When I was unemployed in San Francisco after the dot-com bust, not only was I unemployed, I was also in a horribly unhealthy relationship. He would break it off saying he needed time to sort out his thoughts, walk around the block, come back and tell me breaking it off was the wrong decision – let’s get back together. Exhausted from job searching, from trying to make ends meet, I minimized his antics.
A childhood friend, sensing my need to get away to gain perspective, bought me a plane ticket to visit. Lying on the bed in her guest bedroom, finally getting a moment of peace, I called my boyfriend and broke off my dysfunctional relationship. Yes, I know, over the phone is impersonal, but ending this relationship required a firm exit – the option to hang up, to walk out and no longer engage.
What had I been thinking? Why had I allowed it to go on for so long? Studies of decision making demonstrate that stress increases the likelihood of making a risky decision. Stress can positively impact the quality of decisions made up to a threshold at which too much stress leads to poor decisions. Overly stressed decision makers search for a solution in a frenzied craze, process information in a disorganized fashion, and jump from one solution to another. Stressed decision makers are also less likely to perceive all of their available alternatives. I didn’t perceive ending my relationship as a good alternative. Unemployed, I was in search of consistency, failing to realize my relationship was nothing but inconsistent.
I had not considered that ending the relationship was the least dramatic decision – a benchmark question another friend of mine always offered as a reflection on the assumption that a dramatic decision will likely lead only to more drama. So in your pursuit of figuring out your fulfillment, during those times you feel close to unraveling, I would advise you to stop, slow down, and ask yourself – What is the least dramatic decision?