Deciding what to do doesn’t come easily to Juliette Burton. In the name of research, she put various decision-making methods to the test.
I’m bad at making decisions – I dither, overthink, worry about making the ‘wrong’ choice. I’ve been told in therapy (yes, I’m in therapy and have been for more than half my life now. No medal, sadly) that there is no such thing as a ‘wrong’ choice, there are just experiences. Every path has its merits.
Yet I still struggle to shake that ‘what if?’ feeling. What if I’d said yes to marrying that boyfriend I had aged 16?
What if I’d chosen to walk down that street home instead of take the tube? What if I’d become a solicitor like my teachers told me to, not a performer like I wanted?
Well, if I were a solicitor now, I may well have more money. Maybe I would’ve enjoyed that job too. A savings account might be nice. The only account I currently have is with Twitter, where the interest rate is variable.
These endless possibilities have haunted me in the past. And since right now I have a huge choice to make – one of those “this is definitely life-changing no matter what I choose” choices – I needed to get to grips with having confidence in making my own choices.
So I wrote a comedy show about it. And for that show I did loads of research. Too much research. If I had included all the research I’d done, my show would be about three hours long. However, I am now in possession of some random information you may really appreciate, especially if, like me, you hate making decisions. In which case, the decision to read this may be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.
For example, when I was little my mum dressed me exclusively in pink and my sister in blue. I researched the effect colour can have on our psychology. Did you know purple is the best colour to wear to make a decision? Apparently it brings out our intuition. Green lowers the heart rate. Orange gives you energy and yellow is associated with positivity. Red raises the heart rate and grabs your attention.
I also spent a week handing over all my decisions to an external force – not making a single decision for myself. (Some people may call this procrastination; I call it research.)
Back in December I spent a day making every decision by tossing a coin. I woke up and my first decision was – should I get out of bed? Well, I had to get out of bed to find a coin. But other than that, and realising pretty quickly that I’m not very good at catching coins, this day was great fun! Coins don’t overthink; coins don’t have a conscience; coins will just tell you an immediate answer.
I still use coins for smaller decisions that I may have otherwise spent too long overthinking – such as what to wear or what to eat. You don’t have to follow what they tell you to do, but they can be a fast-track way to find out how you deep down feel about a choice. When the coin lands, do you feel your heart sink a little at the outcome? Or do you feel a tiny sense of relief? It clarifies a preference that was perhaps hidden to you before.
Next I spent a day saying YES to every decision. So. Much. Fun. Get up? YES! Wear that? YES! Should I have a drink? YES! Should I have another drink? YES! Another? YES! Hangover? YES! Regret? YES! Deleting those Facebook pics? YES!
Saying yes wasn’t without its challenges though.
At the end of the day, I’m meant to say yes to seeing a friend. And I really don’t want to. Not because I don’t like the friend (I do, that’s how friendship works), but because I’m scared. Of being judged, of disappointing people, of not being safe. So I don’t leave my safe little bubble, don’t take the risk.
“Should I get up? Fifty-seven per cent of voters said yes. What should I wear? A small majority told me to wear something sparkly. Should I drink alcohol with lunch? A whopping 70 per cent of people said yes – the biggest majority all day.”
Part of my ongoing recovery from my mental health conditions is saying YES: to risk, to adventure, to life. But sometimes that is extremely hard. Sometimes it’s easier to say no.
Let’s do that, then. For one day I said no to every decision. Third day = ‘No’ day! First question: do I get out of bed? NO! End of ‘no’ day.
I do realise that this constant worry about all the other possibilities, all the what ifs, is pointless. There’s no constructive reason to compare my life to how life could have been. “Comparison is the thief of joy”: so said Theodore Roosevelt. And he’s right. Whenever I watch the Go Compare advert I feel my joy slipping away.
But thanks to social media we’re all constantly comparing ourselves; comparing our life choices to those of other people. On social media, the grass isn’t just greener, the grass is a luxurious meadow full of dancing unicorns, pots of gold and rainbows. Hashtag no filter. (There is a filter – rose-tinted specs on green-eyed monsters.) Sometimes the grass is greener because it’s AstroTurf.
For one day I made every decision by asking social media what to do courtesy of Twitter polls. I waited for total strangers to make my choices for me. Should I get up? Fifty-seven per cent of voters said yes. What should I wear? A small majority told me to wear something sparkly. Should I drink alcohol with lunch? A whopping 70 per cent of people said yes – the biggest majority all day. We know our priorities, don’t we?
This was all very interesting, but it wasn’t helping me to make the actual decision I have to make. When I was little I used to be told what to do, by my mum, my dad or my sister. I asked them what I should do with my actual big decision. And that was so interesting, it made it into the show.
How can we make better life choices? Ultimately we all need to have more faith in following our instincts. It’s taken me a long time to have more confidence in making my own choices, partly because in the past my instincts have been blocked – by worry, confusion, outside noise.
Anyone who struggles with big decisions, you have my sympathy. But, y’know: make some decisions, make some mistakes, because sometimes getting lost winds up being the most scenic route.
Want to know more about Juliette’s big decision? She’s currently at the Edinburgh Fringe with her show, Decision Time, until 28 August, Gilded Balloon, 4.30pm. Get tickets here.
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Juliette Burton is a docu-comedian, actor, writer, thinker, dreamer, doer and person. She has a history of mental health problems and loves The Muppets. These two things are in no way linked.