The ability to make thoughtful yet timely decisions that are in alignment with your authentic self is key to living a fulfilling life.
When I'm faced with a decision, I often ask myself what my 7-year-old son would do. I do this not because he makes great decisions (that’s funny) but because I’m fascinated by his mental process. He seems to ask himself only 2 questions before taking immediate action: one, “To what degree is Mom going to freak out if I make this choice?”; and two, “Which choice results in the maximum amount of awesomeness for me?”. Done. Decision made.
Adults are a completely different story. We develop roadblocks to decision-making based on fears, insecurities, responsibilities and thought distortions.
From what to wear to when to leave a relationship, there are decisions with varying degrees of consequences at every turn. And for many people, decision-making is challenging, even debilitating. The thought of making a choice that might bring about change presents a groundswell of anxiety, relentless flip-flopping and eventually, decision paralysis.
Yes, it’s natural to weigh pros and cons, ask for advice and take time to think things through. But, if the process itself is a slow-moving train that never arrives at the station, it’s time to dig deeper and explore WHY.
Here are 3 common roadblocks to decision-making and what you can do to begin to move past them:
1. People Pleasing
People pleasing is a behavior pattern characterized by consistently putting the needs and desires of others before your own in an effort to be liked, gain approval or make others happy. In people pleasing mode, when faced with decisions, you’re overly focused on others and their comfort level. When you people please, you turn the volume down on your inner authentic voice. Overtime, you forget how to honor your own thoughts and ultimately how to trust yourself. This leads to an increase in stress around making decisions.
What to do:
The work to decrease people pleasing behavior involves uncovering buried self-worth and increasing self-trust. Ask yourself, “What choice is in alignment with my authentic self?” Or, like my 7-year-old, “What choice would bring ME the most awesomeness?”. Release the responsibility of making others comfortable and remind yourself that ultimately that’s their job, not yours. You cannot be all things to all people and stay true to yourself at the same time. You must choose. Try speaking to your loved ones about what choice would bring you the most joy. You may find that they support you doing your own thing more than you think.
2. Black and White Thinking
Black and white thinking, also known as dichotomous thinking, only allows for things to be one extreme or the other, leaving no room for nuance, or gray area. In terms of decision-making, you view choices as either good or bad; right or wrong; or a potential success or a potential failure. If you believe there are only 2 outcomes, and one is right and one is wrong, then you’re likely going to choose nothing, because you believe you have a 50% chance of total failure. In this head space, the safest choice is to do nothing. Hence, decision paralysis.
What to do:
First, politely ask your emotional mind to take a rest until you’re finished decision-making. Then, kick your logical brain into gear! Your logical brain knows that few things in life are actually black or white. Imagine all possible outcomes that exist on the spectrum between the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario. Contemplate each, breathe, and know that very few decisions are permanent. And, besides, if this decision was one of those rare decisions that has a clear right and a clear wrong, you’d have made the decision by now.
3. Overly Focusing on “Shoulds” or “Shouldn’ts”
Our families, communities and society at large are constantly handing us messages for how to behave throughout our lives. Some of those messages serve us, some do not. Some are based on important values; and some are based on stereotypes and expectations that hold us back from living out our authentic purpose. If you struggle to make decisions because you're more focused on what you should or shouldn’t do, than on what you know in your gut is right for you, you are likely going to get stuck in the decision-making process or make a decision that is not in line with your authentic self.
What to do:
While contemplating, label the words “should” or “shouldn’t” as red flags and dig a little deeper. Ask yourself, “Is this “should”/ “shouldn’t” a value I hold near and dear to my heart? Or is this a rule or expectation that I don’t actually believe in or ascribe to?” If it’s the latter, let it go. When you release who you should be, you make space to explore your authentic self. As your authentic self, you make decisions that are in alignment with your authentic purpose.
Ultimately, all three of these roadblocks are rooted in fear: fear of losing love, fear of failure and fear of stepping out of the norm. It’s natural to avoid decision-making or freeze up when we feel fear. But, the only way to get to the other side of fear is to move through it with courage and self-trust. It's worth the risk, because as my 7-year-old knows, there’s always the possibility of awesomeness on the other side!
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