A Decision-Making Technique for the Chronically Indecisive

‘Ooching’ can help you move forward when you’re struggling to make a choice

EEven in quarantine, each day is an endless stream of choices: Whether to wear a mask when you go to the grocery store. Which recipe uses just enough of your stockpiled beans, but not too much. How to groom that pandemic beard.

If you struggled with decision-making before, living entirely within the walls of your home probably hasn’t made things any easier. Everyone’s chronic indecision looks a little different: Maybe you have a fear of responsibility. Or maybe you’re a perfectionist, and the idea of making the wrong decision sends your anxiety through the roof. Whatever it looks like, it’s frustrating when your own brain holds you in limbo: You can see all the possible paths laid out ahead, but you’re frozen in front of them.

At the same time, there’s something to be said for sitting with your indecision. We tend to idealize decisiveness, but sometimes taking a moment to weigh the options can make all the difference in the world.

You probably know the saying: A bad decision is better than no decision at all. Whenever I hear that old chestnut, I’m reminded of a former job, when a colleague had boxed up an entire order and gotten it ready to ship. The problem: He couldn’t remember if he included a crucial part, and unboxing everything to check would take hours. Under pressure from our boss to quickly make a decision — unbox it or ship — my co-worker blurted out, “Let’s just get it out.”

It turned out his suspicion had been spot-on: The order was wrong. With his snap decision, he ended up creating a ton of extra work for himself, annoying our customer in the process.

If my colleague had permission to sit with his uncertainty for a bit, perhaps he would have come to the conclusion that an hour’s worth of extra work on the front end is better than extra work and an angry customer on the back end. Or, with less pressure, perhaps he would have stumbled on another path forward, like checking the inventory to see if there was an extra part present. That binary — any choice versus no choice — can be limiting. It can keep you from looking for more outside-the-box solutions.

But there’s a middle ground between being frozen by indecisiveness and rushing into snap decisions: something called “ooching.” In the book Decisive, the authors Chip and Dan Heath define ooching as taking small steps to test a choice before you make a final decision — a strategy that’s active but not committal.

The book relays the story of John Hanks, an executive at National Instruments, a scientific equipment company. Hanks was unsure about investing in a new type of technology. As he recalled to the Heaths, he “ooched” his way into a decision, using a pilot customer to test out the new technology before pouring too much money into it. “Part of the culture here is to ask ourselves, ‘How do we ooch into this?’” Hanks says in the book. “We always ooch before we leap.”

For those of us who would rather linger in uncertainty than take a chance on a confident but unwise move, ooching is a lifeline. It allows you to experiment with a decision while minimizing the risk, which can be helpful with choices large and small. If you’re thinking of moving to a new city, for example, maybe first you ask permission to work remotely for a month in that city. If you’re thinking of buying a new car but unsure if you can make the monthly payments, set aside a couple hundred bucks each month in a separate savings account to see if you can swing it.

Or, on a smaller scale, if you want to try a wild new bean recipe, make a meal’s worth before batch-cooking a week of quarantine rations. You don’t want your indecisiveness to hold you back, but ooching isn’t a cop-out—it’s a way of moving forward.

Kristin Wong has written for the New York Times, The Cut, ELLE, Travel + Leisure, and Glamour magazine.

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