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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Updated on January 8, 2019

Start Stopping

I've had this habit for some time. I'm driving on the freeway in traffic, when I notice the lane next to me seems to be going faster, so I switch lanes. Invariably, right after I do, the other lane starts going faster. But I don't want to switch back again because I want to affirm the wisdom of my decision, plus that would make me appear indecisive. So I stick with my initial bad decision hoping things will get better - cutting my losses, so I think.

There are several relevant jump off points from a story like this:

  • You get into a relationship with someone, realize it's bad, but stick with it because (a) you've invested time and energy, (b) that other person has good intentions, and (c) who knows what else is out there?
  • You start a new job or a new investment, and it starts off initially good, but then takes a downward turn, and you quit or you pull out. You back off and decide that was a bad move; one you'll never make again.
  • You join a gym, then after you realize it's not for you, you keep paying for it, because either you think you might start going again, or the more honest answer, if you stop it, it admits you were wrong to join it in the first place.

I call it "start-stopping"; the notion that, like the hare in The Tortoise and the Hare, we jump around impulsively, and then try to find a way to explain poor decision points. We didn't have enough information. If only I was told X. The economy's bad. My daddy left me.

You get the picture. As a result, the slow, deliberate person gets what we don't, because he just stays consistently on course.


So it got me to thinking about this concept we call decision-making. There are, of course, many schools of thought when it comes to deciding what to do. Do I want Honey Nut Chex or Cap'n Crunch? The Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot? The brunette or the blonde?

To what extent are our thoughts and actions rational vs. impulsive - and are we ever truly rational? We can take our time and analyze every element of a problem, then finally select an answer and still get mowed over by circumstance, as if we literally jumped in front of traffic. Or we can take a seemingly impulsive leap into cyber-space and find the love of our life. Are these things random or predestined? Do you answer that last question from a place of knowledge, or to justify the end?

Time may or may not be a factor; Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink describes a process of "thin slicing", involving filtering the factors that matter when making decisions. Careful deliberation may or may not matter - especially if you're focusing on the wrong qualitative information. As I was reading his book, I was reminded of the first time I learned to water ski. Everyone kept telling me what to do, and I thought I was doing it, but kept spilling, flailing, and basically making an ass of myself - until I finally did get up on the skis and felt how easy it was. From that point forward, it was almost difficult to tell what I was doing wrong before. And I was following the same set of advice I thought I was following when I was muffing it.


“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.” ~ Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking


Overcoming barriers

So what prevents us from making consistent, good decisions?

Part of the problem is that we choose using mental filters influenced by biases, emotions, memories, many of which are unconscious to us. The challenge becomes having an exceptional amount of self awareness, so as to know when your internal gauge is influencing the outcome. Even with experts, however, it's rare.

Another problem is most people are not terribly comfortable in the land of uncertainty, which pervades our existence. So Bob gets roped into certain beliefs because some "expert" appears to be certain, as if they have the recipe, and Bob's just randomly throwing ingredients together - which means that Bob doesn't really think for himself, and instead co-signs someone else's conclusions (e.g. Limbaugh and his "ditto-heads".)

A third is defeatism. After a series of bad decisions, Ellen might conclude life is a series of random events, or that fate has frowned upon her - sort of like the tiny rain cloud that storms over her alone. As a result, Ellen simply doesn't trust her own judgment: like the main character in Bridesmaids (by the way, am I the only person who found that movie depressing?)


"When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice." ~ William James

"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm." ~ Winston Churchill

Decision-quality chain
Decision-quality chain | Source

Decision-making models

So here's the part where I come up with recommended tools to remedy this decision affliction. I don't know that I'm any more qualified than anyone else, but I can research, so I've compiled some quick and dirty possibilities.

