Make Up Your Mind

( Originally Published 1950 )

NOTHING MUCH WORTH WHILE is accomplished without positive decision supported by positive action. Your daily life and career are largely ruled by your own decisions or lack of decision, your own action or a willingness to procrastinate and let your decisions go by default. Millions of our fellows are this very day being pushed around in their own timid half world of gentle passivity because they can't make up their minds. Millions are in or are bordering on a state of abulia. This word, concocted from Greek words meaning without and advice, defines a form of mental derangement in which the will power is lost or impaired.

Mrs. Abulia Jigglesteps spends ten days trying to decide whether to get a new dress. She talks it over with Mr. Jigglesteps and calls some of her friends on the telephone to discuss the matter. Finally, after burning hot and turning cold a score of times, she arrives at the Downtown Frockerie. Now she is in a funk. She tries on a dozen cockeyed little numbers. She goes to a half-dozen other shops but simply can't decide whether to get the one with monkey fur on the shoulder or the one with a cluster of wax fruit. She goes home exhausted, talks it over by telephone with her friend Minnie, who votes for the fruit instead of the monkey fur. She talks it over with Mr. Jigglesteps, who finally takes her by the hand and forces her to get delivery of a little adornment that makes her look something less than a buxom model for one of Helen Hokinson's cartoons. Ah. Now her decision has gone by default. But has it? The dress—and it really is a cute little number—is now modeled for Minnie and other friends. They simply adore it. But in a day or two Mrs. Jigglesteps sends it back to the store and wears last year's black with gold—well, almost gold —ornaments.

Now, this is only one incident in the indecisive life of Mrs. Jigglesteps. She has a difficult time deciding whether to order lamb chops or kidney for good old Jigglesteps' dinner. When she leaves the house to go to the matinee—selected by someone else—she returns to the door two or three times to make sure she locked it. Then she is miserable as she watches beautiful Madeleine Carroll try to make up her mind as to which man she is going to marry in Goodbye My Fancy. You see, Mrs. Jigglesteps can't decide whether or not she turned off the gas before leaving the house either locked or unlocked. One wonders how she ever made up her mind to marry that Jigglesteps boy from next door. It must have been a primitive urge entirely beyond her power. Her life would be revolutionized if she would acquire the habit of making decisions with reasonable dispatch. An exaggeration? No. There are millions like her.

Then there is Mr. Wobbletop. Good old Wobbly. Some years ago he couldn't decide whether to take that newspaper job he really thought he wanted or go behind the wicket in Papa Wobbletop's bank. Papa decided that for him, and he went to work in the bank. Wobbly loved Judy, but it was Ellie who married him. Ellie decided that she wanted him and made up his mind for him in a way that some women have.

Wobbly is a good sort, but he simply can't come to a decision, right or wrong, and stick to it. Here he is in a world he never made, working unhappily on a job Papa picked for him, and married to Ellie, who is a fine girl but not the one he really wanted. Three times he has had a chance to shift from the bank to the newspaper, but one of these times Papa made the decision for him, and he didn't move. The other two times Ellie, who likes the idea of being married to a banker, made the decision for him. Wobbly is stuck until he learns how to make decisions.

Such indecision is one of life's deadliest poisoners. It is prompted by doubts and fears and careless indifference. As it is practiced, it piles up frustrations that can ruin a life. The person suffering from inability to make up his mind is tripped up by a host of negative practices that work against him. One of the worst of these is procrastination, the putting off of decisions, the ducking and dodging that exercises indecision's biceps. The indecisive let their decisions be made for them by default instead of by their own positive control.

The indecisive person is afraid that he may be proved wrong. He may make a mistake. So what of it? Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. The leader, the executive, thrives on making decisions. He became an executive because he was capable of making decisions while others dodged the issue. Yet the executive has been rather accurately defined as one who makes decisions and is sometimes right. It is more than that however—he has a good batting average of correct decisions. The underlings and the unhappy ones in any field are those who avoid or unduly delay making decisions because of a fear of error or responsibility. Can you imagine a Lincoln who couldn't make up his mind? A vacillating General Eisenhower?

Suppose you do make mistakes sometimes. Suppose you are dead wrong. No one is always right. The good fruit of life goes to those who make decisions, who act upon them, and who ask for what they believe they and their followers are entitled to.

Even the famous make errors. But fear of being wrong a part of the time doesn't make them negative thinkers. Sir Isaac Newton, the famous scientist, was frequently wrong, but he was right often enough to make notable contributions to the world. Suppose Sir Isaac had been stopped by such incidents as this: He had been seated by his roaring fireplace, absorbed in thought. The heat became intense. He rang violently for a servant. Protesting that he was being roasted, Newton ordered removal of the grate. "Wouldn't it be better for you to move your chair?" the servant quietly suggested. "Upon my word," exclaimed Sir Isaac, "I never thought of that." Obviously he wasn't brilliant all the time.

