Why is it so paralyzing, this decision-making stuff?
We have to make decisions every day about the little things: what to eat, where to shop, what to say to this person or that. And often enough we have big decisions to make too, like whether to go back to school or move from one town to another or change jobs or careers. Or, maybe, it’s a decision about a relationship — is it working for you? Can it work for you?
If you find yourself feeling anxious, irritated or stressed about having to make a decision, regardless of what the issue seems to be on the surface — man, job, friend, or move etc. — the fact is, that man is not really the problem. Or rather, he’s about 10 percent of the problem. This is quite easily remedied, with confidence, once you get nice and clear and solid on the other 90 percent.
In reality, the biggest issue for most people who stress about making decisions is what I call the “self-doubt double whammy”:
a. You lack trust in your perception of yourself and of the world around you; and
b. You’re stuck in some limited thinking, imagining that you have to get this decision right or else… The “or else” might be, “or else, I’m a failure.” Or it might be “or else others will judge me”. It might be “or else I’ll never have/get/do/be what I want.” Or… some other “or else” that’s just as irrational and limiting.
You can appreciate why people feel paralyzed in making a decision if they are stuck believing that they have to make the “right” decision “or else”, while they simultaneously doubt their ability to think clearly and make good decisions. Talk about a conundrum! Who wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and procrastinate if they are thinking in this way? Maybe you can relate? I know I used to feel this way all the time — until I figured out what was really going on and what to do about it.
What’s more, this way of thinking has another nasty side-effect, in addition to causing us unnecessary stress when we have decisions, big or small, to make. In my professional experience, it is this combination of extreme thinking (the “or else” worst-case-scenario assumptions) and the self-doubt in our perception of people and things, that leads people to get hooked into coping strategies such as dieting and weight loss stress, binge eating, eating disorders, addictions with drugs, alcohol, TV and the Internet. It’s also why we settle for unsatisfying and stressful relationships.
These coping strategies stem from our confused attempts to lessen our current level of stress. But no amount of dieting or drinking or binging or of compromising yourself is ever going to make you feel good about yourself or build the confidence and self-trust you’re really seeking.
If you are one of the many millions of people who are stuck using one of those coping strategies to get through your day, I have good news. You can completely free yourself of the weight struggles, food focus and other relationship or substance challenges by simply learning to know with confidence when you are thinking clearly (when you are seeing a person or situation as it truly is), and, armed with that confidence and information you are then able to make decisions that are truly right for you.
But without knowing this simple fix, most people just stay stuck doubting their ability to make good decisions, while telling themselves that this decision will directly impact their ability to be happy for the rest of their lives. In reality, it is exceptionally rare that any decision we make is going to “ruin our lives” and no decision can ever make us a “total failure”. But if this pressure to get it right or else sounds at all like you then you might like to know what’s behind this screwy thinking that keeps making life more stressful than it needs to be. So, here’s the skinny:
1. You believe that you have to make decisions that other people (ie. everyone else, ever) will agree with, approve of, and that will make others happy — regardless of whether they are directly involved and whether or not they will impacted by the consequences of your choice. In essence, if anyone has an opinion that differs from yours, that makes you doubt yourself and assume they know more than you.
2. You believe that there is no solution that will truly meet all of your needs/cover all of the bases, and therefore you have to “compromise” (which is really code for “settle” and one of my absolute least favorite words in the dictionary! Many people suffer through situations they really don’t need to be in because people have told them “you can’t have it all”, “sometimes you have to settle”, or “compromise is a necessary part of relationships”. This is such bunk! But I digress…).
If you believe there is no way to find a solution that meets all of your needs and also works for others, you will naturally agree to solutions that kinda-sorta work but not really. You’re not ticking anyone off — except yourself. This is the best way to ensure you become depressed and dissatisfied with your life.
Regardless of which of these two beliefs you’re stuck with (and most people have both, until they learn otherwise), you’re going to consistently make decisions that aren’t based on what you — the real you, when you’re not trying so hard to please everyone else — really want or need. Instead, your decisions will be based on making other people happy (or at the very least, offending the smallest possible number of people) and trying to get some small thing for yourself in the bargain. Stress, stress, stress. You’ll never feel confident and solid in your decisions with that approach.
I say let’s toss that outdated and irrational approach to life and instead start thinking in terms of what really works for good decision-making and a happy life. Are you in? First off, if you’re feeling uncertain about something, that almost always means you need a little more information before you can make a sound decision. Sometimes it will mean that you just really don’t want to do something; that it’s not right for you at this time, or ever. That will become crystal clear if you just gather a little more information about the decision facing you and how you truly feel about it. And if it is the case that you’re truly not interested, you will feel confident about knowing that. It will be much easier to just say so, and to stand your ground with any others involved.
So, whenever you’re confused about what is the best decision for you at this time — this relationship or not, this town or that; this job or that; this restaurant or that — ask yourself the following questions and you’ll find it’s much easier to get a clear answer that you can feel confident about:
a. What is it that I need? What are the goals I’m seeking to achieve? How do I want to feel about myself and about my life once I’m living the choice I’ve made? What will I be experiencing as a result of this decision?
b. What possible solutions do I think could work best for me to get what I need, based on my answers to the first question? (Do your best to come up with 3 options; most of the time; there are far more than 3.)
c. How do those options work for anyone else involved? Share your options with them (if you trust them to be reasonable and rational. If not, why are you relating to them in the first place?). What is it that they need?
d. Commit to not making any firm decision until you’ve done your best to find a solution that meets your needs and the needs of anyone else involved. There is almost always a solution that works equally well for everyone. People just don’t always know how to look for it, and they often feel guilty for even asking in the first place. This is where settling comes in. Settling is not a recipe for successful decision-making or a happy life.
This question and discussion process will help you to get clear on what you need in order to feel peaceful and clear about a decision. And your gut will tell you by whether it is tight and topsy-turvy or relaxed and calm; if the decision you’re about to make is right or wrong for you.
Remember, if you’re feeling uncertain (tummy is not calm, you’re feeling angry/resistant/sad/depressed/down/anxious/flushed/avoidant etc.), if you can’t look people in the eye and tell them with confidence that you’re doing X, or not doing Y, you are either trying to talk yourself into something that isn’t right for you, or you need more information before you can make a solid decision. Don’t agree to anything yet. Step back.
If you’re being pressured, tell anyone else involved that you’re not sure what it is exactly, but that something doesn’t feel quite right. You need a bit more time to think. You’ll get back to them when you’re clear on what is right for you.
The bottom line in every aspect of life is this: Always err on the side of trusting your gut. If your gut isn’t clear, neither are you. You shouldn’t be making any decision at this time.
Use the steps above to gather the data you need to make a decision that’s informed by you and your needs and goals. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, you will not feel shame or judgment of yourself if you make decisions in this way. Even if it turns out that you were missing some key information that would have led to a different decision, if you listen to your gut you are, at the very least, demonstrating to yourself that you are not going to do anything that doesn’t feel right to you. You will have confidence knowing that you really did make the best decision that you could have at the time. And that, in and of itself, prevents you from feeling insecure and mistrustful of yourself. It builds solid self-esteem in all areas of your life, making it easier to make decisions the next time around. And easier, and easier, and easier…
Trust is built over time, with others and with yourself. Show yourself, through this self-aware and self-respecting approach to decision-making, that you will always consider and respect how you feel first and foremost; that you will no longer prioritize the feelings and needs of others above your own. You’ll be amazed how quickly you start to feel solid and confident in all areas of your life.
I’m here to help speed things along if you’d like some guidance, support and tools for self-confidence and a happy, peaceful, passionate existence.
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