Life happens and no amount of worry or preparation can change the outcomes. Most often, our worry is tied to a decision and the fear that we are making the wrong one. At its core, it’s our fear of the unknown and a desire to control life’s outcomes that brings this worry bubbling over.
Earlier this year my family went on a cruise. Before the trip my mother-in-law was laid off from her company and considered cancelling so that they could spend the money on necessities instead of a vacation. Her mother talked her out of it and told her she needed to travel while she was still physically able. Trusting her mother’s advice, she didn’t cancel. Less than a month later, she got a better job, making even more than her previous job, before the vacation even arrived. Two months later, her mother passed away.
My Analysis Paralysis
I have always been a worrier; every decision was impossible to make because I was petrified it would be the wrong one. I don’t just mean big decisions, although the bigger of an impact the choice had on my life, the higher the worry and more difficult the decision. Even something as simple as which outfits to bring on vacation were tough for me. What if I didn’t pack enough? What if I didn’t bring something that I turned out to need or really want to wear? Silly, I know. But it was impossible to overcome, stalling me all the time. I had to analyze and think through every single possibility and all possible outcomes, and even then I couldn’t make a decision!
I think it stemmed from growing up in a poorer family. My mom loves to recant stories about how I couldn’t choose which candy I wanted at the grocery store when I was little. All of the groceries had been rung up and my mom would be waiting on me to make a decision every time.
When you grow up in an environment where you must choose between two options, and you also don’t know when you’ll get the chance to have either option again, every decision can feel important. I never wanted to experience the dreaded “made-the-wrong-choice” feeling. And I’ve carried that with me through life.
How I control it now
It will likely always be a constant little internal battle I have with myself. I’ve come a long way, but I’m far from perfect and I still slip. It’s a work in progress. But I’m able to recognize it as a waste of previous time and a trait I would like to avoid passing on to little Z. I’ve found some methods to better control it each time it comes up. I’ve found them to be very useful and I’m hoping you will as well.
5 Steps to fearless decision making
- I remind myself that this will not be my only chance. Even though I may feel like every decision is a one-time shot, it most often is not. Opportunities open up again; they don’t knock once and disappear forever. It might be possible that this exact option never comes my way again, but similar ones are out there.
- I re-frame the negatives to put them into perspective of the bigger picture. I have two career opportunities, neither of which is staying in my current job. Either choice has the potential to be the wrong one. But if I’m wrong there are still several positives while I correct course; I am still able to support my family, it’s not likely a wrong choice because I’ve discovered my boss is a cannibal or evil dictator bent on taking over the world, and my family’s health and well-being is still good. It may not be what I want, but I’m still listing it in the “win” column.
- I remind myself that either choice could have a negative outcome. Having no control over that can be difficult to admit, but it’s true. I can do everything “right” and everything can still go wrong. Unless the decisions I am making are dangerous pursuits or have a high probability of negative results, it’s very unlikely that my one decision will unleash irreversible disasters on my life.
- If I make the wrong choice, I can always make a new decision later to correct it. If disaster does strike I can always change course. Most situations are correctable. They may not be immediate, and maybe I could suffer some hardships or unpleasantness because I made the “wrong” choice, but I can always recover.
- Remember that worrying will not change the outcome. I have come to practice accepting that I am not in control of the universe. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but neither are you. Bummer, I know. But we’re able then to relieve ourselves of this burden of responsibility to have to make the “right” choices all the time. It’s all a roll of the dice, really. All we can do is make an educated guess and let the chips fall where they may.
After briefly going through this list, I commit to do one final analysis of the choices, make the best educated decision I can, and leave the rest up to fate.
Change the Internal Dialogue, Remove the Fear
You probably noticed that most of these steps are reminders to changes our thoughts. Changing the internal conversations we have with ourselves is the biggest hurdle since the fear is usually baseless. We need to change the way we are thinking in order to change how we feel. To do that, we need to learn to let go of the fears.
By letting go, I open myself up to more positive than negative outcomes for any decision. I reduce the likelihood of a self-fulfilling prophecy by worrying over every possible “what-if” scenario. In doing so, I free myself to focus on better, more important things. Since I’ve started focusing on these steps, I’ve been able to worry less and make decisions more quickly and experience more joy and less fear and worry.
Most recently, I had to make a decision on whether or not to start this blog. It took me a long time to get it up and running, for sure. But this time, it was not because of my inability to make a decision. It’s hard work starting a blog and it takes a long time to learn the ins and outs of blogging. This time, making the decision was actually the easy part thanks to changing my internal dialogue. I still have set backs but it gets better each time as I internalize these thoughts to change the way I approach decisions.
Do you struggle with worry, fear, and doubt in your daily life? How do you overcome it? Do you have any different suggestions? Please let me know in the comments below!
-To your Better Life-