The Myth of Inaction

The Myth of Inaction May 4, 2021

When faced with an overwhelming amount of choices (or a set of choices we don’t particularly like), we often try to escape the difficulty by refusing to make a choice. We opt for inactivity. 

Making any choice is a risk. It is a gamble. It establishes a path, a specific way forward. And that way has consequences. Not only that, choosing a way necessarily closes you off from some other ways. When you choose a choice, you deny certain others.

We are risk averse. We don’t like to be tied to a course, so we keep our options open. The problem is that choices are not really something that can be avoided. And inactivity, “not choosing anything”, is not really an option.


No Choice is A Choice

One of the ways we cope with the overwhelming amount of choices and their potential futures is, ironically, to create new (therefore, more) choices for ourselves. This can be helpful. Weighing all of the available choices can help us to better discover the right one.

The trouble comes when we falsely believe that adding a choice is really avoiding a choice. This is how this can look: we have to decide to break up with a verbally abusive boyfriend or to stay with him. We don’t want to be alone (risk of loneliness) and we don’t want to stay (risk of continued mistreatment). So, we try to avoid the boyfriend and pretend we are not making the choice. But, in essence, we are choosing to stay with him. Take the other side: what if we just “ghost” him and never talk to him again, disappearing into the ether. That, in effect, is a choice to break up. 

If I am choosing between buying a red sweater or a blue sweater and I cannot figure out which I like better, so I decide to avoid having to make the choice by not buying either – in effect, I am creating (and making) a third choice.

The point here is that we cannot avoid our choices. There is no such thing as inactivity. When we try to “avoid” choices, we are trying to sidestep the potential consequences of either choice. In reality, there are also consequences for the choice we DO make. If I don’t choose either sweater, I face the consequence of having no new sweater. 


Facing Risk

In an attempt to avoid risk, we are running around trying to avoid choices. Since that is not possible, we are really making a bunch of new choices. Those new choices sprout up, reproduce exponentially and put a whole new set of choices before us; none of which we can truly ignore.

It is no wonder we are so lost, confused, and overwhelmed by the choices before us. Instead of taking them head on, we sidestep one choice by creating a new one. The original choice may not go away, so now we have the original choice, the new choice made, and the choices that arise from both avoiding the original choice and the ones that sprout as a consequence of what we do choose.

We cannot truly avoid risk. There are not eternally “safe” choices. We need a new paradigm for approaching how we choose.

Instead of basing our choices on what might result in the most comfort (an enigmatic and impossible thing to predict) or trying to avoid committing to one of two paths by manufacturing another, we ought to make our choices grounded in consistency. 

What would it look like if all your choices were guided by a mantra or a set of values? Your choices would likely be more consistent and, in some ways, easier. The risks and unforeseen consequences will still arise, but you will be making choices based on your values and who you are rather than the endless carousel of circumstances.

Whatever you choose, know you are making a choice. You are committing to a path. Whether you want to or not, whether you are trying to or not. So you might as well commit to a path based on the foundation of what matters to you most.

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