The Truth About Decision Making

Decision making can be a huge source or anxiety. This article offers a helpful perspective to free you from analysis paralysis.

Choices, dilemmas, and trade-offs begin the moment we wake up. “Do I force myself out of bed or hit snooze one more time?” They precede throughout the day. “Do I want a burrito or salad for lunch?” And continue until bedtime. “Do I want to watch Stephen Colbert or do I just go to sleep?” Gone are the days when when mom packed our lunches for us.

Analysis Paralysis

Speaking of those days, a handful of years ago, my husband and I were facing some anxiety issues with our son, Aidan. We didn’t realize it was anxiety, however. We saw it as typical behavioral stuff, figuring he’d hit an inevitable stage of defiance. His Waldorf teacher said it had nothing to do with his behavior but everything to do with how many choices we were giving him on a moment-by-moment basis. “Are you ready to leave the park or do you want to stay a little while longer?” “Do you want waffles or pancakes for breakfast?” “Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt?”

Every Decision Requires a Sacrifice

We thought as parents we were doing the right thing by empowering our son when in actuality we were inadvertently stressing him out. She told us, “Think about it, as adults we have to make decisions constantly. And it’s stressful. With each choice, you have to weigh the cost and the benefit. With every choice you make you’re also making a sacrifice.”

I’d never thought about it that way, but she’s absolutely right. As innocuous as it might seem, every decision I make means I’m saying no to something else. By choosing waffles, I’m not going to get pancakes. And, am I going to be ok with that!? To a 4-year-old this can be completely overwhelming. We took many of the trivial choices off the table and his anxiety disappeared and back was our happy playful little guy. So, how does this relate to us as adults?

We Have No Choice But To Be At Choice

A common topic among a lot of my clients is around decision making. For significant issues decision making can be crippling. There is an idea that if we don’t make the RIGHT decision then we begin a domino effect of less than ideal circumstances and will consequently live a failed life. Our focus shifts to an imagined future state and, with the stress of having to make the right decision, we tend to immediately paint the “what if” picture in the worst way. This isn’t only a bummer to entertain, but doing so actually works against us.

The reason we get so caught up in decision making is because we firmly believe that there is an absolute RIGHT decision and an absolute WRONG decision. It’s as if we believe there is a playbook out there that we all have to align to and by doing so we’ll live the good life. But the fact is, there’s not an official playbook so let’s just stop trying to figure out what all those RIGHT decisions are.

In reality, there is only A decision.

To rid yourself of the anxiety and panic that accompanies decision making you must adopt the idea that there isn’t such a thing as the right decision. There is only A decision. So pick something, anything, and then LIVE IT THE BEST YOU KNOW HOW. Line up with it fully.

Otherwise, to hem and haw and go forth without conviction is like taking a train moving in one direction and slapping an engine on the caboose to head the other direction. It’s not only completely unproductive, it’ll wear you out.

Instead, set something in motion and put your energy into fulfilling it as you’d like to realize it.

Here’s why this works

  1. There is no playbook telling us what’s better, best, right, or wrong.
  2. We never really can accurately predict our future anyway. How much of what you anticipated 10 years ago is true for you now?
  3. All that is real is NOW. Really, truly.
  4. Any decision you make in the now is “right” by virtue of the fact that you made it. Think of it as “on purpose.”
  5. The reason anything fails is not because of the decision you made. The conflicted attention and energy you give to it by second-guessing your choice keeps you from fully attending to it. It also keeps you from enjoying the path you’re on.

People might argue that the quality of our lives is due to the decisions we make so we need to spend time and energy discerning good choices. I don’t disagree. It reminds me of a quote mistakenly attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “When I do good I feel good, and when I do bad I feel bad. And that’s my religion.”

We can spend lots of time distinguishing between choices that are more efficient, do less harm, and create the best and sure, we can expect to have a more pleasant life than if we hadn’t done some upfront work. BUT, to assume that’s where the work stops would be a false assumption. Our lives are defined not by our choices, but the quality of attention and energy we give to the choices we make!

If this resonates with you try coming up with a statement to give yourself relief and get you out of a stalled dilemma state. Mine is:

There is no right decision, there’s only A decision.

It never fails to bring me back into the present moment and remind myself that I’m always on purpose. I can then save all that energy from deliberating, trust my instinct and make a snap judgment, and use the ample mental and emotional energy to invest in actualizing that decision into a reality I WANT to live. And that’s what the good life is – living life fully, at the moment, with no hesitation or regrets.

Could taking on this perspective help free you to live on purpose? What could be possible knowing that every decision you make is always the right one? Reach out to discuss coaching to take on powerful perspective shifts like this and more.

Amy Eliza Wong is an executive/life coach, writer, and speaker in the California San Francisco Bay Area committed to helping people and organizations live and lead on purpose. Learn more about working with her.

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