I Waited Too Long to Kill Him: How Indecision Can Be Fatal

how to make a decision

The dreams are less frequent with time, but they still haunt me. 

This dream is real and the stakes were high.

Perhaps our dreams are a message—our subconscious trying slap us in the face.

This one is about indecision.

I probably should have died.

Those are the stakes when you start to pull the trigger.

This stuff makes me uncomfortable to talk about. 

In fact, I’m not sure if you can handle it because most pretend this doesn’t happen. But it does and it requires a different perspective on life.

Let me tell you the story.Stick with me and I will connect the dots at the end.

Here’s where it started

Adam 21, Adam 27, man with a gun. 500 North “U” St. Stand-by for further.”

Copy. One block away,” I said. 

Adam 21, Adam 27, unknown party reports man with gun in the street. Possibly suicidal. No further.”

I parked in the alley and pulled my AR15 out of my trunk—the civilian version of the U.S. Military’s infantry weapon.

I met my partner in the alley and we said nothing. We had worked together long enough to communicate without words. 

We stayed in the shadows and walked toward where he was last seen.

We paused and looked at each other. 

Around the next corner, across the street, was supposed to be the man with the gun.

We rounded that corner.

To our horror the man with the gun was sitting under a tree five feet in front of us. 

We expected him to be on the other side of the street. It usually works out that way. We lost the chance to hide behind the cars.

With two assault rifles aimed at the man, we ordered him to lie face down. 

He ignored us and sat with his hands hidden in a bulky jacket. He looked through us with the 1000 yard stare.

In reality, the rest of the story lasted seconds. Much less than it will take you to read. My dream drags on as well.

This is the turning point.

The point where a decision has to be made. Mine, my partner’s, or the man with the gun.

If you’ve never faced life or death decisions, let me explain how the brain works. First it slows down and processes things like a slow motion movie.

Split seconds seem to pass like minutes. Your brain searches through your memory for a formula to apply to the unfolding scenario. It’s like digging through a file cabinet as fast as possible looking for the instruction manual.

If the instructions do not exist, it starts processing past experiences and indoctrinated messages—both good and bad—right and wrong.

In those split seconds, my mind processed a lot:

I will probably die if I do nothing

He may be unarmed—Who called the police? A neighbor? Maybe the guy sitting in front of me. 

Whoever shoots first, lives, the other probably dies. If we wait for the man to pull the gun, we die. It is impossible to react quickly enough. The real world is not like TV.

The OODA loopIn combat the brain must first Observe, Orient, and Decide before it can take Action. 

Each of these steps represents time. In a fight, the aggressor is most likely to win. The defender is always behind.

Law suits / Prison—There is not a cop in the U.S. who does not fear lawsuits, internal affairs, and even prison. It’s a bigger fear than death for most cops.

Retreat—Backing up was a bad move. Giving up the dominate position, risk tripping or taking our eyes off him were dangerous options.

This is a lot to process in a fractions of a second.

We repeatedly ordered him to lie down. He continued staring ahead.

Make a decision or I die.

I moved my right index finger from the hard metallic frame of the rifle to the spongy trigger. I started squeezing the slack out of the trigger.

I wondered what was going through my partner’s mind. If I fired first, he’d likely follow instinctively, as would I.

It happened

My first instinct was to pull the trigger, but I waited too long evaluating my options.

The man jumped up and into a firing platform. He stood in the Weaver shooting stance, similar to a martial arts position.

He put his hands together and pointed it at us.

I saw the light reflect off of it. I was behind on the OODA loop. My indecision turned me from being the aggressor to the defender.

He leveled it at my face. Only a foot away. It was too late.

I made a tactical error.

What I’m about to share may surprise you. Perhaps shock you. Perhaps you will dislike me, but it is the truth.

Tactically, pulling the trigger long before he jumped up was the right move, but I did not do it. 

That is what haunts me. 

I would have been legally justified, many would say morally too.

The pacifists would disagree.

No one died that night. 

My partner later died in the line of duty, just not that day, so the stakes are real.

The man pointed his cell phone at us. He was committing suicide. 

Our indecision saved his life. In hindsight, it is easy to say we made the right choice, but I disagree. 

If you have not been in these situations, you will not understand.

That’s not the point.

We were lucky, but a strategy of hope is naïve.


The story has a happy ending, except that occasionally it keeps me up at night.

Your first instinct is almost always the right one.

I have studied hundreds of highly successful people and they tend to have something in common. They take in the available information, process it quickly, and take fast action.

Successful people are decisive.

It is counter intuitive, but it makes sense. 

Winners fail often. They fail quickly. That is how they get to the winning formula faster.

Losers are paralyzed processing information. They never make a decision. They are too afraid of making the wrong one.

Indecision almost always leads to poor decisions, or even worse, no decision. 

If you are not convinced read Malcolm Galdwell’s book “Blink.” It would be an injustice to summarize it here.

