Why does it feel so difficult to make a decision sometimes? What is it that stops us or paralyzes us from making one choice over another? This is something that I often struggle with. I want to dig in deeper and attempt to better understand the reasons why some of us may have a harder time with making decisions. Then I would like to uncover some solutions that could help with being a more confident and effective decision-maker.
One of the life altering decisions that has me feeling paralyzed is the big question of, “What do I want to do with my life?”. I am not one of those people that grew up knowing who I was and what I was meant to do. In high school I played sports and hung out with my friends. I was not thinking of the future or goals. Even after giving it more thought I felt stuck between what I wanted to do and what I ought to do, between my dreams and what was more practical. At the later age of 33, I am still baffled by this question. I often wonder, “How does everyone else have it all figured out, but me?” or “Why don’t I know what I want to do?”. What am I so afraid of by making a decision? What will that mean for me?
I realized quickly, I am not alone, with this way of thinking. After reading many online articles, I discovered that many people have a difficult time making decisions due to the fear of failure. We are afraid to make the wrong decision. To take it a step further, many people (including myself) tend to have the habit of catastrophicizing, where you think of the worst possible things that could go wrong. This means, in the present moment, there are no real problems. We make them up in our minds, ahead of time, as excuses for why we cannot or should not do something.
Part of our fear of failure has to do with our fear of criticism. Though we are often our own worst critic, we care far too much about what other people think. This is something I have felt from a young age. “What will they say about me if I choose the path less traveled? Will I be more respected if I choose this profession over that one? Will I impress my friends if I am successful? Will they value me more because I have this skill? Will my partner think I am special? Will my parents be proud of me?” These are all questions that (subconsciously or consciously) go through my mind when trying to make a decision about my future career. Why do I care so much about what others think of me? Why do any of us care what others think is special or what their version of success is?
We grow up with our parents telling us what is right or wrong, our teachers telling us what to think, and our friends (in addition to the media) telling us what is cool or uncool and how to act. My older siblings constantly made fun of me; and reminded me often that what I thought was wrong, because I was too young or not smart enough. So all of these influences caused me to be a very insecure person, where I not only doubted my own decision-making ability but I thought I needed others’ approval, as well. I became the person that asked everyone I knew what they thought before making a decision for myself. I thought about the decision a lot, but in the end I trusted others more than myself.
Now, I would like to switch gears. How can we change our thoughts? I have recently read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. According to Tolle, those thoughts of self-doubt and fear of rejection is due to the “voice in your head” (a.k.a. our ego). The voice that tells you, you are not good enough and criticizes you constantly. This is the same voice you have been listening to since childhood. You believe it and listen to it. How can you begin to trust yourself if the voice in your head or ego is constantly telling you, you will fail? At the end of the day, you are the only one who really has to be okay with the choices you have made. In The Power of Now, Tolle talks about how living in the now and quieting your mind (your voice) can help you be more aware and present. You see, the voice in your head is in control when you listen to the fears, the doubts, the criticism, and the shame. But if you are in the present moment, you are in control, your senses are heightened and you are making the calls, not your voice (ego).
One simple way that I am learning to quiet the voice or ego, is a form of mindfulness. I sit somewhere quiet and undisturbed, I breathe deeply, and I check in with my body and my senses. What do I hear? What do I feel? When I take my attention off of my thoughts and into the present, the voice is gone and I am only aware of what is now. That is when the answers come, in silence. Then you can learn to trust what you feel instead of what your voice says. Trust your own intuition, instead of caring so much about what other people will think. I’ve learned the hard way that by asking so many people you will get way too many answers. Make a choice in the moment and if it does not end up pleasing to you, then make another choice.
Sometimes I have noticed that just by making a decision, I feel much better mentally, than before when I am feeling unsure. Sometimes, it is the fear of uncertainty that makes us worry, as mentioned above. Trust yourself and your past experiences that guide your intuition. I am someone that values “walking the talk”, so I decided to go back to college at age 33 to earn a bachelor’s degree. I am starting out taking two classes and then I will declare my major. One class is Creative Writing and the other is Psychology. They are both introductory classes and I hope to get a better feel for which profession draws me in. Or maybe I’ll choose both! 🙂 After all, we can always make another choice in each moment. If we are just able to stay present enough to do so, I think we will realize that making a decision is not as scary as the power we once gave it.