Lately, I had several clients who are struggling to make decisions. One client was struggling to select a topic for a presentation she was giving at a seminar. Another client was struggling to decide whether to ask for a raise. These decisions were weighing heavily on them and they were paralyzed with the options. In their minds, these decisions were momentous. Decisions that could make or break their careers.
Indecision has so much to teach us about ourselves and, particularly, our fears.
How do we move out of indecision? Recognize the tunnel vision and get some perspective.
Many of us have struggled with decision paralysis from time to time because we put these decisions on a pedestal.
We allow them to loom ahead of us like giant crossroads in our lives. In order to move forward you have to separate from the facts from your primitive-brain-thinking.
In my client’s situation, the facts were that she was giving a presentation at a seminar in three weeks and she hadn’t yet picked a topic. Pretty non-threatening.
BUT, in light of those facts, her brain was explaining
You have to pick a good topic or people won’t want to work with you.
If you pick a topic you don’t know EVERYTHING about, you are going to get stumped in the Q&A and people will think you don’t know what you are talking about.
If you pick a topic that is too easy, no one will listen to you and they will think you don’t know anything useful.
All the important partners will be there and they will be measuring you up.
This is a huge opportunity for you to make a name for yourself.
None of those juicy dramas were factual. They were all totally optional choices. Sentences in her head. Sentences that were making her anxious, nervous, and scared.
In order to move out of indecision, you have to first recognize the thoughts you are choosing as just that: thoughts.
Focus on the facts of the situation and examine how else you could be thinking about them.
For this client, alternative thoughts included: This is a great opportunity for me. This is going to make me a better speaker. I can handle any question with grace even if I don’t know the answer. It’s okay to be nervous, this is not supposed to be easy.
While, pretty thoughts can be useful to shift your energy, they ONLY work if you if examine what’s really going on below the surface.
Indecision is fueled by the fear of making the wrong choice. You can’t move forward until you examine and address that worst case scenario.
Whenever, we are avoiding a decision it’s because we have convinced ourselves that there is a right and wrong path ahead of us and if we choose the wrong one, our world will fall apart. In my client’s case, she was worried that if she picked the wrong topic, the audience Q&A would stump her and everyone would think she was dumb.
Your worst case scenario fears are comprised of two things:
Obstacles that you can anticipate and negative self-talk.
When we are afraid of making the wrong decision, it is because of what we will make it mean about ourselves if things don’t pan out how we hoped.
We allow our brains to convince us that if we make the wrong decision it proves something negative about ourselves: we aren’t good enough, we aren’t smart enough, we can’t do this, this will never work out, etc.
Those thoughts feel terrible: shame, guilt, fear, worry, doubt, all come crashing down when we spin in those sentences.
But what if we decided that when things don’t go the way we hope, we won’t make it mean something negative about ourselves?
What if we decided to have our back in the future?
Recognize that when we make choices, we are doing our best in the moment and that sometimes things don’t work out the way you hoped. No big deal. It doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy. It doesn’t mean you are a failure. It could simply mean that you are figuring things out. That it was just another step on your path.
If we can commit to not beating ourselves up if our decisions don’t pan out the way we want to, then there is nothing to be afraid of.
If we make the wrong decision, we can keep moving. We don’t have to believe that the wrong decision means something bad about our ability.
Once you commit to having your own back in the future, the pressure and weight of these current decisions goes away. You can make a decision and know that whether it pans out or not, it has nothing to do with your skills. It’s just part of the process.
From that space, everything else is simply an obstacle to overcome.
For my client, we strategized how she could handle questions from the audience when she didn’t know the answer. We talked through how she could think about that kind of an experience from a place of humility and curiosity as opposed to perfection-seeking.
When you find yourself stuck in indecision, force yourself to examine the worst case scenario. What comes up for you? What negative self-talk do you indulge in when things don’t pan out?
If you can plan to treat yourself kindly if things don’t work out, indecision loses its foothold. It stops being scary because you remove the negative consequences.
Everything else is just planning. Identify potential obstacles that might come from the decision and develop strategies ahead of time.
Don’t let your brain tell you the sky is falling. Tell your brain to get to work figuring out how to handle the sky when it wants to fall.
Don’t allow indecision to take the wind out of your sails. Look at the indecision, it has so much to show you!
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