Although it worked out that day, I think I made a mistake—hence the dreams. 

Before I retired from law enforcement, my number one job was to survive. Number two was everyone else.

I lost control of that situation by being indecisive. I allowed a crazy person to decide my fate.

We all do this at times. More often than we realize. 

There are things we want to do, but we don’t.

Instead we think about them. Deliberate the options. Obsess about the risks. Allow our fears to control our choices.

Most of our fears are irrational, but they control us. We allow the insecure lunatic that lives inside each of us to control our fate.

You are no longer the aggressor when consumed by fear. You become reactive. Behind the curve playing a losers game.

Thoreau was right. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Today is an important day.

It’s the first day of the rest of your life.

Don’t waste it.

If you enjoyed this, check out my latest book 

Shots Fired: The Psychology Behind Officer Involved Shootings.”


43 Replies to “I Waited Too Long to Kill Him: How Indecision Can Be Fatal”

  1. I must say in certain areas (not all) this is a downfall for me. Over analysing things and thinking too much on some things. I’ll admit this past year brought some anxiety, but have been getting through that. I agree that your first tend to be your best decision and need to always remind myself of that. Great storytelling, you’re getting better (not that you weren’t before) at painting the picture. I could picture it! Another great post Chuck!

    1. Angela, I’ll admit I had some anxiety about publishing this post. I ran it by a friend and she said that it was ironic that I was hesitant about publishing an article about hesitating 🙂 I just rarely talk about police stuff since I retired. 

      Thanks for the compliment on the writing. That is a big reason for this blog so I can get better at writing and then inspire some people along the way.

  2. Woweeee.…. Great post. My two favorite points:

    I lost control of that situation by being indecisive. I allowed a crazy person to decide my fate.” 

    You are no longer the aggressor when consumed by fear. You become reactive. Behind the curve playing a losers game.”

    Nice job, and thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Great blog Chuck! I’ve dealt with being indecisive in my life and I’m working on getting better at it. Anything from making a simple purchase to deciding on what house project I want to work on. I tend to over analyze, do too much research and have a tendency to second guess myself. Of course anxiety plays a major role as well. Your post puts it into prospective nicely. Sooner or later people need to start becoming the aggressor instead of being on the defending side of a situation. Well done!

    1. Thanks for the comment. It’s a never ending work in progress for all of us. Sometimes a little reminder is just what we need–or so is the intent.

  4. Staying calm in the midst of chaos saves lives. When BPM is above 100 the brain goes into fight or flight mode, staying under 100 BPM allows greater awareness and good decision making. Breath awareness, intuition, and training are key to maintaining under 100 BPM. The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker is a great read! Thank you for your service as an officer! Great post I enjoyed every line!

    1. So VERY, VERY true Joe. Hence the reason all elite military and police units train under extreme physical and mental stress–so that when the real thing happens, you are more relaxed. 

      You also lose all the fine motor skills at higher BPMs. The ability to think and manipulate small things–weapons, radios, etc

      I worked so hard to always be calm, cool and collected. Sometimes it was more so on the outside than internal. Never completely relaxed, but as close as possible–at least that’s my experience.

  5. You got me all in suspense, reading just to find out, will he or won’t he??

    I have been there at that point, NOT the same scenario, but at a point where I couldn’t decide, analyzing all the “what if’s”…I totally agree, it was only when I started DECIDING, that things started to happen!

  6. I’ve always been a civilian-no military or LE background-but over the last year or two, I’ve have begun to work on my skills and defensive mindset, slowly becoming a “sheepdog”. I’m taking my first 4 day course at Frontsight next month (are you still an instructor there?) and will continue those efforts as time and money allows. I want to continually increase my competency and judgment. I’ve had it with my own indecision, over-analysis, and paralysis. Thanks for the great post!

    1. Oh Deb, you’re on a fantastic journey. Front Sight is an amazing place. Or at least it was, I assume it still is. I’m probably still on the instructor list, but it’s been years since I’ve been out there. So busy with other projects.

      A slight tweak in thinking makes all the difference–“defensive” to “offensive.”

      Enjoy your new challenge as you continue to stretch and grow. It’s worth the effort.

  7. Great post. I am reading “How We Decide” which starts with Capt Sully. Your first hand experience adds a terrific perspective to this topic. I am always intrigued by this process and improving my own.

  8. Chuck,

    “I lost control of that situation by being indecisive. I allowed a crazy person to decide my fate.”

    Amazing how often we do this to ourselves in many areas of our lives.

    As usual, good stuff.


    Joe Mobley

  9. Not knowing your background (being a LEO) I was skeptical of someone making these connections, almost like a story. However I have to say you just got a lot more interesting in my book to associate a near death experience to almost daily thought processes. Since the first day I started freelancing to the day I opened my latest company i’ve always found too much thought leaves you with very little. My dad has a saying from when he was an embedded systems designer/developer:

    I make mistakes faster than anyone, its the only way to succeed”

    Excellent post. Glad you published it.


