The Struggle with Indecisiveness

Joan F. Marques - MBA, Doctoral Student
Burbank, California

It is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing – (Marianne Moore)

Mental paralysis is a terrible phenomenon to deal with, every time it shows up.
Business people – like no other – know the cost of indecisiveness. The statement "Time is money" was definitely not invented by the first the best poet. It doesn't even sound poetic! But it is as true as true can be.

With indecisiveness we use up time that could be valuable in obtaining a competitive advantage toward our rivals. However – the risk of making the wrong decision is always lurking behind every corner of strategy-street, and so – being the ordinary creatures with little or no psychic gifts that most of us are – we need to weigh our chances and base our decisions on some sort of information or hunch on possible outcomes. Here's where business people usually fall into the pattern of following statistical trends, or relying on economic and financial advisors, who basically do the same. The more daring ones intermittently also rely on their intuition. If, then, the decision turns out to be wrong they can always console themselves by reasoning that at least it was an informed and calculated mistake.

But what about the private area of our lives? What about those situations where you have to make a decision regarding an emotional issue? What good does an abundance of information bring in that case? In fact we all know that an excessive amount of information can turn into a disadvantage and become a hurdle in making the right decision as well! Too much information is almost as bad- and in some situations worse – than too few.

Maybe the most paralyzing form of indecisiveness is choosing between two potential life-partners, both understanding, loving, caring, and powerful. Both with some advantages and some disadvantages – to the same degree of significance. Both seemingly capable of making a wonderful difference in your life. Those among you who dealt with a similar situation may be able to relate to this dilemma: It is not easy. It is actually the most paralyzing, tiring, and dreadful situation one can find him- or herself in. And what makes it even more confusing, it may be that in both cases your intuition sends you a similar message: "this is it!"

Of course there are a few alternative possibilities in these situations:

    1. You can keep maintaining both options. Yet, they may eventually find out and you may end up losing everything that way.
    2. You can drop both options and stay alone for a while. Yet, there’s a considerable chance that you end up with bitter loneliness and in devastating isolation.
    3. You can make a bold decision, say yes to one option and no to the other, and not look back. Unfortunately, most of us are like Lot's wife, who couldn't resist looking back and therefore turned into a pillar of salt. This could be interpreted that looking back to a dropped option causes emotional and mental paralysis, or that you may find yourself reminiscing about the option you released as soon as little unpleasantries start popping up with the one you chose.

So this is one of the situations in which time will tell, and where the best action may be, no action… at least for a while. Ramsey (2001) even tosses in the perception of looking at procrastination in decision-making as a deliberate strategy instead of a weakness.
He states "Procrastination is an under-rated management tool. It is unfortunate many supervisors and managers see it only as a sign of weakness -- a cop out for wimps. They think procrastination is the antithesis of decision-making. They're wrong. Procrastination is a decision. Sometimes, it's the best one." Ramsey's point of view stands in straight line with Hippocrates' quote "To do nothing is also a good remedy." (TPCN, Great Quotations)

Ramsey (2001) continues, "Procrastination can be an indicator of indecisiveness. But it can also be an intentional, winning strategy. Weak leaders habitually procrastinate because they don't know what else to do. Savvy leaders sometimes procrastinate because it's the smart thing to do. In experienced hands, procrastination can be a survival technique. The trick is to know how and when to use it." (p. 6)

Among Ramsey's (2001) 12 conditions in which procrastination is the right decision, there are 7 that don't only pertain to the business area, but to any private situation as well. These are:

  • [] When there is no reason or advantage to decide immediately. (Who knows? Some new development may cause, allow or force you to change your mind. [])
  • [] When you need some "incubation time" to allow your subconscious to work on the problem before making a final decision.
  • [] When you are too tired, too angry or too ill to do your best thinking.
  • [] When circumstances may change for the better and the problem may solve itself or go away without you ever having to commit to a decision.
  • [] When it's a lose-lose situation and you want to postpone the inevitable pain for as long as possible.
  • [] When there is insufficient readiness on the part of those who must accept the decision. []
  • [] When your gut says to wait. Trust your instincts. Timing is everything. (p. 7-8)

    Preston (2002), on the other hand, warns us for mediocrity by being too cautious. He explains that "there's a fine line between prudence and paralysis" (p. 112). In his criticism of today's IT-performance in major U.S. companies, he counsels that if they "keep their heads down long enough, competitors will find a way to out-innovate them" (p. 112).

    This, of course, also goes for private situations. There are always competitors. There will always be hijackers along every coast of life. Preston's advise corresponds with Margaret Oliphant's assertion, "Perhaps, on the whole, embarrassment and perplexity are a kind of natural accompaniment to life and movement and it is better to be driven out of your senses with thinking which of two things you ought to do than to do nothing whatever, and be utterly uninteresting to all the world." (TPCN, Great Quotations)

    So, in conclusion, there is simply no solution to be offered in the struggle with indecisiveness: It's a personal battle that we all go through at times. The only rational final remark here is that, although "He who hesitates is sometimes saved" (James Thurber, TPCN, Great Quotations), lasting indecisiveness may ultimately lead to ending empty handed. Yes, living is an art...


  • Hippocrates. (Unknown, Sun, 31 Mar 2002). TPCN - Great Quotations (By Hippocrates To Inspire and Motivate). 2000 Cyber Nation International, Inc. Available: [2002, July 20].
  • Moore, M. (Unknown). TPCN - Great Quotations (By Marianne Moore To Inspire and Motivate). 2000 Cyber Nation International, Inc. Available: [2002, July 20].
  • Oliphant, M. (Unknown). TPCN - Great Quotations (By Margaret Oliphant To Inspire and Motivate). 2000 Cyber Nation International, Inc. Available: [2002, July 20].
  • Preston, R. (2002). Doomed by indecision. Network Computing, 13(8), 112.
  • Ramsey, R. D. (2001). The art of procrastination. Supervision, 62(2), 6-8.
  • Thurber, J. (Unknown). TPCN - Great Quotations (By James Thurber To Inspire and Motivate). 2000 Cyber Nation International, Inc. Available: [2002, July 20].