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Posts Tagged ‘decisions’

Big Question MarkDo you have trouble making decisions?  Is a decision as simple as what to eat for dinner or which movie to see enough to send your head spinning?  Do you second-guess your decisions immediately after you make them and wish you could turn back the clock and do something different?

Indecisiveness is a common problem and one I’ve suffered from tremendously over the years.  I have driven myself crazy when wrestling with all types of decisions, from the large to the seemingly insignificant.  I have wasted countless hours in weighing pros and cons and wracking my brain to make the “right decision,” and I have lost out on things I’ve wanted by taking too long to make up my mind.

Dennis Prager on Indecision

I recently listened to a broadcast of Dennis Prager’s Happiness Hour on the topic of indecision.  Both Dennis and his callers presented some powerful points on this important topic which have made a difference in the way I approach decisions in my life.  This post highlights some of these key points and I hope it will help you to combat the perils of indecision.

Dennis Prager gave an example of a man who was looking to buy a house.  He found two homes which met his basic criteria; both homes were great, but the man couldn’t make up his mind.  He had spent months trying to decide which home to buy and will very likely lose out on both options as a result of his indecisiveness.  I have had this type of thing happen to me with job offers and potential purchases.  Because I couldn’t make up my mind, the decision was made for me and I lost control of being able to decide my own fate.  I was paralyzed by my fear, so I didn’t get what I wanted.  I lost out on both door number one and door number two and was left “back at the drawing board.”

Looking for Absolute Certitude

Those who have difficulty in making decisions are looking for absolute certitude that they will make the right decision.  Unfortunately, that is something we just never get!  As Prager said during his broadcast, “Where in life do we ever get absolute certitude?”   Most of the time, we just don’t get to know what’s right beyond all shadows of doubt, so we have to proceed without knowing the outcome.

The indecisive don’t trust themselves to know or do what’s right.  They are plagued by both fear and self-doubt and are constantly looking for external validation.  It is not uncommon for such people to ask everyone they know for their opinion on a pending decision but not feel helped by the input at all.  They continue to engage in their “paralysis by analysis” and all their frenetic pondering only serves to keep them running in place and not moving forward in life!

Surprisingly Simple Advice

The advice given by Dennis Prager is surprisingly simple.  He recommends that when we are struggling to make a decision, we should ask ourselves, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I make the wrong choice?” A healthy attitude to adopt regarding decisions is to say, “So what if I make the wrong decision!” It is very rare in life that we can’t undo a decision.  Most of the time, we are able to turn things around if we find ourselves going down the wrong path.  Sure, it can take some courage and effort to course-correct, but it’s doable in most instances.

Even if a choice can’t be undone, often the gift of time will bring us perspective such that we don’t end up regretting what we’ve chosen.  For example, many divorced people do not wish they had never married in the first place.  Rather, they are grateful for the good times in their marriages, as well as the lessons they learned as a result of the dissolution of the union.

Two Good Choices, No Bad Outcome

When you think about it, many decisions are between two good choices and there are really no bad outcomes.  The man who was wrestling with his house decision had two excellent options before him.  While it’s possible that one house was a bit better than the other, neither would have been a bad place for him to live.  My struggle to settle upon a career bears strong similarities to the house example.  The options in front of me were all good and I seriously doubt I would have been miserable with any of them.  My indecision has led me to dabble in a variety of professions instead of resolutely following a singular path.  Thus, I have not achieved the level of career mastery that I would have hoped for at age 44.

My brother experienced similar career confusion for much of his life and found himself paralyzed by indecision for a number of years.  Fortunately, through the encouragement of his wife, he finally made a decision (without certitude) and became a teacher.  A decade later, he is satisfied with his choice and has made a difference in the lives of many young people.  Would he have been just as happy in one of the other professions he’d considered?  It’s very likely, as his options were based upon research and consideration, not random selection.

Set a Time Limit for Decisions

Dennis Prager recommends that we give some thought to the options before us and then make our decision!  It can be very helpful to set a time limit for rumination and consideration.  Keep the time limit short and after it has elapsed, force yourself to make a decision.  I remember a trick I learned (I forget where…) in regards to decision-making.  If you’re stuck between option A and option B, flip a coin.  On which side the coin lands is not nearly as important as your reaction.  You likely know in your gut what you want to do, but you are letting your emotions lead you astray.  The way you react to how the coin lands can tell you a lot about what you truly want to do!

Key Points on Decision-Making

I close with a recap of the salient points made by Dennis Prager:

  1. We never get to have absolute certitude regarding decisions.
  2. Ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
  3. If you wait too long to decide, you often lose out on BOTH options!
  4. Much of the time, the choice is between two (or more) good options.
  5. It is rare that a bad decision cannot be undone.
  6. Set a time limit for rumination and then make a decision!

While the points above may not immediately “cure” you of your indecisiveness, they can make a big difference in the way you approach decisions moving forward.  Setting a time limit can stop the “paralysis by analysis” phenomenon that can present a strong roadblock to your happiness.  Decision-making is a skill like any other.  With practice, it gets easier and you do a better job with it.  Won’t you join me in combating the perils of indecision?

