Push Through or Move on

How do you determine when to push through or move on? This is an issue that keeps rearing its head for me and for others I know. It’s often discussed regarding intimate relationships or life partners, but it comes up in every area – business, finance, sports, career, parenting, friendships, recreation, and healthcare.

I’ve been reading and rereading a policy I’ll be voting on this week. I’ve seen this policy before – more than once. I pushed for changes and got a meeting with the stakeholders. Some things were changed. Some were not. I felt like that was progress.

Now I see that most of the changes I fought for are gone and the policy disregards the segment I represent more than it did the first time around. It’s not particularly surprising. Change is a constant battle in certain organizations.

But I’m a volunteer. I’m giving time and energy that might be better directed to organizations that are more receptive. And yet, the entities most resistant to change are typically the ones that most need it. Knowing that makes me feel like I should push back again.

I also realize there is a point at which pushing back creates more resistance. I can hold up a vote, but I have no real authority within the organization. I can be circumvented with a simple procedural change.

The problem in this particular instance is that the stakeholders with the most power are not concerned how this policy affects my constituents. In the past two years, many of us have had the opportunity to see this kind of disregard in action.

No policy will be perfect for everyone it affects. But when husbands, wives, CEOs, legislators, law enforcement officials, physicians, or parents lack regard for those who are governed by their policies, it becomes more likely that rules will be created that result in real harm.

I am attempting to lessen that possibility. But I’m doing so from a position with limited power and authority. And I can easily be replaced. This is a singular situation, but also a recurring theme and it always leads to the question:

How can you know when to let go?

There’s no way to be absolutely sure how any situation will play out so there’s no absolute answer to this question. The best you can do is approach the decision mindfully, exploring as many sides as you can see (the more, the better). In other words, when you can step back and incorporate many points of view, your decision will be more informed.

You can also gather input from other sources. While this is helpful, it’s important to make a decision you feel comfortable owning. If you allow another’s opinion to influence you to do something you can’t feel peace about, the decision will continue to haunt you.

Many people may advise you to make a pro/con list. That can be helpful in showing you whether you see more positive than negative about moving on or pushing through, but the items on the list may follow the human bias for justifying our actions while taking the easy way out.

Here are a few questions you may want to consider when deciding to push through or move on. The situation will help you determine which ones apply.

What are my intentions? Which action is more in line with my intentions?

What are the risks of pushing through? What are the rewards? Do the rewards align with my values?

What are the risks of moving on? What are the rewards? Do the rewards align with my values?

What will I lose if I move on? What will I gain? Which aligns more with my values?

Have I been in a similar situation in which I regretted my decision? Why did I regret it? Do I feel a need to do things differently this time? Would doing things differently be a selfish decision, or would it benefit all parties?

Can I live with myself if I move on at this point or will I feel I have neglected my duty or failed to work through some issue I need to resolve?

Do I believe I have done everything I can do and further action on my part will be more destructive than helpful?

Is there another person who may be better suited to play my role from this point forward?

Is it costing me too much to continue this work or this relationship?

Would a short break give me the perspective I need? Can I take a break and come back to the decision?

How much is fear guiding my decision? (This is a good question to ask when anger is what I feel.) Can I sit with the fear until I’m more clear on its role?

If I feel strongly about the path I should take, but am afraid, can I enlist an advocate? Who would that advocate be?

If I need allies to affect change, should I redirect my energy to building an alliance?

Do I recognize that making no decision is actually making a decision? Am I able to set a deadline for making a decision and then remove the pressure and allow myself to process through all the feelings around it?

Am I keeping in mind that behind all policies are human beings?

Humans can be kind, supportive, inclusive, and compassionate. They can also be cruel, sadistic, dismissive, manipulative, and selfish. Sometimes the cruelty is a deliberate choice. Sometimes, it’s an inadvertent result of a lack of awareness. Raising awareness will most likely have the most lasting positive effect in any given situation. But it won’t automatically make someone care about an issue you believe they should care about.

Sometimes the moment requires a strong stand. Sometimes, it requires subtle pressure over a long period of time. And sometimes, it requires walking out the door and letting go. I’ll be keeping all of this in mind as I decide my response to the policy I’m reviewing.

