The importance of wiggle room

Giving yourself some wiggle room, cutting yourself some slack, or being gentle to yourself, is likely to help you make better decisions in times of great uncertainty.

Here is a sample of questions I’ve recently heard from readers, clients, friends and relatives:

  • Should I fly to visit my elderly parent?
  • Should I travel far and pay higher tuition to attend a college or stay closer to home given that both options are likely to hold classes online?
  • Given high unemployment, should I stay at my job even though I hate it even more than ever?

These are a variation of one good question I’ve heard over the past few months: How do I decide when there is so much uncertainty?

wiggle room
Are you leaving some wiggle room in your mind?

Of course, the answer is an unsatisfying “it depends.” The “right answer” will depend on the person’s preferences, resources, values and circumstances.

And, note, I did not say “best answer.” We can’t possibly know what that could be. And, it doesn’t make sense to try to find what’s “best” since it doesn’t exist. We rarely have the opportunity, let alone the ability, to identify, simulate and compare outcomes of complex life choices side by side, as we can printers.

Two things to avoid

First, beware of the scarcity mindset. In their book Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How it Defines Our Lives (Amazon / Bookshop)*, MacArthur genius grant winner Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir describe how believing that a resource (e.g. time, money, food, etc.) is scarce hijacks our minds so that we get tunnel vision. It also reduces our bandwidth, prompting us to make poorer decisions.

For example, when parents believe that there are not enough spots on sports teams or at certain schools, they are more likely to become preoccupied with the scarcity and even inadvertently neglect other aspects of their child’s needs or development.

When we hear that there are toilet paper shortages, we are suddenly fearful of running out of something we rarely paid attention to.

Second, don’t add to your decision fatigue. The pandemic has disrupted so many of our routines causing us to decide on things we did not have to before: How should I get groceries? When can I go to the laundry room in my apartment building? Where can I find a quiet place to work? Should I call my doctor? Can I order pizza?

When we’ve had to make a lot of choices, our bandwidth to make bigger decisions is depleted. And, we’re likely to be crankier!

How to create wiggle room

To avoid a shrinking bandwidth or tunnel vision, here are some suggestions for creating some wiggle room in your decision making.

  • Try to think of a diversity of options. That is, do not limit yourself to yes vs. no or this vs. that. One way to do this is to make a temporary choice or stagger the options. Another way might be to come up with a hybrid solution or additional options you had not thought of before.
  • Similarly, don’t try to take on the burden of the decision making on your own. It helps to talk to other people. But, rather than get their opinions on your choice, have them help you brainstorm options or reasoning you haven’t thought of before.
  • Give yourself a break from making a lot of decisions right now. Consider making decisions earlier in the day when you are not fatigued.

Think of wiggle room as extra breaths you can take or buffer zones that keep you safe. These will allow you to feel more expansive and a bit more in control during times of uncertainty.

And, of course, if you would like some assistance with any of this, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

*Some of the links on this page are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission, but at no cost to you.