Deciding and Doing


“Decision – To succumb to the preponderance of one set of influences over another set.” Ambrose Bierce

Can we all agree there is a gap between deciding and doing?

As in, what the hell am I going to blog about, and actually blogging?

This space can be wide or narrow depending on the decision one has chosen to make. We have long term goals around things like relationships, occupation, ownership, travel, education, maybe even retirement. Then there are the short gaps when deciding weather to answer a call, read this blog (couldn’t resist), or which nose ring to wear?

Calm down Looney, these are examples, not decisions.

This is a hot topic (not the nose ring), especially in January, when the majority of the population is going berserk with overly ambitious resolutions, declarations, and aspirations. I think I spend more time planning my vacations then my life but that’s just me. The truth is many of us spend a lot of time considering, comparing, cultivating, compromising, and complaining but refuse to take action. What’s up with that?

Fad diets are on the rise in January, along with health club memberships, lifestyle changes, and let’s not snub the war on clutter, which will dissolve faster than the Arctic ice caps if you get my drift. “And all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life,” says Hermann Hesse.

I get it.

I thought by this age I would have it all figured out.

News flash, I don’t, and I think Pope Francis is with me.

The truth is decisions, trivial or momentous, fill our days.

  • Was something there?
  • What was that?
  • What did I miss?
  • What should I do?
  • Should I do it?
  • When to do it?
  • Was it the right choice?

“It’s not about making the right choice. It’s about making a choice and making it right.” J.R. Rim

There are basically two kinds of choices I read about in my narrow band of research. One involves how the brain resolves ambiguity perceived in the environment in which we live, such as calculating someone else’s mood, motivation, intention (and by the way we’re usually wrong), while the other involves how the brain controls action, what to do, and when to do it. See the difference? Go ahead read that again.

It’s all about control, which is a total illusion, but hey I don’t blame you for trying.

Decisions require not only a myriad of invisible processes, informed by our gleaned experience, but also the availability of possible choices, and might I add funds. For example what if there was only Folger’s coffee, no expresso, or mocha shots, no fat free, foam free options, hand filtered, hard pressed, or decaffeinated versions? Life would be a lot easier in my opinion, less costly, with less indigestion.

The point being the fewer the choices the less stressful the decision process.

Now lets agree that ideas travel on vocabulary (I read that somewhere), meaning if words are not used consistently then the idea can be misunderstood, lost if you will. Right? Like this entire blog which half of you have given up on already. Poor resolve people, tsk, tsk.

I’ve been reading the literature on decision making (riveting stuff) and found behavioral neurophysiology is full of words like decision (a conclusion reached after consideration), intention (aim or plan), choices (an act of selecting when two or more possibilities exist), expecting (as likely to happen), attending (pay attention to) and intending (planning to do a specified thing). It’s so damn complicated I almost decided to give up. See what I did there?

But I persevered, wrote the damn blog, you’re welcome.

What do these words mean? Are they different for philosophers, lawyers, or the woman on the street? Because if we can all agree on the definitions then there may be some relevancy for all of us. Can we agree to agree? Good.

“I feel that way right now. Ask me in two or three months and I may change. I don’t think I will. I’m pretty sure that’s my decision.” Michael Jordan

The first thing we have to ask ourselves is if action is a necessary condition of choice? Such a good question. Because if so, a choice is not finished until some basic act is produced, a conversation occurs, a credit card is scanned, a ring is offered, or signature scrawled. Think of the courage it took our Founding Fathers to sign the Declaration of Independence?


You can’t just decide to be gluten free without actively avoiding wheat, or protest the taxation on tea without tossing it into the harbor. There are many examples of choices we don’t choose to act on, some more important than others, like relationships, beliefs, causes, and such. But the decision not to act is quite possibly an action in itself?

Is doing this a necessary condition for choosing this? If you consider relationships for example, is marriage a condition (not a consideration) for choosing someone to date? Hell no and thank the Lord. Two people can meet, cast their nets for each other so to speak, but maybe they’re only fishing, more of a catch and release kind of affiliation? To each her own.

I guess my very belabored question would be this: Without follow through are choices just meaningless processes of the brain?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there is an entire chapter on the meaning of action. As in I have identified that I have to go to the bathroom, I can get up and go, or choose to squirm at my desk. Both actions with different outcomes.

What is an action? What does it mean to do something? One approach is to consider what occurs when we voluntarily act? In the classroom when I pose a question to my students they have to decide if they know the answer or not (many do and choose not to respond), if they want to speak or not (some raise their hand without knowing the answer), while others are watching a disney movie on their iPhone. Every one of these choices involve a deliberate action (or inaction) and they have consequences.

“In leadership, life and all things it’s far wiser to judge people by their deeds than their speech – their track record rather than their talk”  Rasheed Ogunlaru”

As we can see choices are not actions themselves, thought is inactive, effort can be too (as in it takes effort to think). And although effort is not always action it does define how the action will be performed. Effort modifies action like adjectives modify nouns. A student can raise a hand without thinking, or visa versa, think without raising their hand.