There is the tale of the tussle Ralph Waldo Emerson and his son had with an obstinate calf. The Emersons wanted the calf in the barn and tugged and pulled. The calf spread out its legs and resisted stubbornly. A maid, observing that the great mind of Emerson seemed unequal to the situation, put her finger in the calf's mouth and backed into the barn with the calf sucking and following.

The negative-minded person makes mistakes and thereafter may make as few decisions as possible. The positive person brushes mistakes aside and goes on making his decisions, learning by experience to make fewer errors.

Testimony regarding the serious results of indecision is offered by Dr. Lydia Giberson, industrial psychiatrist of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. She has helped employees of many large corporations in attacking and solving their personal problems.

"Basically, worry has its roots in indecision," says Dr. Giberson. "We worry about money matters because we're uncertain as to just where we stand. We worry about uncompleted tasks because we can't decide which one to tackle first. We worry about suspected illness because we can't bring ourselves to see a doctor. Chronic indecision reaches a climax in frustration. And the end-product of frustration is a nervous breakdown "

Persons suffering from nervous indecision to the point that they have virtually immobilized their will should have their family physician recommend a competent psychologist or psychiatrist to assist in a careful analysis of causes. There may well be deep-seated causes, and if these are revealed and explained, a cure may be effective.

Dr. Louis E. Bisch, New York psychiatrist and author, cites the case of a woman of his acquaintance who can never be sure that she has turned off the gas stove or unplugged the electric iron or toaster. Once the doubt arises in her mind she has to go back and verify.

"I was on my way to Philadelphia," this woman told him. "I began thinking of the apartment and finally, of course, the gas. I became increasingly anxious. By the time I reached Trenton I could see the house in flames with people jumping from the windows, all because of my carelessness. I simply had to leave the train and return to New York."

Dr. Bisch explains that thwarted wishing was responsible for the woman's indecision about gas stoves and electric appliances. "Note that all such apparatus can cause a fire," he said, "also the subject's imagining an actual fire. As you may have guessed already, she was a spinster. Fire almost invariably stands for love and sex. Here the sex instinct, unable to express itself, found a vicarious wish outlet in playing with fire mentally; setting fire to a building instead of a man's heart. Inhibitory factors, of course, repressed the wish; the downward and upward pressures causing vacillation of emotion, the doubt and uncertainty, the inability to make up her mind."

For every complicated case such as the ones cited there are a multitude of indecisive folk who suffer from much milder fear or frustration-born doubts that balk decisions. They may have been overdominated by parents and teachers and others in childhood and may simply lack practice in making up their minds. With these latter, indecision has become a habit that can be broken by a bit of self-analysis and the practicing of a different habit.

If you are indecisive and plan to do something about it, you can take immediate comfort in the fact that indecision is not necessarily due to ignorance and slow thinking. On the contrary it is often thinking of so many things and consideration of so many doubts that result in the difficulty to reach and act on a simple decision. The more intelligent you are, the more you may be inclined to consider rapidly many factors before making a decision. If you were feeble-minded, you would have little or no difficulty, for you wouldn't be able to think of a variety of possible consequences. Your difficulty may be that you have acquired the habit of applying to a multitude of little, unimportant things the same serious consideration you might advisedly give to vital matters.

In every walk of life it is the man or the woman of decision who leads; and yet there is no magic in making decisions. The formula to follow is very simple. It is the formula used by the business executive, the army officer, the physician, the social leader, the neighbor next door, the politician, the butcher, the artist, the candlestick maker. But invariably the outstanding person in any field is one who has made a regular practice of using the simple formula in his daily life, using it positively, constructively.

The formula for making decisions is already yours. You have seen it operate. You have used it unconsciously on occasion or have used it consciously, but perhaps not regularly, until it is almost automatic. Your attention is called to it again. It is worth noting down on a card and carrying in the pocket or handbag as a reminder reference. With some slight variations it provides the base of decisions in all walks of life.

1. What are you trying to accomplish?

2. What are the pertinent facts?

3. What are the possible courses of action?

4. Which course of action will come closest to accomplishing your desire?

5. What are you going to do about it, and when?

This isn't merely the author's formula. It is a universal formula. It's yours if you want it. I have used it in making decisions for the founding and administration of several enterprises. I have used it successfully in helping others to solve their problems.

You may not deliberately use this five-point formula in making minor decisions, but you use part or all of it whether you realize it or not. But when you have a really important decision to make, it is well to use it thoroughly, even to the point of briefing on paper the answers to each of the questions. Let's consider these questions in more detail.

