Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Nobody Changed the World by Being Indecisive

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both… I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Notice how Robert Frost doesn’t say he thought about taking a certain road. He didn’t call a committee meeting and deliberate over the choice. He didn’t brainstorm the possibilities.

Two Roads Photo

Photo credit: Jan Tik (Creative Commons)

Sure, he was sorry he couldn’t explore both paths. But he did the one thing many of us have grown cautious of doing: He made a decision.

There is a deficiency of good decision-making in our world today. And that needs to change.

Why the struggle?

We creatives (i.e. directors, authors, designers, and more) are especially bad at making decisions. Why is this? Because we dwell in the realm of possibility. Of ideas. Sometimes, it’s hard to choose just one. But that is precisely what we must do.

Creativity is the act of making the possible practical. It’s bringing truth and beauty out of the ether and putting it on display so the world can see and be changed.

When we don’t decide, we dishonor our craft and fail to live up to our callings. We disappoint those who miss the opportunity to be transformed by what we create.

Being decisive is empowering

When you make a decision and follow through, it’s a rush. It makes you feel like you could do it again. And you can.

When you create small wins like this, it builds confidence, which is especially important for those who are extremely talented but insecure (a lot of creative people are this way).

This is especially true for writing. I used to dread the blank page. The idea of writing 500 words a day was overwhelming. But when I started doing it regularly for my blog (because I decided I would), I found it was easier to write another 500 or 1000 words on top of that.

Shirking indecisiveness empowers you to do more than you ever thought possible.

Being decisive is liberating

Not making decisions leads to worry and stress. Many decisions need to be made. When they’re not, you end up delaying the inevitable. As opportunities pile and you continue to stall, anxiety naturally builds. This is no fun.

Note: Decisive people don’t deal with this. They make choices and live with the consequences. It’s those who are indecisive who live in this constant state of mental unrest.

Making better, more resolute (and often quicker) decisions gives you peace of mind. If you neglect this, you may grow bitter and disillusioned. For instance, how many people do you know who say they want to write a book, but never have? Either they’re lying or stalling. Neither is productive, and neither is healthy.

Being decisive earns respect

The world is full of bad leaders, of people who don’t know how to decide what breakfast cereal to buy, much less what political candidate to vote for.

So what do they do instead? They wait. They squander time and opportunity. Mostly because they’re afraid of living with the consequences of the wrong decision. A lot of writers procrastinate until the last possible moment, sabotaging their art in the process.

Here’s the rub: The wrong decision to make is no decision at all. When you make decisions, people take notice. They respect you. Nobody wants to follow an indecisive leader. No one buys from an artist who tells us what he thought about creating. We buy what was created, what was decided upon and then enacted.

Ideas are not enough. We need action. And those who choose to act boldly earn the right to lead us.

Hopefully, I pray, that will be you.

What happens when we don’t decide?

Nothing. No change. no difference made. The world just continues on as it always has. Which is precisely why we need more more decisiveness. The world deserves it. So does your art. So do you.

Whether you’re a writer or an auto mechanic, make the decision to become more decisive today. Trust me, the fruit is worth the pain of having to make a few tough choices.

For more on how to do this, read my guest post at Michael Hyatt’s blog today: The One Essential Habit of Every Effective Leader

If you’re interested in reading more, subscribe to my weekly newsletter. I’m working on a short guidebook on this subject of decision-making for creative leaders, which I’ll share with this list soon. In the mean time, sign up for the list and get my FREE eBook The Writer’s Manifesto.

What’s an example of a time when you made a decision that changed everything? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. To get updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • Peter

    For me, it was deciding to start a blog.  I’m an idea person.  My top StrengthsFinder theme is IDEATION.  I feared starting the blog because I didn’t think I could post material on a regular basis that was “good enough” for people to want to read.  But I decided to start.  I did so on 11/1/11.  It’s energizing.  I started off with a commitment to posting once a week.  That was my “no excuses” minimum.  I’m not ready to raise the minimum to twice a week.  Deciding to post is unlocking the idea stream in ways I had not anticipated.  I subscribed to your 12-week course.  Thanks for making in available, Jeff.  I really appreciate your investment in me.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I have that strength, too, Peter. It’s a gift… and sometimes a curse. Hope you ejoyed the course! Let me know what you think.