According Chapin & Nicolelis, choice is always a choice of some action, and we cannot exert our will unless it is the will with which we act or try to act. I think that is super important. Could we all just pause and snap our fingers for a bit?

Just being in the world is a privilege but we also get to actively participate with every decision we act on. It’s called free will and it’s a gift.

This is where the love fits in, in the gap, the space between impetus and action. It’s an opportunity, not a given, and this is where our choices take center stage, covering not only our actions, as if frosting on a cake, but imbuing our character with the essence of love.

Our actions have consequences, intentional, or not. Are we not only responsible for the consequences of our actions, but what about the interpretation of our actions, or reception of said actions, especially when it is not what we intended? For example when telling an off-color joke at a Presbyterian convention, you thought you were being funny, but unintentionally offended eighty percent of the people in the room, and now you feel misunderstood. You can apologize, slither out to freshen up your drink, or sulk in the corner. Your call.

“In eternity there is no time, only an instant long enough for a joke.” Hermann Hesse

If our intentions play a critical role in how our actions are interpreted then it seems there are some actions which, at least in certain circumstances, cannot be done unintentionally. This happens in life and the classroom. I’ve just given a riveting lecture (matter of opinion) on the nature of God, I’ve posed an intriguing question, a students is wildly waving her hand, I think I finally have them all in the palm of my hand, and she says, “can I go to the bathroom.” Really?

I realize this is a total failure to love. Squirm!

One thing to consider is that intentions may or may not be realized. I’m not aways intentional when I speak, drive, write (sadly), or purchase something. I slammed my credit card down at a local wine bar recently, ordered two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, when Larry really wanted a nice pour of Tempranillo. Who knew? Having an intention involves conceiving an action (I’m going to order two glasses of wine), in the process of realizing a desired goal (quenching our thirst), I think it’s accomplished, only I got the varietal wrong. Story of my life.

Once we set up our resolutions for the year, these become intentions, like it or not, this is what we call a consequence of deliberation, which then leads to a choice, which requires action. Have you read If you give a Mouse a Cookie? Richard Thaler says “as the importance of a decision grows, the tendency to rely on quantitative analyses done by others tends to shrink. When your future is on the line, people tend to rely on their gut instincts.

“Wishing is nice but doing is better.” Akiroq Brost

So let me dissolve all your delusions about resolutions right here and now. There is a gap and you are living in it. You are the composite of all the work performed in the gap. Intentions resulting from deliberation and choice develop explicitly, consciously, and this kind of intention involves your character, the way in which you move in the world. Yes indeed. Maybe when we whittle it down to the marrow, cultivating love gives you clarity and compassion for life, and when your actions happen in accordance with that which you resolve, your love spills into the world.

Love appears to be the ladder which leads one out of the gap. As Hermann Hesse reminds us, we are not going in circles, we are going upwards.

I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll deliberate.



  • “To hold our tongues when everyone is gossiping, to smile without hostility at people and institutions, to compensate for the shortage of love in the world with more love in small, private matters; to be more faithful in our work, to show greater patience, to forgo the cheap revenge obtainable from mockery and criticism: all these are things we can do. ” Hermann Hesse
  • “Each man (inclusive) had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself….His task was to discover his own destiny – not an arbitrary one – and to live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.” Herman Hesse
  • “Not in his speech, not in his thoughts, I see his greatness, only in his actions, in his life.” Hermann Hesse


Leave a Comment

  1. I am a big resolution-maker, but I am the type who keeps her resolutions. I also am very quick to make decisions, unlike many people. I’ve recently realized I have an unusual personality type, haha! Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Serena! You are an unusual personality type, but one that would be inspirational to hang around with. Best of luck to you in the New Year, may we all be more proactive when making decisions that are good for us and those in our world. All my best, Cheryl


  2. I’m not a resolution person. I extend my goal setting throughout the year. ANY day is a good day to start a new project, set a new goal, adopt a new perspective, etc. I like to think of it as adjusting as the need arises. Definitely agree that there is a difference between deciding to do something and doing it. Absolutely. The real dilemma is how to get from one to the other and that is different for everyone.


    1. I love this Lisa “adjusting as the need arises,” and I totally agree. This is how I move in the world. I enjoy thinking about the year, making a few projections as to travel, work, writing but as you know life slips in and has it’s own plans. I’m in favoring of honoring these unexpected challenging even if it means tossing my own plans. Thanks for the comment Lisa!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting post! Dealing with anxiety, making decisions tend to stress me out more than others. I’m always worried about the extra stress I may cause myself when I make a decision. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Beth! Thank you for joining me in the comments! I thought this was an interesting topic for January as many of us get off to a roaring start and and sort of peter out by February. I like to scan each day for opportunities and assess the damages as they come! All my best to you, Cheryl


    1. Greetings Heidi! I love your idea, break those big chunks into manageable pieces! I agree, this seems much more manageable, and easier on the nerves. It’s a slower pace and you can jump off anytime! Bravo! I’m all in!


