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The Dance of Choices: Leonard Cohen's Lessons in Decision-Making
See yourself as a mediator between your many sub-personalities rather than a decision maker.
Here’s how Leonard Cohen described decision making:
"My immediate realm of thought is bureaucratic and like a traffic jam. My ordinary state of mind is very much like the waiting room at the DMV. Or, as I put it in a quatrain, “The voices in my head, they don’t care what I do, they just want to argue the matter through and through.” So to penetrate this chattering and this meaningless debate that is occupying most of my attention, I have to come up with something that really speaks to my deepest interest. Otherwise, I just nod off in one way or another. So to find that song, that urgent song, takes a lot of versions and a lot of work and a lot of sweat. But why shouldn’t my work be hard? Almost everybody’s work is hard. One is distracted by this notion that there is such a thing as inspiration, that it comes fast and easy. And some people are graced by that style. I’m not. So I have to work as hard as any stiff, to come up with the payload."
When you aren’t sure what to do you have two (maybe more) voices in your head who ‘just want to argue the matter through and through.'
There isn’t just one ‘you,’ with one set of needs. Your mind contains many ‘you’s’ with different and often competing needs. Understanding this is the key to being able to make a good enough decision when you feel stuck.
Here’s how the mind solves problems:
Think back to a time when you had to make a difficult decision. How did you do it? How did it feel?
As an example, let’s say that you’re thinking about applying for a new job. Did you experience a back-and-forth argument in your head – like a table tennis match? Part of you would say, “the new role will be really exciting and challenging, I’m actually feeling bored where I am now.” Only to have another part say, “yes I know? But what if you’re not up to it? What if you don’t get on with the new boss? At least you have security where you are now and it’s not so bad.” And so it goes on, back-and-forth, leaving you in a state of indecision and paralysis. Sometimes, other voices intrude on this internal debate. Maybe, “what will so-and-so think if I leave?”
Our decisions are not logical or linear. They are made following a heated debate amongst the different parts of our self – amongst all the different sub-personalities that make our personality.
Emotion plays a big role in decision-making, far more than most people realise. A big mistake that we make when trying to figure out a complex situation, is to assume that indecision is because of a lack of information. So, we look for more and more facts, which often just adds to the confusion making the decision even harder. You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘analysis paralysis.’ What is really needed is time and space to sort out our thoughts, not advice or more information
Here is what to do…
The next time you are in two minds about what to do, think about the internal debate between those voices in your head - the debate between your sub-personalities.
What helps is to listen to the warring parties and ask questions to clarify the pros and cons of each side of the debate. Then write down the conflicting arguments using a pen and paper.
Eventually the issues will become clear as a result of this process. Each internal voice will experience being heard and that will remove much of the emotional heat, which you experience as anxiety. Think of yourself as a mediator between the warring sub-personalities, rather than a decision maker and the right decision will become obvious.
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