There’s an invisible thread behind almost all stress and tepid results in life, and that is our nearly universal tendency to avoid decisions.

Allowing things to remain ‘open-ended’ and unresolved – both minor and major things – results in a life that is unpredictable, pockmarked with stress, and produces mediocre results across the board.

When we don’t make decisions about things in our life, some critical things happen:

It generates the bulk of our stress

Having things unresolved in our lives, especially having many things unresolved at once (very common), is the greatest source of stress in our lives. These are the things we worry about. They’re the things we imagine going wrong, that we over-inflate in importance, and that we internally struggle with. Money issues, health problems, unresolved conflicts, unorganized to-do lists, people problems, things in need of repair, etc, etc. That’s the whole gamut of things that eat away at happiness and peace.

It means things don’t happen

Usually when we fail to make decisions, things simply don’t get done. If you never get around to planning your retirement or going to the doctor or writing that letter or changing that habit, then guess what…it won’t happen. So you actually have made a decision – not to do it. But, in your mind you’re keeping the possibility open that it might happen. That’s just a recipe for self-disappointment. It’s no different than deciding not to walk forward but keeping the possibility open that you’ll somehow arrive 50 feet further ahead. The world doesn’t work that way. Steps are required, and first must come the decision to take those steps.

It causes other problems

When we don’t make decisions, we open ourselves up to all kind of unforeseen consequences. Failing to decide about a career, or a move, or a relationship keeps us clinging to a bad situation. Failing to make decisions about our health and wealth often ends up causing great pain and hardship later in life, not just for us but for our friends and family. We see it in others, and in society as a whole, so many things left unattended, undecided, and they almost never magically work out for the best. Why would that be different in our own lives?

It allows us to escape responsibility

Perhaps the most damaging effect of avoiding decisions is that it creates a very heavy wall of self-deception. Leaving something undecided – take for example our finances –  actually means we have decided…to not take responsibility for our finances. The economy will continue to operate and affect us, so we haven’t opted-out of anything by opting-out of the decision to take control of what we can control. Think of it like taking our hands off the steering wheel. The accident that’s coming is our responsibility. We can’t say to the police officer “I wasn’t making any driving decisions, so it wasn’t my fault”. It IS our fault. It’s our responsibility. So by failing to make decisions we are actually just trying to avoid responsibility for the outcomes.

Why do we avoid big decisions?

Because we’re afraid. If we say we’re going to take control of our finances or our health, we’re ‘on the hook’ for the outcome. That means there’s a chance we’ll fail and feel bad or look bad. That’s all we’re trying to avoid, when it comes down to it. We all want good health, and money to have some comfort and freedom, and good relationships, happiness and inner peace, successful pursuits, freedom from bad habits, and so on. But yet we’re frightened of saying we’ve decided to do those things well. We’re so afraid of actually deciding to make those things happen that we often just don’t. And that’s a tough realization.

Why do we avoid small decisions?

What’s less apparent is how avoiding decisions on small things affects our lives. Our daily procrastinations – failing to carry out tasks that sit forever on a to-do list, avoiding a decision about selling an item, leaving bills for later, and so on…these things eat away at our lives. And it’s not just procrastination, it’s also simple choices we could make right now that we instead leave wide open. Often it’s under the guise of ‘being free’, but it actually ends up stealing our time and freedom, stealing our ability to pursue meaningful things.

So how do we change this?

Start with the little things…decide on what kind of coffee you like best and buy it from now on. Make grocery lists and then go buy just the items on the list – don’t waste time staring at endless rows of colorful boxes and cans. And while you’re at it, make a Christmas shopping list and just go buy the items on it. Choose what kind of shoes/jeans/toothpaste/seltzer you like, and buy only those. And then if you suddenly decide you like something else, completely change and buy the new brand! But make decisions. Choose and go forward. If they’re small decisions, the consequences of getting it wrong are just as small. And you can always change if you decide you want something different.

And then move on to the big things…decide to take great care of your health. Choose to remove all of your bad habits. Decide what you’d love to do in life, and then decide to do just that. Take time right now to determine what’s important to you in terms of health, wealth, and happiness, and then decide to do it. And just as importantly determine what’s NOT important and remove those from your choices and your to-do list. Then you’ll understand what real freedom feels like.

Our ability to make decisions in life about what we want – the ability to choose our own path – is our greatest gift. And when we’re bold enough to actually do it, we have decided to finally live.