Choosing When You Can’t

A friend was trying to decide whether to stay in a relationship or go. There were plenty of reasons to leave–she didn’t feel heard, she felt belittled, her boyfriend didn’t want to go for counseling and didn’t want her to go either. On the other hand, she had spent  years in the relationship and had put effort into making it work. Her boyfriend was funny and made her laugh, even at herself. Pros and cons, on paper, seemed about equal.

Image from People

Image from People

To stay or to leave? Would leaving seem like giving up? Was she being a quitter instead of someone who worked on her relationships? Was staying in a bad relationship a sign she didn’t care about herself? Couldn’t admit she had made a mistake and move on?

My friend was tortured with her choices. And she kept piling up more reasons on both sides of the issue, but not getting closer to a decision.

“I should be able to sort this out by myself,”she  said. “I don’t know how come I can’t make a decision.”

Decision-making is tough because with the decision comes the consequence. Either staying or leaving brings on next steps.  Often the steps are unclear. So decision making becomes murky.

I gave my friend a coin. “Heads you stay, tails you leave,” I said.
“You’re kidding, right?” she said, looking at me as if I were a sheep on a bicycle, playing a violin.
“Well, this is the simplest way for you to get to a decision. It takes over-thinking out of the problem. Let’s see what happens,” I said.

Image from

Image from

She flipped the coin. Heads. She broke into tears. Hurts and agonies months in the making poured out. I handed her a tissue. At the end of the sobbing came the sentence, “I can’t stay. I’ll die if I stay.” As soon as she sobbed it out, Anne had her answer. By coming up with endless possibilities and choices, Anne has suppressed the answer she already knew. By taking over-thinking out of the pattern that she had developed, she suddenly collided with her emotions and knew the answer she had been suppressing.

My friend left the relationship, and although there were many tears and a few hard days and nights, over time she knew the decision had been right. Looking back she saw that a lot of her indecision was rooted in not wanting to change because change made her feel as uncertain as she felt in staying.

It’s not the tossing of the coin that helped her make a decision, but the emotions that follow it. Emotions often inform clear decisions, because they allow you to focus on what is important to you.

We often block our values because we are scared of honoring them. The coin toss works, even if you know about its purpose, because it make your own feelings clear to you. Our ability to provide many scenarios of the future blocks a clear view sometimes, and tapping into raw emotions provides the only clear view. A coin toss will put you in touch with what you are hiding from yourself. The coin isn’t leading you, the coin gives you permission to see one decision and gauge your choices instead of balancing one pro with another con.

It clears the way to sorting through the issue at hand instead of the fear of making a decision.

-Quinn McDonald is making a lot of decisions about the workbook she is creating for a client. She feels conflicted.


20 thoughts on “Choosing When You Can’t

  1. All ideas are original when you first have them – but that doesn’t mean someone else has not had the same original thought or idea.

    I love the idea that a decision is about to be made and while the coin is in the air you are hoping for it to be the decision you have already come to a conclusion about.

  2. So many things went through my head while reading this post but it was (and usually is) the comments that really get my head spinning.
    As usual, Quinn you have shared a life lesson in this blog. We all face difficult life choices and the tossing of the coin does clear the head and bring the right choice to the fore. It’s easy to vacillate until we are faced with that choice being made for us. Ultimately taking control of our lives (because we know our hearts better than anyone) overcomes.
    We’ve all been faced with that decision that keeps us on the fence, afraid to move, as is evident in the undertone of the comments.
    I guess the lesson here is to keep a quarter in your pocket!

    • Hmm, isn’t that “give no quarter” an old military term? Yes, seeing that coin flip makes us realize that we DO have preferences and don’t want to leave it to a spinning coin. But as long as the fence is comfortable, it’s hard to get off it.

  3. Great analysis of the decision making process of a heart-wrenching life choice! You’re correct: it’s the emotional response to the coin toss that helps unblock the rational tail chasing we do when faced with a decision that will change our lives. I did a great carving for that one time: a dog who has finally caught his tail! The expression is priceless (now what?).

  4. Nelly my dear,

    This is Quinn’s blog post from today. You may find it interesting. I especially liked her comment: “Emotions often inform clear decisions, because they allow you to focus on what is important to you.” Maybe the crying is helping you focus on what you really need to focus on so you CAN move on and cleanse your heartache for one and for all with Nelson.

    Lynne 602.292.0660


  5. I certainly needed this conversation. Just put through the wringer by a roommate who is bailing out with 6 months left on the lease… I cannot believe that she is doing that to our 30 year friendship, but it is her decision. I just have to live with the consequences, financial and emotional. I am afraid that this cancels out our relationship (which was mostly giving on my part) but will have to let everything sit for a period of time before I jettison the relationship.”thanx” for the thought provoking questions

  6. A wise friend once told me to take time with small decisions, but for really big important ones, flip a coin. Now I understand why.

  7. I don’t know where I saw it, but there is a quote out there – ” Toss a coin – while it’s in the air your heart will tell you what result you truly want.”

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