  • http://davidsantistevan.com David Santistevan

    Speaks to right where I’m at, Jeff. Thanks for having the courage to challenge us so well.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I’m glad it spoke to you, David. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

    I think the toughest thing is to balance the need to be decisive with the need to get input from the team. We want to earn respect but also don’t want to appear haphazardly arrogant. I think the best solution to this is to communicate with your team. Pump them up with thoughts like you have in this post and assure them of the need for action. Get their input and then announce that you’re going to head down a certain road. Be honest that the team will retool as necessary if things aren’t going to work out. Basically – communicate.
    Have you found that to be a good approach?

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I think this is a great distinction, Loren. Communication is essential. Another thing I’ve learned as a leader is this: It’s sometimes better to make the WRONG decision (and learn from it) if there’s team consensus than to bull-headedly do the RIGHT thing with nobody else wanting to do it. That’s the difference between a servant leader and an autocrat, in my opinion.

  • http://profiles.google.com/pilgrimsinn J.R Wenham

    When I was young I loved making decisions and discovering the different possibilities that resulted. I was adventurous and wandered many country roads and forested paths exploring. Fear was not in my vocabulary. I remember deciding in grade 9 to try out for the basketball and volleyball teams. I made MVP and All Star that first year and was asked to play with the seniors as well as the juniors.
    I wrote, I dreamed, I studied and played hard and I FLOURISHED.
    Middle age has made me cautious. Time seems to drain away faster through the hourglass and fear grabs hold. Maybe it’s pride and not fear.I edit as I go and backtrack often. Decisions get put off regularly.  Thank you for this reminder, it is timely and quite a good kick in the seat of the pants.

    • Anonymous

      “Middle age has made me cautious. Time seems to drain away faster through the hourglass and fear grabs hold. Maybe it’s pride and not fear.I edit as I go and backtrack often.”

      Not sure what word or words to use to express how much I can relate to that. Every once in a while what someone’s penned either hits you, emotionally, in such a way that you wish you’d written them or you think you did. 

      I, too, was far more fearless earlier in life. I also seemed to flourish. It was easier somehow. Doesn’t that feel backwards? Or does the pain of life produce a hesitancy? Unreasonable doubt?

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        Thanks, guys. There is wisdom to be gleaned here. Appreciate what you’ve shared. I have a lot still to learn.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    Alright, I’ll weigh in over here then, but just because this is a pet peeve of mine that seems tangentially related to the diverging roads motif: 

    There’s no such thing as “getting to” a fork in the road. When we say we “got to” a fork in the road, what we actually mean is we arrived at the tines of the fork whose handle we’d been traveling on all along. 

    So when the road suddenly splits into two or more, we simply realize that this particular road itself is a fork. Obviously, we can’t “get to” something we’re already on. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Interesting and slightly funny. I award you three word geek points for this. Well done. ;) But I’m confused… I didn’t use the phrase “fork in the road.” Did I?

      • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

        No you didn’t, but I am confident that nine out of ten people, upon reading “two roads diverged” and “I could not travel both,” instantly think “fork in the road,” even though Mr Frost as well as yourself judiciously abstained from using this guff-headed expression.

        In other words, although un-articulated per se, “fork in the road” oozed forth from between the lines of your opening paragraphs.

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          Ah. Thanks for clarifying.

          • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

            No, thanks to you for reminding me to blog about the matter.