I wish I knew whether to push through or move on. I don’t. But I am confident I will be at peace with my decision once I make it because I trust my process.

Decision Inertia

Does decision inertia contribute to food choices? At Cooking2Thrive, we’ve long observed that adherence to specific dietary restrictions is not necessarily about the availability of compliant food or even delicious choices. While those “reasons” may dominate the rhetoric, they often don’t match actual situational decision-making.

Fear of change is terminology commonly used to explain a lack of dietary compliance. But we all encounter change every day and are able to adapt with minimal resistance which makes me wonder if that terminology accurately and adequately addresses resistance to healthy decisions. Decision inertia feels more accurate.

And while it goes without saying that behavior patterns will be individual, myriad, and layered, a willingness to sort through our particular situation and motivation is the way each of us can find a healthier path forward. For some of us, decision inertia is an important layer to consider.

What is it?

A study published in 2016, described decision inertia as “the tendency to repeat a previous choice, regardless of its outcome, in a subsequent decision.”

The significant phrase seems to be regardless of its outcome.

Why would we repeat a choice even if it has led to a poor outcome previously?

The same study cites a study (1) by Erev and Haruvy that concludes: “…there exists a strong tendency to simply repeat the most recent decision, which is even stronger than the tendency to react optimally to the most recent outcome.” 

The 2016 study seems to indicate that “this behavioral tendency is positively associated with an individual’s preference for consistency, and that the effect of decision inertia is stronger in voluntary choices than in required choices.”

How does this relate to food choices?

In general, it seems that when we’re just rocking along in life, we’ll tend to make the same decision over and over at different times and in different settings unless we believe we HAVE to make a different choice. That certainly seems true with food choices. We tend to repeatedly cook and eat our favorites. And they creep into our shopping carts even if they’re not on the list.

On the other hand, if you get food poisoning from eating at a certain restaurant, you’ll probably be less willing to eat at that restaurant because you believe you MUST make a different choice in order to avoid severe discomfort. The same is most likely true if you’ve had a severe allergic reaction to a food. Avoiding that food may feel voluntary until you suddenly can’t breathe. At that point, your understanding of “mandatory” avoidance of that food can shift swiftly and radically.

What about when a doctor recommends a certain diet?

Even if a doctor explains the risks, a recommendation can sound voluntary. And with voluntary decisions, we’re more likely to make the same choices we’ve always made. Even when we learn those decisions aren’t healthy, we often default to the comfort of consistency.

Can this be changed?

Of course it can. We are all ultimately in control of our decisions and we are all capable of change.

Awareness is the beginning.

Making mindful decisions and recording the outcome over a period of time can help you see patterns you may not have noticed. If you approach this with a sense of curiosity, you may learn you have some amusing tendencies. Once you’ve identified decision-making patterns, you can more easily determine what stands in the way of choosing a more healthy path.

Create a disruption.

If you can’t find a way to make yourself believe a healthy decision is mandatory, you can at least change the process so that there’s a greater chance you’ll notice when you’re about to repeat an unhealthy decision.

For example:

  • Store unhealthy snacks in a location that’s locked or requires a ladder.
  • Put items containing gluten on the “never” list on your grocery delivery service if a gluten-free diet has been recommended.
  • Eat a healthy option before you eat one that’s not recommended. The slight delay as well as the satisfaction of having eaten something may be enough to dissuade you from reverting to your former choice.

Stick with it.

Once you’ve observed, recorded, and determined ways to motivate yourself or disrupt your habits, stick with it. Eventually, the new decision will become the more consistent default.

Now’s the time.

The new year is a great time to explore decision inertia!

(1) Erev I., Haruvy E. (in press). Learning the economics of small decisions, in The Handbook of Experimental Economics, Volume 2, eds Kagel J. H., Roth A. E. (Princeton: Princeton University Press; )

Can You Pivot?

