Baking

How baking bread helped me be more decisive

I never thought baking sourdough bread would help me make tough decisions.

Before baking bread, I was anxious about life’s choices.

I worried about little things, like going out to dinner with friends or staying home to save money. Bigger decisions like choosing a course of study or whether or not to return to my hometown were things I weighed for years before finally deciding.

Like many others, I started making sourdough bread during lockdown.

It was a time when a distraction from the uncertainty of the outside world was welcome. But sourdough-making proved to be an equally unpredictable and difficult-to-control process.

I found it very difficult to decide when the dough was ready to be baked as there was no definitive way of knowing if my choices were the right ones.

There were tests, like the “poke test” in which you poke the dough to determine its stage of development, but each time I tried, the dough always looked the same. Each decision felt like a guess.

Since then I have baked hundreds, if not thousands, of loaves and there is always something scary and challenging about making bread: the responsibility for the success or failure of each loaf is entirely my own decisions.

The bread made me realize how much energy I was spending avoiding making decisions in my daily life and how uncertain I was about my ability to make good decisions.

It forced me to make decision after decision every time I baked another loaf. And each time a loaf went well, my confidence in my own ability to make choices grew a little.

When my partner and I needed to find a new rental property on short notice, I initially felt very overwhelmed.

I would leave work on my lunch breaks, cycle in the rain to look at houses in unfamiliar suburbs.

Baking bread gave Mary Grace some calm amid the stress of finding a new rental. (ABC Everyday: Mary Grace Quigley)

After each inspection, I had to weigh whether or not I wanted to apply, after watching it for only a few minutes.

I found myself baking more breads than ever. We’ve asked for rental after rental, with many refusals and often not even as many responses. And then one day we were told that we had been approved for three rentals and had to choose before the end of the day.

Not every decision I make turns out to be the best, and sourdough probably didn’t improve my overall decision-making accuracy. I still make bad calls sometimes.

Sometimes the loaves are flatter than I would like. Sometimes other things in my life don’t turn out the way I hoped.

Baking bread forced me to feel comfortable with the fact that, intermittently, I’m going to make the wrong choice.

It helped me focus on the big picture: most of the time, the loaf of bread will puff up.

Even when it’s not, it still tastes delicious grilled with lots of butter and a little flaky sea salt.

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