Solving the Ping-Pong Effect: What to Do When You Can’t Decide What to Do


It goes something like this:

You’re unhappy with your work.  Then one day, you have an idea for a better job.  You get excited about the idea, and you start to explore it.

At some point in your exploration you discover potential drawbacks.  You feel less excited.  Then you have an idea for another job that might be even better.  You get excited again.

Until you come across potential drawbacks about that idea.  You go back to the first idea.  You get excited, then unexcited, first about one idea, then about the other, over and over again.

Six months later, you’re still in the same job, still unhappy.

I call this the Ping-Pong Effect.

I’m intimately familiar with the Ping-Pong Effect myself.  I can’t tell you how many decisions I’ve talked myself into and then out of within the span of 5 minutes.  That’s why it’s so easy for me to recognize it in others.

For example, I had a client approach me once because he couldn’t decide what to do next in his life and career.  He was an art director and an artist and was considering freelancing, but he worried it wouldn’t provide enough financial security for his family.  Soon afterward, he was offered a job at a technology company in San Francisco, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to move, and he didn’t know if it would allow him enough free time to work on his art.

He was ping-ponging back-and-forth between the options and couldn’t decide which one was better, which one felt right.

The reason we can’t decide

Antonio Demasio is a neuroscientist who studied people who had brain injuries that left them unable to feel emotions.  Through his research, he found an unexpected result of such injuries: the people who could no longer feel their feelings had a much harder time making decisions, even simple ones.

In a televised interview, Demasio describes how one of his patients struggled with the decision of which restaurant to go to, arguing on the one hand that there would be more space and better service at a spot with fewer people, and how on the other hand that might be an indication that the restaurant wasn’t any good.

Without access to his emotions, this man could endlessly list the pros and cons of each option, but he couldn’t decide which was the better choice.

Demasio concluded that emotions are integral not just to making good decisions, but also to “what we construct as wisdom over time.”

It’s not all in your head.

When we ping-pong, we’re usually trying to solve a problem purely by thinking about it.  We’re not drawing from our other two sources of information and wisdom: our emotional and somatic (or body) intelligence.

Our brains are capable of rationalizing anything; they’re also prone to fear, worry, and doubt.  Our emotions, on the other hand, however irrational they may seem, are direct indicators of our heart’s desires.  And our bodies, in their own quiet way, have a wisdom of their own, supporting intuition and giving us a “gut sense” of what feels right.

Integrated together, our heads, hearts, and bodies provide everything you could ever want in a state-of-the-art guidance system: they’re comprehensive, highly accurate, and always available.

By listening to them, we can always find the best answer, every time.

Remember the indecisive art director?

Through our work together, he increased his ability to read his emotional and somatic intelligence.  (It is a skill that requires practice, and unfortunately it’s not something we’re taught in school.)

When he consulted head, heart, and body together, he found that his indecision melted away and the choice became clear: he wanted to freelance and use his free time to invest more in his own art.

He followed his inner guidance and experienced benefits he couldn’t have anticipated.  To start with, he worked on lots of projects he was interested in and well-paid for, and he showed his art several times in well-received events.

He also did some projects with the company that had wanted to hire him.  They got to know him, and he got to know them.  And then one day they offered him a different job doing exactly what he wanted in a highly paid position they designed especially for him.

And when he checked in with head, heart, and body, they all said hell yes.

Listen to your heart (and your gut).

You can discover your own “hell yes” by learning how to draw on your emotional and somatic intelligence.  Here’s how:

Decision Log Exercise

For the next two weeks, keep a Decision Log.  Pause twice a day and think back over the decisions you’ve made, such as what you ate for breakfast, what you chose to work on first after arriving at work, or whether or not to have a conversation with a friend about something that’s bothering you.

For each decision, record:

  1. What thoughts led you to make the decision you did
  2. What emotions led you to choose as you did
  3. What body sensations led to your particular choice (Was it tension in your chest?  Relaxation in your belly?  Heat, cold, numbness, energy, heaviness, tingling, lifting, or anything else?)

You may not know at first what emotions or body sensations led to your decision.  That’s okay.  We only really learn to do this through practice, so start paying more attention to your feelings and body and keep at it.

After you record this as best you can for each decision, go back to previous decisions and record the result: What actually happened?  Were you happy with the result?

Do this for two weeks.  After the two weeks are up, read through your Decision Log and see if you notice any patterns in your decision-making:

  • How did your feelings help or hinder good decision-making?  In what ways did your emotions indicate what you wanted and what was the best choice?
  • How did your body sensations help or hinder good decision-making?  What body sensations were present when something didn’t feel right to you?  What body sensations were present when something did feel right?
  • How did your thoughts help or hinder good decision-making?

Whatever your answers are, if you do this with consistency and sincerity, you’ll learn a lot about how your head, heart, and body indicate what’s right for you.

Learn How to Use Your Full Intelligence

Most of us don’t know how to decipher our emotional or somatic intelligence—it’s not something we’re taught in school.  But you can learn.

I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment designed to help you learn how to listen to your full intelligence, discover what you’re meant to do in the world, and get started actually doing it.

To find out more, schedule a free 1:1 call with me. We’ll illuminate your goals, clarify your challenges, and discuss what each program involves and how it can help. You’ll get clear about what you need to do to overcome the Ping-Pong Effect and discover the path that’s right for you.There’s no cost for the call and no obligation to buy anything. Click here to apply for your free call today.



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Photo credit: Faruk Ates // CC

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