When I saw this story on indecision in the Wall Street Journal, an image instantly sprang to mind of people who waffle. You know the ones: They stand in the grocery store aisle looking back and forth between boxes; they spend days debating whether they should make the call or take the job. They are, sometimes, well, me. See where you fit on the spectrum of black-and-white thinkers versus shades-of-gray seers, then weigh in on our poll. Can't decide? Check out our no-fail suggestion for making decisions fast.
IF YOU'RE A SHADES-OF-GRAY THINKER...
Shades-of-gray thinkers have more trouble deciding because they have more ambivalence; the choice of which option to take isn't immediately clear to them. Psychologists ignored ambivalence for years as insignificant. But recent studies have shown that there is some upside to indecision. It's a "coming to grips with the complexity of the world," Jeff Larsen, a psychology professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, is quoted as saying. Those prone to ambivalence, psychologists note, maybe be more empathetic towards another person's point of view and have better coping strategies during times of stress (mixed emotions let them feel sadness as well as hope). On the other hand, employees who are highly ambivalent about their jobs have erratic job performance. In relationships, a shades-of-gray thinker is, ironically, both more likely to get divorced and stay in a bad relationship longer.
IF YOU'RE A BLACK-AND-WHITE THINKER...
Decisive, black-and-white thinkers have been held up in our culture as good in conflict. Think of Sydney Bristow on Alias or the fast-on-her-feet emergency room doctor. We like that decisive people are able to quickly size up a situation and make a call. But now psychologists are pointing out the flip side: Black and white thinkers can get mired in one point of view. Combine black-and-white thinking with clinical depression, for example, and you've got someone who sees the downside, even when there's not one. On the other hand, black-and-white thinkers have less trouble speaking their mind, and have less anxiety regarding the decisions they do make. Somewhat surprising was the data that black-and-white thinkers may have healthier relationships. Recognizing that there are positive and negative aspects in any relationship, the black-and-white thinker generally chooses to focus on the qualities that are most important to them.
In general, the American way is this extreme or that extreme. We do extremes really well (just tune into the evening political pundit programs). In fact, in Western cultures the ability to see both good and bad at once "violates our world view, our need to put everything in boxes," Larsen told the paper. But that yin-yang tattoo you got when you were 19 illustrates the firmly entrenched Eastern cultural principle of duality, that wholeness is made up of both good and bad.
THE QUICKEST WAY TO MAKE A DECISION
When there isn't an easy answer in any given situation, go with your gut. The old coin flip--heads you marry the guy, tails you don't--can get you to the answer in a matter of moments. As soon as the coin lands, your reaction tells you everything you need to know. Another option: If you find yourself evaluating several factors in your ability to make a decision about, say, buying a new car (cost, efficiency, looks, and lasting power, for example), consider if there is one core value that stands out from the rest when you make a choice.
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