The unexpected power of making a decision

making a decision
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!” ― William Hutchison Murray


Have you ever noticed how powerful it can be to make a decision? How focused you become when you go from the uncertainty of multiple options to the clarity of one single choice? It can happen with decisions as simple as where to go for dinner or which art project to start on first, to as complex as what city to live in or whether to have kids or not. Once you make the decision, all the other options fall away and you can focus on enjoying your meal, or packing your bags.

A few weeks ago, I had to decide whether I wanted to participate in or opt out of a class-action lawsuit. My gut was telling me to opt out but I kept debating with myself about it right up until the deadline. At the last moment, I finally faxed in the 'opt-out' form and felt a sense of freedom. Whether or not it was the 'right' choice, I had made the decision and cleared away the fog of confusion. I was able to move on with my day.

The thing that I've noticed is that there is often no way to know what the 'right' decision is in the moment, or if there even is a 'right' decision. Often we just have to make a choice and deal with the consequences, whatever they may be. Sometimes you can change your mind, sometimes you can't. Sometimes we have a lot of information, sometimes we don't. Sometimes the decision is over something concrete, like which paint colour to choose for the living room, and sometimes it's a little more nebulous, like what do I really want to do with my life?

I've made a lot of big decisions that have shaped the direction of my life significantly. And for most of them, I didn't have all the information up front. In many cases, I decided to do something before I knew how I would do it. Here are a few examples:

  • studying drama in university instead of art
  • moving out of my mom's house in university
  • deciding to start selling my artwork
  • quitting my job, moving out of my house, planning a trip to South America for 10 months
  • quitting another job early and leaving for my trip 2 months early
  • asking Matt out, deciding to build a relationship with him
  • reducing my hours to part-time work so that I could give more time to art

I love the quote at the top of the post because for me, it captures the dual benefits of making a decision, rather than floundering in uncertainty. Before you make the decision, you hesitate. You are unsure. Is this the right thing to do? After you make the decision, you feel empowered to take the next step and start moving forward. Booked the flights? Better find a place to stay. Paid for the art class? Time to gather your art supplies together and start sketching.

Because when you make a decision, you delete all the extra options. Suddenly, the way forward is clear.

The other benefit is a little more out there. It can probably be explained scientifically, but it definitely feels more on the woo woo side: once you commit fully to something, things start to fall into place. Opportunities pop up, help arrives, and things start to feel easy. I wouldn't say this if I hadn't experienced it plenty of times. I've seen how making a decision takes the weight off and things start to flow. But it has to be a wholehearted, fully committed decision. Halfway plans don't work.

At the start of my last year in university, I was living rent free at my mom's place when an ex-coworker that I didn't know that well told me she was looking for a roommate. I had spent the previous summer sharing an apartment in New York and once I had gotten a taste for living on my own, it never really went away. Plus, this was someone that I had wanted to get to know better, and when I saw the house and chatted with her about living arrangements, I wanted to make it happen. The problem was, I was only working part-time and financially it didn't make a lot of sense. I hemmed and hawed but, despite the sensible advice of friends, I went with my gut. I was more than ready to move out and I would find a way to make it work. And I did! I lived in that house for over three years, with various roommates, and it was a really lovely time in my life.

The hard part was making the decision, but once I had done that, I found that everything else fell into place. Whether it was cosmic energy that I had pulled into play or just the focus gained from taking away alternate options, as soon as I decided to commit to this living arrangement, things started to work in my favor. I got a raise at work, I was granted repayment assistance on my student loans, and I was even given cash gifts that I hadn't expected.

In this case, and in so many others, once I committed 100% to a decision I started making smaller decisions that reinforced the bigger decisions. And the universe, or Providence, or whatever you want to call it, stepped up to help.

I recently read this blog post by artist manager Maria Brophy, where she talks about the same concept. As she puts it, "The secret is simple:  Make the decision first (without the money or the solutions) and then have faith that all the pieces will come together.  And, they always do."

What does commitment look like? Buying a plane ticket, signing a lease, telling all your friends, posting about it on the internet, selling your house, kissing the boy, handing in your notice. It means doing whatever you need to do to signal to yourself and the people around you that this is happening. It means not giving yourself a way out.

I believe that we always have a choice about which job we do, where we live, who we want to spend our lives with. We don't have to wait for our lives to be handed to us. We can decide.

When I realized that I had found what I was looking for in a partner, I decided that I wouldn't walk away when things got hard. I flipped a switch in my mind and though technically I can still leave at any time, I've hidden the exit door from sight. As a result, it's never a question of whether I'll stay committed and give the relationship everything I have. There is no other option.

What decision are you waiting to make? How can you take a step forward and fully commit? What exit doors do you need to hide?

Don't wait until the conditions are right, or until you know the answers, or you feel 100% certain. Make the decision, then see what happens.

I'm in process of making a big decision myself, something that seems obvious to me now but has been a long time coming - something that will be one of the hardest things I've ever done. I'll be announcing it on my birthday in three weeks.

In the meantime, what decision have you been hesitating about? What can you do right now to commit to making it happen? If you have noticed the power of making a decision in your life, what happened? Leave a comment below!

(P.S. I'm going to be on vacation next week so I won't be posting here. If you're looking for something to read, check out this post about how I got back on a more intuitive, heart-centred path, or this one about where to start when you don't know where to start.)