed to be fixed.
Making decisions with body intelligence
How often do we hear “trust your gut,” “go with your instincts,” or “notice how you feel”?
Intuition is often talked about in broad strokes. Very few frameworks elaborate on the specific types of inner knowing that people can have.
A more recent system that’s emerged in the last 30 years is known as the Human Design System, which presents the idea that approximately half of the population operates with emotional authority; meaning they can rely on awareness of their emotions to make decisions.
Human Design suggested to me that underneath the mental struggle was actually an emotional struggle. It was hard to imagine this because I’ve never felt like a very “emotional” person. However, the more I learned, the more it became obvious I had slowly learned to rely on my emotions for making decisions – at least the ones that gave me a sense of inner knowing.
Becoming familiar with our emotional wave
Using our emotional awareness to make correct decisions can sound confusing. We’re often told NOT to make decisions based on emotion.
However, the key is distinguishing between reacting to emotions vs being informed by them.
The idea is that those of us with emotional authority have an emotional wave that’s consistently operating within us. Reacting to emotions is more likely to happen when we make a decision while being at a high point or a low point in our emotional wave.
When we’re at a high or low point in our emotional wave, the entire situation is being experienced through a filter and it becomes nearly impossible to make a clear decision.
Remember the time you signed up for that thing because it felt perfect at the time, and then regretted it the next day? Or what about the time you met that person and thought they were the worst, only to meet them again and realize you actually enjoy their company? Many of us experience this pattern over and over until we learn to be less impulsive.
The other side of impulsivity, however, can easily turn to indecisiveness. We often slip into indecisive mode because we recognize ourselves going back and forth based on how we feel, and so we try to think our way out of it.
This only leads to more frustration and angst, because rationalizations don’t give us the emotional clarity we’re searching for.
Neutrality brings clarity
Once we’ve experienced the highs and lows of our emotional wave, we’ll eventually come back to neutral. This is the place from which we can make clear decisions.
When I talk about feeling neutral, I don’t mean we need to feel cold or unenthusiastic in order to make correct decisions.
Another way to describe neutral is feeling equanimous. The meaning of this word was drilled into me during a 10-day Vipassana course in which S.N. Goencke describes equanimity as the absence of craving or aversion. In other words, we don’t feel ourselves grasping for a certain experience, or resisting one.
Emotional clarity might mean 80% certainty
It’s worth noting that emotional clarity is different from instinctual or gut responses that can result in a very clear definitive certainty.
We can experience emotional clarity without also having a full sense of certainty. We might only ever get to a place of around 70-80% certainty because we’ve experienced both the highs and the lows associated with that decision.
In my experience, this means there may be some lingering doubt but the decision is still clear. The internal feeling might sound like, “This could go differently from how I want it to, but I know I have to do it anyway.”
Understanding the idea of 80% certainty has helped me let go of the pressure to research one more option or talk to just one more person.
Emotional clarity requires waiting
Now that we know it takes riding out our emotional wave before gaining clarity, it’s time to emphasize the key to using this particular form of body intelligence.
The fact that this strategy is so un-sexy is exactly what makes it so challenging. Waiting requires us to be in the space of not knowing. With a culture hell-bent on having all the answers, owning our sense of uncertainty can feel like planting a massive stake in the ground.
What if we recognized not knowing as a gift? One that ensures we’re able to choose the things that are truly correct for us. It’s our body telling us it doesn’t know – so don’t just choose something!
They could be simple decisions like choosing food at the grocery store or bigger decisions like whether to purchase that writing course or not. If I feel the pressure to make a decision, it easily turns into a mental tug-of-war. I find the sooner I can recognize and accept this, the easier it is to relax. Paradoxically, the more relaxed I am, the more I’m able to sense what feels correct.
I’ve experienced a lot less resistance since giving myself permission to wait. The reality is, most decisions aren’t urgent. They might seem like it, but experimenting with waiting will help us make that distinction.
Bigger decisions require more time
Imagine tossing rocks into a pond. The emotional weight of our decision represents the size of the rock, and the pond is our emotional field. The heavier the rock, the bigger the waves, and the more time it will take for the surface of the water to settle. Likewise, the more significant a decision is, the more emotional waves we may need to process before things settle and we arrive at a place of equanimity.
Advocating for time to make decisions
We often feel pressured to make on-the-spot decisions at work, especially if we’re at a fast-paced start-up or thriving tech company. In these environments, it’s simply about advocating for ourselves and educating people about our optimal decision-making process.
What I’ve seen is that folks who ask for more time rarely experience the pushback they expect. Many times, leaders don’t expect us to make an immediate decision – they just want to know when we will decide. Being confident about our process and letting others know can be enormously helpful in taking the pressure off, and ultimately, making better decisions.
In the end, we know when we make decisions from a place of emotional clarity because we have a clear sense of inner knowing. We’ve all experienced this deep knowing at some point in our lives. It’s the kind that doesn’t care what our mind has to say about it – we just know.
And, it’s the not knowing where we get to learn what we truly want.
So long as we can wait to decide.