    1. Ha. Skeptical is good. 

      That’s a great quote. Reminds me of Thomas Watson’s–founder of IBM. “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”

      Thanks Matthew

  10. Travel is major rewarding refreshing experiencing especially when you plan one beyond your boundary. Elyon Tours Tanzania is a small tour company based in Arusha Tanzania — East Africa, flexible with your budget that will reward your stay in peaceful Tanzania. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook.

  11. Chuck,

    Excellent read, I wasn’t expecting the ending. I think there are a couple of general themes in the dialog. Fear

    It’s a bigger fear than death for most cops”

    The reality is we live is such a hyper focused community of “what’s right and who’s rights” that everything becomes interpretive. Fear become this inbound mental conjecture on everything we do.. “should I, because.….” let the mental games begin.

    To me much of entrepreneurship is how well you can sell past the mental games that go on with clients decision making.. recently, something about hypnotic unconscious selling strategy has begun to take hold.. I noticed this tactic by accident.. Google it, its an interesting field, where decision making happens behind conscious thought. Obliterating the decision making ” mental games”

    Again, Awesome post.

    1. Interesting point you make fear affecting everything we do. It’s true about a “hyper focused community deciding what’s right and who’s right.” 

      What is scary is that many of the people making these decision are usually making them completely uniformed.

      I’m going to have to read more about the unconscious selling. Interesting.

  12. This is a powerful story, I’m glad I stumbled on it. I must admit I wasn’t expecting the “suicide by cop” angle. It is interesting how your indecision saved this guy’s life, but also put yours in mortal danger. So much to learn here; great writing.

  13. Great post Chuck. Most people don’t connect indecisiveness with life and death. That’s the problem, there doesn’t seem to be any immediate consequence. I have spent my life thinking I was decisive when the reality was that I have been impulsive. I am paying the price for that now, and it’s a slow correction. I even bought a book on procrastination and it sat on the shelf for 7 months before I read it! And I still didn’t get it. But working on it. Thanks for the post.

    1. True!

      Many don’t place enough urgency on anything they do and thus are often frustrated by the outcome–or lack of.

      Funny admission about procrastination to read a book on procrastination 🙂

  14. I just found this blog and am enjoying your posts…
    “Thoreau was right. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
    But it doesn’t have to be that way.
    Today is an important day.
    It’s the first day of the rest of your life.
    Don’t waste it.”

    this is great, makes total sense to me. indecision is never a good thing. i made a decision 9 months ago to sell everything, travel, and start an online business from here is Asia. problem is, what to do when you’re living your dream but the business side of things doesn’t want to work out? time for another decision i guess.…

    1. Hi Craig. Thanks for visiting. I’d like to hear more about your journey. Interesting.

      RE your question. We’ve all been there. Usually more than once. All I can offer in this space is a little pep talk. We all need it.

      Don’t give up man. Keep plugin away. Keep going and eventually you find the right formula somewhere buried where you least expected it. But you’ve got to keep going to find it.

  15. Thanks for letting us into your head a bit Chuck. I know that must not have been that easy. I started adding some personal stories on my site. Spoiler, one involves a threat against my life and a gun also.
    I wish there was a way I knew of to train the fear out.

      1. Thanks for including the link! It’s a very personal story of a part of my life I used to be very ashamed of.
        I am glad you feel it will bring value to your readers.

  16. Having known you for sometime, especially during your early LE career, this post was close to home. Although, I remember you as being most decisive. I never saw indecisiveness as part of your character. Some times you were annoying (lol) but I always had nothing but respect for your decision making. I am very proud of who you grew up to be. Good article. Nicely written, short and to the point just like I remember you.

    1. There is a very good chance you were involved and/or working during this event. 

      Oh, and I can still be rather annoying 🙂 

      Thank you.

  17. Awesome blog Mr. Rylant! I will be passing your blog on to our officers for their review and encouraging fellow supervisors to use as briefing material. Again, well done!

    1. Hearing that you will be sharing this is the highest form of flattery. Thank you so much for your confidence in my message. I sincerely appreciate that. Keep up the good work on the streets!!

  18. Great piece. One of the first books I ever sold was a collection of first person accounts from police officers who had been involved in deadly force incidents. Gladwell wrote about it in BLINK… Worth checking out: http://amzn.to/NGA0r8

  19. I am glad someone told me to check this out. It is both refreshing and some how humbling to read this. I am not sure why, but it is. I feel like this puts the anxiety or fear of making the right decision at ease. Thank you for being candid and sharing.

  20. Wow! what a powerful post! So many good things about this — I love when you said, “Most of our fears are irrational, but they control us. We allow the insecure lunatic that lives inside each of us to control our fate.”

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