The One Sentence You Need to Know to Decide Anything
How to make tough, agonizing choices without a freak-out or meltdown.
Yes, my way of slowing down was to gather information. But you could do anything to impede the process: sleep on it for three nights, talk to a money-savvy friend, interview another candidate, read a book on investing. You’d get the same benefit—time to discover and understand issues that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
If what keeps you going so fast is the fear of doing nothing, then slowing down is perfect. You’re still doing something, just something called "not deciding...yet!" And, by the way, you will not actually be going slowly (just as a slow person playing—for some unfathomable reason—What Would Leigh Do? would not actually be going fast). You will just be going a bit slower. In other words, less fast—and that much closer to just right.
As I sat at home, glittering with my newfound semi-wisdom, bragging to myself about my slowness, a brick fell on my head. Perhaps you already know this brick. Perhaps it’s just something that people the world over know, like “Parents are people too” or “Elementary school musicals are excruciatingly bad.” But I’m just going to blurt it out: There’s only one thing that defines a bad decision: fear.
(This is still not the sentence, but it’s coming; we are very, very close...)
Let’s go through the greatest hits of regrettable choices: The time you chopped off all your long, beautiful brown hair before the prom because you were afraid of looking dated and churchy. The time you stayed with the guy you didn’t love because you were afraid of upsetting your parents and hurting the guy’s feelings. The time you picked the apartment that was way, way, way outside of town near a hospital for the criminally insane because you were afraid that—even with a great, well-paying full-time job—you couldn’t swing the place near the café and the public garden.
Thankfully, fear is easy to identify. We all know what fear feels like. It doesn’t feel like doubt or uncertainty ("Hmm, I’m not sure which is the best option for me"). It feels like a ghost is hurtling itself through your brain, knocking books off shelves and breaking vases and destroying all human logic in its path. ("OhmygodIdon’tknowwhattodoOhmygodIdon’tknowwhattodo!"). It also will make you go too fast (“I’m afraid of not doing!”) or too slow (“I’m afraid of doing anything!”).
So I decided, let’s make a rule—for us all, everywhere, no matter what our decision-making type. Whenever we feel a shudder or tremble of fear, we’re no longer allowed to decide. We can sit and whistle. We can pray or pet a dog. We can eat a fried fish taco (but only one). We can struggle, wail, deny the issue, whine, curse and bore everyone we know with the ins and outs of the dilemma. But only when we can re-approach the choice without that particular feeling, then—and only then—can we make the decision. This may mean we’ll miss some opportunities. But we’ll also miss all the inevitable and predictable disasters that occur only when we’re choosing because we’re terrified of what might happen (or what hasn’t happened yet...or what could actually happen if we just went ahead and did the one thing we actually want to do).
Which....drumroll...leads to me the million-dollar sentence. When I read the newspaper or, more accurately, a grocery-store tabloid with Beyoncé on the cover, I do believe I am the last person on earth who still considers a million dollars is big-time money. But I was born in the 1970s, back before the invention of the top 1 percent. So indulge me, if you will—because this little sentence can change your life; this little sentence can cut your fear in half (and thus the time you’ll spend being afraid and not allowed to decide anything); this sentence you must write in very tiny letters on a piece of paper and shove in your pocket, just in case.