Not surprisingly, there are literally dozens of models to assist us with making rational, supportable decisions. Models that factor in assumptions, biases, and other factors that inappropriately influence our "right vs. left", "chocolate vs. vanilla" determinations, including:

  • Ladder of inference: also known as the process of abstraction, it involves going back through a decision, using a ladder diagram, to see the reality and fact patterns, interpretations, assumptions and conclusions that influence our beliefs and actions. It's basically an analytical tool to check that our decision-making is rational.
  • The Vroom-Yetton-Jago Decision Model (see figure on right) helps to determine how a decision should be made, based on the quality (i.e. how important) of a decision, the degree of support needed to effectuate the decision, and how fast you need to make it.
  • PrOACT: Problem, Objectives, Alternatives, Consequences, Tradeoffs - involves a prototype analytical decision model that's fairly straight-forward, to make sure you're considering all viable options.
  • The Six-Step Rational Decision-Making Model: Which include - Define the problem, Identify decision criteria, Weight the criteria, Generate alternatives, Rate each alternative on each criterion, and Compute the optimal decision.
  • Decision-quality Chain: Includes six elements of quality decision-making, including values, reasoning and commitments, linked together (see image above).

The interesting thing about these models, is that they are predicated on the premise that thoughtful analysis is key to effective decision-making, with differing names for the steps, but a common thread of deliberation.


Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

So, the bottom line, is to use your best judgment and be discerning when making decisions - at least know when you're being impulsive, so if something bad happens, you don't blame the universe. Only your lack of pre-evaluation.

There is a point of reasonable discernment between going around in circles analyzing the same data, and jumping from one thing to the next without a thought. In maturity, we should be able to sit back and see patterns, in order to better inform tomorrow's decisions.

Me, I'll be the guy driving in the left lane watching the traffic while taking a deep breath, committing to his lane whenever possible. Though I want to jump lanes, I'll stay, knowing from experience that eventually I'll get to my destination in a reasonable period of time, in one piece.

And in one peace.


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    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory S Williams 

      8 years ago from California

      Jaye - then you understand. It is one of those things I still have to be very aware of; I have to be constantly aware of "lane jumping" myself. I appreciate your wise - and thoughtful - perspective.


    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      8 years ago from Deep South, USA

      I'm glad this one got sent around again. Reading it invites introspection.

      When I was younger, I went through a period of several years when I was impulsive. After making some really bad major decisions (and suffering the consequences), I began pausing to fully evaluate situations before acting. The tendency to jump is still there--I just learned to recognize and control it. There's no chance I'll ever go to the other end of the spectrum and over-analyze!

      Good hub. Voted Up++


    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory S Williams 

      9 years ago from California

      We're more alike than you realize, LaThing. I'm still working on "blink" thinking for major life decisions. Those I also tend to overthink. Hmm, maybe we're on to something here....

      Thanks for your support.


    • LaThing profile image


      9 years ago from From a World Within, USA

      That guy in the other lane behind you is my husband, I, on the other hand, have gone past you both, lol! I see your points clearly, but, although I am impulsive, I am like the guy stuck in a lane when it comes to major issues. Bad relationship - stuck with it because I chose it; terrible stock picks, but kept them for years, you get the picture!

      I went through managerial training and made a heck of a manager for my team. But when comes to making real life decisions all those diagrams and steps go out the window!

      Enjoyed reading it, very interesting and sharing it.......

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory S Williams 

      9 years ago from California

      I love hearing that! Thank you for your feedback and support, Victoria.


    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 

      9 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Excellent hub. Very well laid out. Made me think--I like that! Thanks!

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory S Williams 

      9 years ago from California

      Thanks Deborah - I'm glad you found value from it and find peaceful resolution.



    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      9 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      wow great hub.. and great video.. thank you for sharing.. sometimes we just have to leave and start over.. I really needed to read this today.



    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory S Williams 

      9 years ago from California

      That's a very good question, yoginijoy. My answer to that is evolving as I grow older - I've started by sitting quietly in meditation and just observing what I do. The first 100 times I tried to meditate (maybe a little exaggeration), I just couldn't quiet the mind - actually wrote the "Monkey Mind" hub around that time. Now I'm starting to get somewhere. You are spot on that understanding comes from within. I have close to 50-60 books on psychology, self-help, etc., which can suggest tools, but ultimately, it has been from within that my greatest growth has occurred. I suspect you've found the same.

      I have Blink on my nightstand - I do recommend it. I could have gone into greater depth, but I've learned to be brief and to the point in these hubs - kind of like a "teaser"!

