How to Make Decisions When Your Mind Is Stuck

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AFTER RETURNING FROM MILITARY SERVICE I needed to make a critical career decision. Should I accept a job I was just offered as a broadcaster for a local radio station? Or should I wait and see how my search for a sales position in the big city turned out?

Is the proverb-A bird in hand worth two in the bush-true?

I had been a TV performer in civilian life and served with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Networks during service in the military. After being discharged, I wanted to try something different-broadcast sales.

However with my then wife expecting, I felt guilty ignoring a bird in hand in order to go for the uncertain sales opportunity that I wanted to try but might never get.

I needed to make a quick decision but couldn’t do it. What a dilemma! It felt as if my usually reliable mind had gone on vacation while leaving me behind to wrestle with a decision that eluded me.

Comedian Jimmy Durante knew this feeling well when he sang:


“Did you ever get the feeling that you wanted to go,

But still had the feeling that you wanted to stay.”

How to make decisions

Some years later, I learned that a Psychologist named Abraham Low had diagnosed this condition in some of his patients as “being in duality.” That’s having a double character and not being able to make a decision. The late neuropsychiatrist offered a simple three-step remedy to help his patients get out of duality and make up their minds: decide, plan, and act.

When you can’t make up your mind about what to do, or to choose from alternatives, your mind is split. To bring duality to an end, Dr. Low believed it was important to decide which rout to take as quickly as possible and not look back. Then plan how to take the next step, and act on the plan. “A firm decision will steady you,” wrote Dr. Low in his book, Mental Health Through Will Training.

While I wish I had known about Dr. Low’s technique during the period of my disgruntlement, I’ve made some good use of it since then in my personal life and while coaching job finding clients not able to choose between two or more options.

The bird in hand question pops up frequently among my candidates: is it best to keep what you have rather than take a chance on getting something greater later? Jimmy Durante continues:


“It’s hard to have the feeling that you wanted to go,

But still have the feeling that you wanted to stay.”

Some of my clients received several job offers at once and requested coaching assistance for making up their minds as to which opportunity to accept. Others received offers at the beginning of their searches and like my dilemma wondered whether to grab one of them or to continue searching for better opportunities.

Then there was Derrick who accepted a nice offer on a Wednesday for a job that was to start the following Monday. However, on that Friday he received another job offer to start on the same Monday.

Strategies for making up your mind

I coached Derrick and other job candidates with decision-making techniques adopted from the strategic approaches of Dr. Milton Erickson, Carl Rogers, Dr. Low, and others.

There are a bunch of techniques out there that you can apply to decision making both during a job search and in your personal life. I look forward to sharing them with you in future articles.

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