** This post was updated on June 15, 2023 to include an additional resource
A few days ago I was faced with a decision-- to sign up for a course that I unexpectedly came across for a sum of money I could possibly need for something else or to pass it up even though taking it could also mean helping me to be more equipped in a particular area of my life.
I almost talked myself out of it with the reasoning that I could wait a few months until the next offering or do more research... but then I realized that if I go ahead and start the course now, by the time the next one starts I can already be applying what I've learned and be on to more opportunities.
I knew I had to make a decision quickly. Not because I didn't want to miss out but because I didn't want to lose time obsessing over "what ifs". What if an expense comes up in the next few days? That was my biggest hesitation but I had to shut down the validity of that argument because I'm not in danger of any major bills being overdue or dealing with an empty gas tank or refrigerator (praise God from whom all blessings flow). I just didn't want to charge my credit card.
I signed up for the class and afterwards I felt excited and further aligned with the intent I have been putting into the universe. Plus I thought about how the cost of the class is way less than the cost of all these new smartphones that launch! The ordeal made me think about how many people I know that agonize over having to make choices because the uncertainty of outcome almost cripples them.
There have been many studies on why anxiety holds people back when it comes to getting what they want out of life, from not wanting to disappoint others to not wanting to fail. I even realized that the times I dragged out making choices in my life it was mainly due to the fear that I was going to cause a lack somewhere... much like my example above. I have also identified why that is and began learning how to overcome that feeling.
Some people struggle with making decisions at work. Some people struggle when it comes to the expectations of their personal relationships. Some people struggle with shopping or financial options.
If you can identify an area or two where you take longer than others to make a choice out of perceived fear or anxiety of the outcome, perhaps the methods that have greatly helped me will help you.
Is getting what you want important to you? Start here. It is evident to me that most of the time we don't get what we want because we think too much about what we don't want. Something major that Tony Robbins talks about is being clear about what your desired outcome is when you start problem-solving or making decisions. There are various ways to do this but for me it comes down to a "yes" or a "no".
I do whatever I can to keep "but" out of something I want. Check out my post Where Are Your Buts Going? for more strategies to maximize your chances of things working out in your favor. In my previous example, "Do you want to take the class?", "Do you have the money?" "Do you currently have something preventing you from taking the class?" "Does the class fit the path you have decided for yourself?" "Does the class offer value?"
Keep the questions in the present. Do not make up future scenarios with information that is unknown. Some excellent advice by psychologist Karen Young via Hey Sigmund is "be guided by what you want, rather than by what you want to avoid." Ask yourself what is the greatest outcome before you focus on the worst.
Now I write this in hopes that these decisions being made do not break any laws or infringe on the rights of others. If you are struggling with possibly hurting someone or yourself, scroll to the bottom of the page where I have provided some resources or dial 911 if you have urgent crisis.
Are you afraid of the follow through? Sometimes we put off making decisions because we have to commit afterwards. Depending on what it is, it may be hard to go back. Another reason we delay is once we make a choice, either the situation will be totally out of our hands (which can be scary) or totally in our control (which can equally be scary).
Leaving things in other people's hands can sometimes mean the outcome will not meet our standard and may need to be done again or use more resources. The good news is this is often fixable, even if costly in time or money. Carrying the burden of completion ourselves also can lead to stress and pressure if not correctly managed. Even if we fall short ourselves, again, this is often fixable.
One way to combat feeling like you are going to get all positive or all negative as a result is to accept that life happens in balance and there are multiple ways something can play out. You may get a little bit of both but that is something that happens to everybody. Don't think you're so special! Deb Knobelman, PhD put it this way in her article for The Ascent "you think one decision is the perfect one." If I chose not to sign up for the course this time, another course could come along or some other training opportunity down the road.
Simply put, unless we are special agents, diffusing bombs, performing surgeries, flying planes or otherwise literal life or death tasks, we should stop acting like everything we do is life or death. I believe that when it comes down to it, most of what we do is a preference, not a rule or once in a lifetime situation. Sometimes it's the unanticipated small things that end up being significant rather than the things that we thought were big.
Do you identify yourself as an overthinker? Sometimes people spend so much time obsessing over "maybes" that they rarely get anything done or make any decision at all. People that "overthink" can often confuse being patient with being indecisive or hesitation. They may be waiting for a "sure sign" before they make a move. Is this you?
In her article "How to Never Regret Anything In Life", life coach Susie Moore makes a couple of suggestions that I have seen to be true in my own life: "Do the thing, don't think about the thing" and "embrace current uncertainty."
By no means is anyone saying not to take a moment to think things through and to get all the relevant information. The point is once you have the information make the best decision with the known facts and desired outcome and then act on it. Do not spend so much time adding "buts" and "what ifs" that fear takes over and you miss out on a potentially wonderful experience.
My philosophy is that once you solve one problem or one need, another one will be lined up right behind it. I don't like the idea of mess piling up because no doubt, unconfronted mess is a sure recipe for a life of anxiety and regret. There are even times that I dread having certain conversations or having to decide what is more important in certain stages of life yet I have greatly benefited from doing things that I'd rather skip quickly and getting it over with.
Can you commit to new routines? Pursuing something you are interested in is going to come with its fair share of sacrifices if you want growth and change. The interesting thing is sometimes we can really hate the way something is and then be reluctant to do the work of turning the situation into something we love.
In my case with signing up with the class, my already limited free time now temporarily (key word) more limited because now some of that time has been given a purpose. I now must incorporate more reading and note-taking into my week (don't do everything in a day) in order to be effective. I cannot allow the idea of less free time (temporarily) to press pause on my possibilities.
If you want to eat better can you decide and commit to making different shopping lists and better preparing your meals. If you struggle with the time management necessary to complete a project or devote time to your family, can you decide and commit to setting alarms or pre-planning time frames in order to cut yourself some freaking slack?
Once we manage to make decisions faster, we save so much time to actually live. Part of why we freeze up when it comes to jumping with both feet into our ideas or presented offers is we already feel pulled into a million directions. According to Michael Stein, Psy D., who noted the power of quick decisions, "as you do this [decide quickly] repeatedly in many different situations, it will get easier and easier with less and less anxiety."
Of course few things improve overnight. Working on making faster decisions in order to live a more full life will take time and practice. Someone that has only been doing it a week may be much slower than someone who has been doing it for years.
If you do struggle with anxiety or ways to cope with impending change and would like to put these strategies into action, try my Courage Bundle of 8 self-coaching practices: The Hands of Your Heart.
I custom created this tool to help you begin the process of pushing through uncertainty with the help of science and experience. You can analyze your current triggers and create your own pathways of staying a step ahead through honesty, bravery, and persistence.
I fully believe that great things are headed your way as soon as you decide you'll go for them. Leave your feedback about how you've made steps forward after reading this post or trying the Courage Bundle!
Suicide Prevention: Talk to Someone Now (Hotline)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health: Hotlines and Services
Domestic Violence: Hotline
Child Endangerment: Hotline