When things don’t turn out as planned, can you pivot? Today, I thought I was going to make enchilada sauce. Over an hour into the process, I realized there was no way my combination of ancho and pasilla chiles, charred vegetables, marjoram and Mexican oregano was going to turn out like any enchilada sauce I’ve ever tasted or hoped to make. The flavors had potential, but not as the end product I’d planned.
I face similar situations regularly. No matter how meticulously I plan, things change. I can either let that throw me, or I can pivot. At those moments, I usually remember my grandmother saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Hearing that over and over let me know that it was not unusual to have to look for another solution.

Changing course is not always easy. Sometimes it requires significant physical, mental, or emotional effort. But with life throwing challenges my way, the ability to pivot has made me less wasteful, more efficient, more creative, more knowledgeable, more confident, and infinitely more resilient. This is true when I’m developing recipes, but it is also true throughout all areas of my life.

Pivoting requires engagement, flexibility and decision making. If I had been determined to end up with enchilada sauce, my efforts would have been wasted. An hour of wasted time with my current schedule can mean I must say no to lunch with a friend or rearrange anticipated down time. That would feel discouraging.

Being able to see potential in the work I’d done allowed me to make a subtle shift that turned the effort into an acceptable mole sauce that can be easily tweaked into perfection. Visualizing a different outcome is one component of a graceful pivot.

Recognizing I’m in a moment that could benefit from a shift comes even before visualization. That was pretty clear to me when adding salt didn’t head the sauce in the right direction. My taste buds called for sweet and something to mellow the bitter overtones. Honey, anise, and chocolate all fit that bill.

Connecting my taste instincts with my food knowledge led to an immediate association of the sauce on my stove and mole sauce. Exploring that thought excited me because most of the jarred mole sauce I’ve found in stores contains crackers or bread. I added a few ingredients to see if my visualized flavor profile would work as I anticipated. It did!

I recorded the changes in the recipe plus a few that I think will improve it next time. Of course, I also had to revise the dish I had planned for dinner. My enchilada pie turned into enmolada pie. It wasn’t that much of a shift and didn’t require a trip to the store.

The pivot, which included recognition of my dilemma, connection to a possible change, exploration of that change, visualization of a new end product, and implementation of the new plan, allowed me to turn a kitchen failure into a successful recipe albeit not the anticipated one.

Imagine what that did for my mood, energy level, and motivation! Instead of feeling defeated or discouraged, I felt excited about all the dishes I can make with mole. Woohoo, my mind is now moving full speed ahead!

The ability to absorb, process, and turn unfortunate events into positive momentum is what allowed a pharmacist I know to purchase and grow his pharmacy into the largest in the county seat, marry and have two beautiful children, and become a pillar of the community in spite of having had polio as a child that rendered him minimal use of his legs.

Instead of viewing his disability as something to hide, he chose to showcase his amazing upper body strength — a pivot that clearly fed positive momentum into the rest of his life. I think of his example each time I walk into his pharmacy.

A willingness to pivot is important for businesses too. If Anheuser-Busch had not reimagined its end product during Prohibition, there would most likely be no Bud Light, Franziskaner, Natty Daddy, or Rolling Rock today. Someone at Molex had to envision a future beyond flower pots and salt tablet dispensers for the company to begin to manufacture electrical appliances. We don’t always notice when a business innovates, but we certainly notice when it doesn’t. We soon become dissatisfied and move on.

It’s common to resist change. But things change whether or not we’re resistant. Hurricanes, floods, fire, and tornadoes reshape communities. Acute or chronic health problems arrive. Spouses leave. Jobs are lost. Violence touches our families. Any of these things can happen at a moment’s notice when we have done nothing wrong. It is at those moments that pivoting becomes a critical skill.

We all want to emerge from shock, trauma, loss, and grief feeling optimistic, energetic, positive, and poised for joy. We all can, but some of us don’t know that we can or don’t know how to get from A to B. That path starts with a simple pivot away from the devastation and toward the possibilities created by that devastation.

I feel fortunate that I can pivot both in and out of the kitchen, but the ability was hard earned. Some tough circumstances early in my life led me to hone this skill. While I’m not all that grateful for some of those circumstances, I am grateful for the resulting resilience. Enough so that I would encourage you to develop this skill even if you don’t see its merits right now.

Sometimes the stakes are much higher than enchilada sauce vs mole.