Why You Should Stop Trying to Make the “Right” Decision


Why You Should Stop Trying to Make the “Right” Decision

Getty/Zbynek Pospisil

For many of us who tend to overthink, decision anxiety can be exhausting. Challenge yourself with a new perspective on right versus wrong.

In an old Taoist parable (recently retold beautifully by the children’s show Bluey in an episode called “The Sign”), a farmer goes through a series of experiences that at first seem to be good or bad but lead to an unexpected outcome. First, his horse runs away, and the neighbors call it bad luck. “Maybe,” the farmer says. The horse returns with several wild horses. The neighbors call it good luck. “Maybe,” the farmer says. His son tries to ride one of the wild horses and breaks his leg—bad luck, the neighbors say. But then soldiers arrive to conscript young men for the war and don’t take the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. “What good luck,” the neighbors say. The farmer simply replies, “Maybe.”

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy that can be roughly summarized by the concept of going with the flow. Rather than assigning a binary of good or bad to different experiences, Taoism teaches us to just roll with the experiences, taking each change with equanimity.

The Concept of Karma

Here in the West, in a culture that is heavily influenced by Christian ideas of heaven and hell, we often think things—and people—are either good or bad. We like the idea of "karma," which is a concept from India that we think means essentially the same thing—good actions lead to good results, and bad actions lead to bad results.

But that’s actually a Western inversion of the concept of karma. The word “karma” simply means “action” and implies that our decisions have consequences. We don’t know what those consequences will be, however, or when they will come to pass, and there’s no way of controlling that. Hindu and Tantric philosophies teach that we can only control our intentions, not the result of our actions.

Dispelling Decision Anxiety

I used to struggle mightily with decision anxiety. I always wanted to do the “right” thing, to think it through so thoroughly that I’m absolutely sure I’m doing good and that nothing bad will happen as a result of my actions. But I’ve learned since then that there’s no such thing as a right or wrong decision, only actions that have consequences, some of which are predictable and some of which are not. It was a great relief to me when I finally realized this. It took a lot of pressure off.

Outcome pressure can also really prevent us from making a decision at all. When we delay making a choice because we fear what will happen next, we rob ourselves of the chance to experience something. From the Tantric perspective specifically, all experiences have value, even the really difficult ones. Even when we have a bad time, we can learn something, grow in some way, or simply experience the power of difficult emotions, all of which are different manifestations of the Tantric understanding of the Goddess. In this worldview, goddess energy is not out there somewhere on another plane separate from Earth. It’s all around us, it is us, and if we never experience the darker side of life, we’re rejecting a valuable aspect of spirituality.

How to Make the “Best” Choices

In order to make choices, we have to trust ourselves enough to be able to handle a difficult or unpleasant outcome. We have to know that we can tolerate difficult emotions, learn lessons, and be able to pivot. We have to trust that things always change, and any single decision we make does not have the power to control our entire lives forever. There’s simply too much we don’t know and too much we can’t control.

We live in a culture that is very concerned about the binaries of good versus bad. We want to believe that a certain decision could be the right or the wrong one and that if we make the wrong choice, we’ll regret it forever.

The truth is, though, no decision—especially a major life decision—is wholly good or bad. They usually have some element of both. Maybe it wasn’t a very pleasant experience, but we learned a lot from it. Maybe some parts of it were good and some parts of it were hard. Humans also happen to be quite good at adapting to whatever is happening in our lives. Regret isn’t as common as you’d think. Even if something really big happens to change our life path forever—choosing to quit your job and go back to school, have children, not have children, move to a new city—there will inevitably be good and bad. Whichever way we go, we will tend to get used to whatever it was that happened and make the most of that.

So, no, we can’t always make the “right” decision because there simply isn’t such a thing. All we can do is make choices in alignment with our integrity and our values. If we’re clear on what’s important to us and the kind of person we want to be, all we have to do is let our ethics guide our choices. Then we can know we did our best and remember that the outcomes are simply not up to us. So, when you notice yourself labeling a particular something as “good” or “bad,” maybe pause and tell yourself, just like the farmer in the story, it’s actually a “maybe.”

Practice these seven ways to sharpen your intuition.


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Why You Should Stop Trying to Make the Right Decision

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