      Thank you for your support ~


    • yoginijoy profile image


      9 years ago from Mid-Atlantic, USA

      I am definitely going to check out this Blink text. Thanks for writing this hub, another interesting topic. Why do you think we second guess ourselves so much? Does it come from home life as a child, the models we see growing up or somewhere else? It is true that most of us are "grass is always greener types" and change our minds erratically. I think it is a way to self-sabotage our innate uniqueness, we somehow don't believe in ourselves. We should celebrate our innate skills of thinking without thinking and just be happy with what we understand and strive to understand more. Knowledge can be looked up and found, understanding comes from within.

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory S Williams 

      9 years ago from California

      That's funny - I like it! Thanks, tobusiness, for your encouraging words.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      9 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Yes, I used to be indecisive, now I just don't know, most of us can see ourselves here. Wonderful hub, brilliantly written.

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory S Williams 

      9 years ago from California

      I dig it, SidKemp. I'm dialed in for a dose of strategic intellectual integration and superlative power! I sincerely appreciate your positive energy and support ~


    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 

      9 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Voted up and interesting. I would suggest that we are so much more than rational. When we use the full power of our body and mind, we find that we have useful sub-rational survival strategies, non-rational creative strategies, rational abilities, and supra-rational intuition and love. Let's integrate them all and use them!

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory S Williams 

      9 years ago from California

      Nicely played!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      when a man is as bright as you are, anything is a virtue!

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory S Williams 

      9 years ago from California

      Perhaps... Is deniability also a virtue? ;-)

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Well, obviously you are "you" and that's the good news. But I couldn't help to relate your thinking to that person I know, who by the way is still a good friend and I admire him a lot. I'll tell you how he is, you let me know if there is a similarity - very independent, hard worker, very observant, comes up with great ideas and tries to make them happen but loses inspiration and moves on to something else, sometimes he dwells on little things and misses the big picture, very prone to rants, too. LOL :D What do you think? Yes? No? Do you think there might be something to this astrology mumbo jumbo after all?

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory S Williams 

      9 years ago from California

      Thanks Thomas - good to know there's a sympathetic soul out there. Of course, I don't think it's the worst part that you know when you're doing it - that's actually a really good start (at least that's the point from where I'm operating!)

      Sherry - I'm glad to hear you've seen the flashing lights before driving through the cones and into a ditch? Or am I pushing the traffic metaphor too far ... ? ;-)

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 

      9 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      After staying in the same lane for way too long, road hazards have forced me to change lanes. Now I'm making some real progress. Thanks for some great food for thought.

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image


      9 years ago from Reno, Nevada


      You have somehow, in 1500 words or so, completely explained my (lack) of decision making abilities.

      A combination of the above usually results in an analysis paralysis in which the William James' quote, above, comes into play. Of course, the worst part of that is I do know when I'm doing it and apparently need to stop start-stopping.

      Great read! I will be hitting every upward button and sharing.


    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory S Williams 

      9 years ago from California

      Thanks Klara - I appreciate your encouragement.

      I actually tend to be impulsive as well and go with my gut. My results have been spotty; however, largely I think because of start-stopping. I invented that term because it describes how things seem to work for me. I also write sometimes as my form of self-therapy - it's like giving the world a peek inside my diary! So, I'm curious about the Taurus-like comment - do you mean overly-evaluative?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Your brain! Can I have it for a day? :D

      I tend to be impulsive for the most part, but I just go with my gut feeling on things, and it turns out alright. I met my husband online, through a regular chatroom that wasn't meant to be for dating. We were about fifty people chatting at the same time, and he opened a private chat for the two of us. He was the only man who didn't ask for cybersex, so I took the time to talk to him, and then we exchanged emails and now we've been happily married for seven years. I know he's my other half, but the way I found him... you could say there were other forces at play.

      This sounds very Taurus-like by the way. My first real relationship was with a man who shared your birthday. And I'm reading this, and I'm thinking about Jim... sounds like something he would think and share with friends.

      It's a wonderful article, and it makes you think how much of our decisions came about. I'm a female version of Bob, throwing ingredients together, and listening to the little voice inside my head.

      Your writing continues to impress me.

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory S Williams 

      9 years ago from California

      Thanks jhamann, and Daddy-o!

    • Jackwms profile image


      9 years ago

      Good hub, and so true.

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      9 years ago from Reno NV

      This was a very enlightening read. It was well written and grabbed my attention from the beginning to the end.


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