    1. Thank you Kez! I not big on resolutions either, I’m what they call a reactive, and not always in a good way, but at least I am able to respond to that which is in front of me. Thanks so much for the comment! All my best, Cheryl


  4. Hello Cheryl!
    I continue to marvel at your fulfilling and adventurous life!
    I feel compelled to reply to this post. However, it is a post that required several readings and some deeper thoughts. Hence the two-week gap between deciding to reply and actually replying (so yes we can all agree there is a GAP.) I do find it ironic, that you, of all people, would write a blog about failing to act. I mean, it must take intense effort and will power to write a varied, extensive, well written, interesting blog every week. Failure to get things done is not on your problem list.
    I believe this entry is severely under-rated (who rates these things?) You cut right to the chase on a serious topic. This post could lead to serous discussions on motivation, initiation of action, reasons to live, how apathy can take over (this can be done around a fire with some really nice vino.) After touching on deep topics, you reel us back to a humorous reality with your enraptured student requesting permission to use the sand-box.
    So, what does compel people to act? The basics…hunger, cold (need for warmth) sex (a biologic imperative,) fear, greed, pain and love. What fosters inactivity? Fear, greed, apathy, fatigue/exhaustion, depression, paralysis of analysis and of course pain. So why did I not respond to this blog sooner? Fatigue, exhaustion (Mojito’s in Key West can do that.) Anyway, enough excuses.
    Love how you decisively bought the 2 glasses of Sauv Blanc. And of course, when it turned into a mistake, you quickly adjusted and bought 2 Tempranillos for Larry leaving you with the whites. (quick thinker are you!) Thankfully, Nancy was driving?
    I tried to dive into your paragraph on Give a Mouse a Cookie, but I just kept thinking about Gail reading it to our kids and also our granddaughter. Great book. But what does it mean? Is it a commentary on self-reliance? Is it a sideways/stealth look at the value of social welfare programs? I generally agree with the gist of the book, but have some caveats. If you give a “mouse” a cookie, it may lead to many future needs, but if the mouse truly needs a cookie, and you help said mouse, then someday that mouse may return the favor to you or someone you love. You get the benefit of feeling good about your act, while at the same time the world is a little better. This ties in nicely with your thoughts regarding “cultivating love,” which gives you a “compassion for life,” and “your love spills into the world.” However, if giving the mouse a cookie becomes an institutionalized routine event, you can be left with some mice that have become dependent with no self-esteem, and no self-worth.
    Love it that you wrapped it up with Stairway….
    And I quote “Yes there are 2 paths you can go by, but in the long run there’s still time to change the road your on.” Redemption?
    For the die-hards, my favorite onion article:
    And don’t get me started on Herman Hesse. Bet you could write a whole blog on his quote “ Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.
    Lastly with the recent passing of the world’s best drummer, I would be remiss in not giving a shout out to the lyrical genius of Neil Peart.

    “You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. …… I will choose free will.”

    Looking forward to seeing you rock the nose ring!
    Go Niners!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello Mike! Oh my, I’ve missed bantering with you in the comments, I figured you were down in the keys somewhere, slurping down Mojito’s, and catching fish! Welcome back my friend. I’m always in search of topics for blog posts. I never have anything prepared in advance, I literally write one each week, praying that something fruitful happens that I can use. When that fails I listen to my office mates, my children, my friends, even my husband, or the news and see if there’s something of interest out there that I can use. On slow weeks I’m in an absolute panic by Tuesday evening every damn week but I try not to complain. Bahaha

    This week as I was walking to my car with the philosophy teacher at Notre Dame she was talking about the difference between deciding and doing. It was like one sentence but she is sort of a muse for me. I got home and started researching. It was gold to my eyes. I thought it was so interesting and could not believe this post got off to such a slow start. People sort of warmed up to it and I saw views adding up by weeks end. Whew!

    Then your comment appeared! WhootHoot! Love you stuff on what compels people to act. I totally agree but the thing that I find intriguing is how often we chose not to act even when we have motive? I do it myself especially when it comes to inconvenient or controversial causes, political discussions, or sensitive issues. I go dormant. What am I afraid of? Maybe I fear full disclosure? Allowing people to really know who I am? I don’t know why because I’m not that scary even my dark places. I suppose I fear ridicule and judgement like most people. I am Swedish so staying neutral comes naturally.

    I’ve never considered the Give a Mouse a Cookie theology as being a commentary on self reliance or the welfare system? Interesting? I’ll have to read that one again with new eyes.

    Always so much food for thoughts embedded in your comments Mike, thank you for diving in and tackling this one. I’m every so appreciative. Love the attached song and article both go well with my nose ring!


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