  • Lia London

    “Creativity is the act of making the possible practical.”  I LOVE THAT!  Amen to the whole article.  We’ve got to consider matters, make a decision–and then make it the right decision (whether or not it really was) by the way we act upon it.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Right. And sometimes, we’ll choose wrong. That’s okay, as long as we learn from it. I know of no other way to make good decisions, except this: TRY.

  • http://twitter.com/olaojo15 Olaojo Aiyegbayo

    Thanks for this. I love Frost’s “The Road not Taken”. I was
    guilty of procrastinating with my writing before I made the decision to start my
    blog and it is amazing to see how much I have written in just over a year of
    blogging. The act of breaking my ideas on leadership into posts has produced a
    lot of content. The decision to blog has been a beneficial for my writing and I
    wish I had started blogging years ago lol.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I’m glad I made this decision, too. Thanks, Olaojo!

  • http://twitter.com/MuchClearer Sean Sankey

    I was just about to write my decision making mantra around “the word decision being closely related to the word incision – in the Latin root meaning ‘to cut away’ … and then I read your post on Micheal Hyatt’s blog. Brilliant!!

    For me, the mark of a true decision is one where you do cut off all other options and throw all your weight behind one particular course of action. Latest big decision was to move out of consulting for a big firm, work for my local church, spend more time with the family and community and set up my own training business on the side. 

    Has it changed everything?? In 6 short months… only my mind, outlook, energy levels and sense of satisfaction… So not everything (!!) but pretty close ;-)    

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      That’s a good observation, Sean (re: “incisive”), and I love what you said about cutting off all other options. How true.

  • Anonymous

    “Decisive people don’t deal with this.” Huh? Really? Wow, I thought everyone dealt with this. What a concept. 

    Also, you use as an example, “… they don’t know what breakfast cereal to buy.” Sometimes we can be so wrapped up in pleasing others (also self-serving) for so long, that we lose touch with what we want for ourselves. 

    Some time ago I’d come out of a difficult relationship. I recall standing at the bread shelves at the store, and thinking, I know what kind of bread my kids and their mom like, but I’m staring at the shelves and I’ve forgotten what I like. The ability to think for myself had been adversely affected. Even with something as simple as this, I had to push myself to consider it, and make a decision.

    We too frequently feel that that we’ve too little to offer. Turning this ship around to this reframe: “… we disappoint those who miss the opportunity to be transformed by what we create” can take time but only a small adjustment of the wheel and destination.

    Thank you Jeff.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re welcome, Garry. It baffles me, too. I want to be more decisive.

  • http://shakeyourfoundation.com Craig Playstead

    Great post, just what I needed today. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I’m glad, Craig!

  • http://jonstolpe.wordpress.com Jon Stolpe

    Almost 16 years ago, I made a decision not to go with a company for more money.  I decided to take less money for a job that felt right.  I’m still with the same company, and I love it (most days).  I’ve grown in my experience and knowledge, and my career has taken off into something that is legitimate and impacting.  I’m so thankful I chose this side of the fork!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      This is inspiring, Jon. Thanks for your courage.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Two people sat in my home yesterday inviting me to serve as a pastor of a small church. I decided to accept the offer on a trial basis (2 months). This morning I’m saying to myself, “What have you done, Tom Tarver?” My answer? I’ve decided and, if it’s the wrong decision, I’ll make a different one. I appreciate what you’ve written here and at Michael Hyatt’s blog. As is often the case, your words are timely.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Excellent, Tom. Well done, and thanks for sharing!

  • Mikezserdin

    Very good. Thanks for the follow on.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      My pleasure!

  • http://thecormierfamily.org/Jason Jason

    Totally needed this reminder.  Thanks for the good post.

  • http://twitter.com/HolaMindy Mindy Holahan

    Hi Jeff! I’ve been noodling on this for a while. 2011 was my year of taking risks. Thanks for the little push, it helped inspire this:

    http://www.mindyholahan.com/blog/2011/12/19/30daysofgratitude-risks-nerdist-and-you.html