Related Posts:

  • Facing Fears: Fear is a normal emotion and a natural part of life.  Fear can help us to steer clear of dangerous situations and it can help us to navigate safely through treacherous encounters.  While some fears can be healthy and helpful, other fears are actually detrimental to our happiness and well-being.  In this post, I write about how fear adversely affects our lives and examine one of my irrational fears and my powerful decision to face it.
  • The Tyranny of Shoulds: We all have a voice inside of our heads which tries to tell us what to do, how to act, and who to be.   Sometimes this voice is productive, such as when it moves us out of inertia and into action.  However, the voice can also be counterproductive or even destructive.  This post explores the dark side of our inner voice, the place where “should” and self-recrimination reside.    Some tips on escaping the “tyranny of shoulds” are presented to help us find a happy medium.
  • Don’t Worry!: Over the years, I have wasted many hours and sacrificed endless enjoyment by worrying about all sorts of things, most of which never came to pass.  This post examines the hazards involved in being a “worrywart” and presents some powerful insights from Dennis Prager and Gay Hendricks on the topic of worry.  You will learn some good reasons to stop worrying, as well as excellent questions to ask yourself when you find yourself engaged in this destructive and deflating habit.

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Sometimes a headache isn’t just a headache… This is something I’ve pondered in recent months as I’ve considered how often I suffer from migraines.  Could it be possible that my headaches serve another purpose beyond causing me extreme pain and discomfort?  My thoughts and realizations on this subject will be the focus of today’s post.

Inconvenient Migraines & Other Such Ailments

Last summer and fall, I attended classes three nights per week.  Every two or three weeks, we would have a project to complete and hand in for course credit.  We would usually be given one class period to use as a “work night” for our projects.  After a few months of class, I noticed that I would almost invariably have a migraine on each project night.  Was this just a mere coincidence, or was something else behind it?

As I considered my project night migraines, I noticed that I would also get migraines on days or nights on which I had certain other commitments, such as a Toastmasters speech or a social function to attend.  It is highly unlikely that my migraines on all of these days happened by chance, so perhaps there were other forces at play…

I’ve also begun to notice that my other health issues have a tendency to come to the forefront at certain critical junctures in my life.   My digestive problems, sore throat and swallowing issues, neck and chest pains, and various other ailments often crop up under times of stress or discomfort.

Avoiding Commitments

Sometimes my headaches or other health challenges allow me to escape commitments in my life.  After all, if I am writhing in pain, who would expect me to attend a party or give a speech?  I am able to “bow out” of certain obligations by claiming illness without suffering the wrath of others or other such consequences.  I don’t consciously create the illnesses, but whenever there is a glaring pattern being displayed, it is worthwhile to examine the situation and any potential “payoffs” therein.

“Payoffs” of Illness

It may be strange to consider the “payoffs” of a migraine, digestive distress, or any other seriously uncomfortable condition.  After all, I am not exactly swinging from the chandeliers and celebrating when I am afflicted with such maladies.  But truth be told, I am getting a payoff from being sick.   I “get” to avoid a commitment that I have perhaps been dreading on either a conscious or subconscious level.  But at what cost?   Is it really better to be at home suffering in my body than to be in a situation with which I am not fully comfortable?  This is something I never really considered until recently…

Shifting Focus

Another “payoff” for me in my physical maladies is that my focus shifts from other problems or concerns to the illness at hand.  I no longer have to think about what else is bothering me; all of my attention moves to my body and its discomfort.  This was the case on my class project nights.  I was worried about doing a good job on my projects, about measuring up to the teacher’s standards and impressing my classmates.  Once the migraine would appear on the scene, however, it was all I could do to stay in class and work on the task at hand.  I didn’t have the energy to worry about my fears of not being good enough, so I just did my best on the project and let that be that.

The Lesser of Two Evils…

Do I like being in physical pain?  Of course not, but that pain is easier for me to bear – and more familiar – than any emotional pain which I may be feeling.  I don’t know what to do with the emotional pain; the possibilities are seemingly endless.  Plus, it isn’t socially acceptable to talk about our psychological pain, yet the discussion of health problems has no such taboos.  How many people will tell their co-workers about an appointment with a physician, yet guard a counseling appointment as a secret from all but their closest confidantes?

Awareness Leads to Choice

Realizing the ways in which my illnesses serve as vehicles of avoidance has helped me to change the ways in which I interact with my infirmities – and with other people. I now give myself permission to say no to commitments I don’t wish to fulfill.  If I don’t want to do something (and it isn’t necessary for my work, relationships, or life), I decline to commit, and I don’t allow any feelings of guilt to enter my consciousness.  If I don’t commit in the first place, I don’t need to create an illness in order to avoid doing something which I’m dreading.

However, if I have already agreed to do something and the time is at hand, I no longer use existing physical complaints as excuses for not honoring my commitments.  Only on a very rare occasion will I now cancel an obligation due to a health issue.  In almost all cases, I do what I have committed to do.  If I am in pain, I do my best not to show it and instead strive to move past it as best as I can.  What I’ve found is that I often end up feeling better once I get out of the house and am engaging with others at a social or business function.  The reason for my ailment (the avoidance) is no longer needed, so the pain gradually dissipates.

A Powerful Decision

I have made a decision not to let my physical pain stop me in life.  If I have decided to do certain activities on a given day, I will do them, pain or no pain.  Unless the pain is downright excruciating, I am not going to let it sideline me.  Pain isn’t going to stop me from living – and enjoying – my life!

I don’t believe that all of my aches and pains (or anyone else’s, for that matter) are means of avoiding commitments or thinking about uncomfortable situations.  But I’ve come to understand that some of my pain serves the purpose of avoidance.

My awareness of the subconscious functions of my pain has helped me to fight back and prevail.  I am no longer a helpless victim to my seemingly endless list of physical complaints.  I can be at choice in my life, and I choose to live each day to the fullest!

Something to Consider…

The next time you get a headache or some other type of pain, stop and consider what might be brewing beneath the surface.  Could it be that you have created your physical pain in order to prevent or avoid potential psychological discomfort?  If so, how would it be for you to face the  challenges at hand and not let your ailments stop you?  Perhaps if our ailments no longer serve a purpose in our lives, they will gradually fade away, and we will be free!

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