In the dozens and dozens of decisions that we must make each day, sometimes (or more of often that), we think to ourselves:


“Yes, I have to do X and I shall.”

And then carry on with whatever we were doing, but acting AS IF we have made a firm decision to do whatever X represents when in reality, we have only considered making the commitment.

When we decide (from the Latin decidere “to decide or determine,” literally “to cut off,” from de– “off” + caedere “to cut”), we cut off and kill options – not wound, not hurt the feelings of, not offend – we kill all other options leaving one choice to pursue.

That root word ‘caedere‘ actually carries other connotations as well -“to strike down”, “to chop”, “to hew”, and “to slay”.

The words decision, incision, fungicide, and dozens more all share the “final” quality of the “-cide” part of the word.

When our decisions are real decisions, a kind of clarity emerges. But when we sort of decide, fake decide, leave our options open, etc. 1,001 kinds of mischief can creep in.

The most “dangerous” kind of mischief comes from delaying making the final decision that cuts off all other options.

When we half way decide or pretend to commit to an action and then delay, time and events then have the opportunity to further water down our commitment by creating circumstances which give “reasons” for not taking action.

To be direct – “The Margin of Mischief” is the tendency of our motivating force, generated while making commitment to a specific act, course of action, to die due to “things” happening; “stuff” occurring; talking ourselves out of what was good and clear, “because…”, “because…”, “because…”

And, if this isn’t bad enough, we can develop a habit of delaying, where the margin of mischief isn’t just a tendency, but a feature of how we operate.

This is how some people create tremendous drag in terms of getting going. It’s like trying to drive with the handbrake engaged.

It’s like trying to leave port with your anchor still dragging on the bottom of the bay.

It’s like trying to run with your arms loaded with packages. It’s an unnecessary overhead that you don’t need.

What we want is to minimize the margin of mischief by bringing meaningful actions in pursuit if our goals into play as soon as possible after we make the firm decision to pursue a particular goal of whatever size.

Even a small, realistic action in pursuit of what we have decided will help keep the margin of mischief from forming.

Fear and hesitation due to uncertainty are ACTION ISSUES – there are things you need to do to find out what the reality is.

Of course, you need a realistic plan if you hope to keep the momentum going.

Take a few minutes and locate those places where you tend to think about making decisions (rather than making them); locate those decisions that you frequently postpone, and locate those decisions that you have every good intention of acting on but don’t seem to get going on.

Make them into a list and then reflect on it.

What kinds of patterns do you see?

Are there certain types of things that you tend to balk at?

Particular classes of decision that always seem to get away from you?

Times or things that bring up explanations of why you don’t/don’t want to/can’t decide, rather than simply deciding?

Pick out three from your list.

For each one, figure out what you want as simply as possible.

If you don’t know what you want, look at what WILL happen if you do nothing; what WON’T happen if you do nothing; what (if anything) you are afraid of in making the decision, and what other alternatives seem to be available.

If you do not develop criteria for making a decision; what makes it good, important, necessary, etc.) – your brain will NOT make the decision for you.

If you have research to do; turn it into a task. If you need education about the thing to decide; find out where or who you can get help from.

Turn “don’t know” into “find out”.

And… from our last post, determine what the very next, meaningful, physical action should be ONCE THE DECISION IS MADE.

If it feels scary or wrong – stop and rethink the decision as in the paragraph above on not knowing.

Fear and hesitation due to uncertainty are ACTION ISSUES – there are things you need to do to find out what the reality is.

It’s your job to do them, find out what needs to be found out, so that you can make the decision one way or the other.

If the next action you determined feels good, then make the decision, and take the action as swiftly as possible.

We need to work on connecting the flow from ‘thinking about’, to deciding, to action, making them flow one after the other.

Eliminating and learning to control the margin of mischief is an important start.

    2 replies to "The Margin of Mischief"

    • Dana Houser

      Great post John. Some great ideas for breaking things down, changing one’s approach and getting things done.

    • John Gilger

      Thanks, Dana. I appreciate the kind words

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