What are you trying to accomplish? If you don't answer this question quite specifically, you are certain to be adrift in a vague realm of uncertainty and can't come to any very logical conclusion. Success begins with definiteness of purpose. If you have a problem, you should define that problem as clearly as possible in your mind or on paper. Having defined the problem, just what is your purpose? What are you trying to accomplish? Just what is your objective? As you mull over this question, keep your mind on your objective! The further your mind strays from your objective, the more difficult and uncertain your decision will be. If your decision is of high importance to you and yours and your future and you have difficulty in crystallizing your objective, go to competent advisers for assistance in considering the problem. They may help you to gain a focus that is badly needed. But be sure you go to a competent adviser. Uncle Joe may be a grand and sympathetic person, but is he competent to advise on this particular question? Your family doctor may give sound advice on health problems but crazy counsel on finances or real estate.

What are the pertinent facts? Easy as this may seem, you should realize that, if you have only a part of the facts and some of these are faulty, your decision may well be a faulty one. It is not always possible to get all the facts, but you should fight for all the available facts. You can get them from interviews, from books, by writing letters to proper sources. You can't make a truly sound decision without adequate data. Facts exist and are true and subject to checking.

The corner grocer selling his property may state, "As a matter of fact I did a $75,000 business last year and made a net profit of $10,000." That is simply his statement. What is the fact? His books may show that the facts are he did a $50,000 business and lost his last prune. When you are gunning for facts, don't waste any shots at opinions, rumors, guesses. There are still people in this country who have the opinion that the world is flat; there are fine folk who don't hesitate to relay rumor and make sweeping guesses. What are the facts that give you the true picture? And whatever you do, park your emotions outside when you go in to examine facts. Emotions can snarl up a set of facts like the backlash of a line on a faulty reel.

What are the possible courses of action? You have decided what you want to accomplish. You have assembled the available pertinent facts. Now, as you consider your problem, you may jump to or deliberately reach the conclusion that there is only one course of action open. You may be right, but make sure that you have carefully considered the possible alternatives. There is usually more than one road leading to New York or Rome or your own particular land of heart's desire. One road may be more direct and the hardest; another may be longer but with more happiness to be had along the way. An hour, a day, or a week spent in outlining on paper the possible courses of action may save you later loss and expenditure of fruitless months or years.

What are you going to do about it? Now you have really come to the main point of the exercises. It is here that the negative-minded folk are so often lost by the wayside. You may reach a decision, but if you don't back it up with positive action, you might as well never have made any decision at all. And when are you going to take positive action? The matter of timing is vital. Perhaps your analysis dictates delay. But here is a warning signal. It is here that the procrastinators put off action and miss the boat because they are negatively afraid of decision and action. They make excuses for delay. They rationalize inaction. They are afraid of the cars. They are the negatives who trail instead of lead.

The foregoing program should be used deliberately and surely in making important decisions, but it isn't necessary for. many minor decisions in our daily lives. A child and many an adult can put in five minutes deciding whether to have red pop or white. What does it really matter? The important thing at the moment is to take one or the other if pop is wanted.

Much of indecision is due to a faulty habit that can be corrected with practice. Many of the most decisive persons you know have simply acquired a habit of making up their minds quickly, particularly on unimportant matters. A city editor on a daily newspaper is forced each day to make scores and hundreds of quick decisions until it is an automatic process. A good executive is daily called upon to make decisions, and many of them quite automatically. He won't be correct all the time, but he will maintain a good batting average.

The one best way to learn to be decisive is to practice being decisive. Here are a few exercises to be practiced whenever the opportunity arises, and that is daily or many times daily:

Welcome every reasonable opportunity to say "Yes" instead of "No."

Grasp every possible opportunity to decide positively.

Instead of debating whether to take a walk or stay home by the fireside, decide immediately and abide by your decision.

Instead of pondering whether to serve chops or steak, make up your mind immediately. You'll have to make a decision anyhow. Why make it a ponderous problem?

When Pop is asked whether he would rather have cold roast or hash, he shouldn't pass the buck by saying "Either." He should make his choice and give the little woman a break.

You have a choice of three motion pictures for the evening? It is better to close your eyes and make an immediate blind choice and be disappointed than to go on into a ten-minute quandary that exercises and makes stronger your inability to make up your mind.

The next time you buy a hat or a tie, weigh the choices rapidly, and make your selection in double-quick time. It is better to make minor mistakes than constantly rehearse indecision. There is no merit in dillydallying over most matters. Even in reading, the fast reader comprehends more than the slow reader. In my offices and probably in all offices the people who decide quickly and early when they want their vacation periods get the best times. The ones who can't make up their minds take what is left.

Search for little ways in your own daily life in which you can make a fast decision; make it; then act on it. Interrupt your deadly little routines. How about that letter to Aunt Sally—the one you have owed so long? Stop right here. Write it now, and you'll have done one little positive act that may make the next positive act easier.

Make a game of being decisive, and try to play it all day long. If you will do this steadily, you should gain a feeling of being rewarded and encouraged to continue until you, too, have acquired a more positive attitude and broken through the cobwebs of indecisiveness and procrastination.

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