I should have tenure. Maybe even a corner office with a panoramic view of the quad. No question, I have the research background.
I second-guess (or third-guess) my decisions, craving irrefutable evidence that my decision-making is sound. As I analyze and overanalyze, sinking in mental quicksand, life whirs past. Indecision is a decision. And that decision is measured in missed opportunities.
As overthinkers, information is our frenemy. Analytical and creative, we are natural thinkers. Our inquisitive minds crave nourishment. But, in a lot of cases, we overindulge. Hungering for more information, we seek that one incontrovertible nugget. In this fruitless search, there is always one more website to browse, Twitter account to follow, and question to ask.
Overthinkers fear the unpredictable. We gingerly approach life’s diving board, tiptoeing to the edge. We hesitate, peer down, and abruptly stop in our tracks. We want to take the plunge but something — uncertainty, self-doubt — holds us back. Our hesitancy symbolizes our approach to relationships, employment, and life. “Fear Factor” is our reality show.
“He who hesitates is lost,” my late mother would tease as I approached an intersection. She is right — both about driving and, big-picture, decision-making. Life, for overthinkers, can be a series of yellow lights. We simultaneously slow down and speed up. Not surprisingly, we end up sputtering on the Road to Nowhere. Instead of purpose-driven actions, our behavior, and driving, seem erratic.
To regain control — however fleeting — we cling to ritualistic behaviors. These rituals, from incessant questioning to over-the-top research, are met with derision. We appear rigid, even uncompromising. In our scripted world, spontaneity vanishes. Life — a rich mosaic of hues — turns dreary and sullen. While certainty may be an illusion, we can be certain about one thing: something has to change.
Life is uncertain; knowledge is imperfect. Fortune cookies are reserved for dingy Chinese restaurants. With the information you have, you make as informed a decision as possible and accept the consequences. As you acquire additional information and experience, you adjust your decision-making process. Trial and error rewards all decisions. Take the plunge. Even if you belly-flop off the proverbial diving board, you had the courage and self-belief to jump into the unknown. Let “Fear Factor” be someone else’s reality show.
Slowly learning to trust myself, I am recognizing these cognitive distortions. Life is neither black nor white; it is bright yellow and dark blue and verdant green. Likewise, it is an oversimplification to apply rigid labels to decisions. A decision is neither good nor bad; it is complex and logical and emotional.
We all want Magic Eight balls that spit out our futures. Yes, I will be part of the 40 by 40 Club — 40 visited countries in 40 years. Yes, my beloved Heels will prevail against Duke. No, I didn’t waste five years of my life dating a former girlfriend. But there is a more appropriate childhood staple than treasured Magic Eight balls: Choose Your Adventure. In these childhood books, there are three decisions facing you. Once you make a decision, you turn the page. The next adventure awaits — if you let it.