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I’m smart, so why can’t I make a decision?

Whatever we say yes to, we are saying no to something else... 9 tools to get you making decisions with no regrets

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You’re a smart, professional person, you handle your highly demanding life with relative ease. But in the face of a life decision, you’re stuck! How uncomfortable that feels… really, really deep down uncomfortable, to the point that you are binge-watching Netflix, overeating, hoovering fanatically.

In short, you are avoiding the issue.

You are not alone! Hoping decisions magically occur without input or risk from us is a common response.

Now you know this, you need to know why you can’t seem to take the plunge on a decision.

The main culprits are overwhelm, and fear.

With almost any decision, home-related or otherwise, we have what feels like an infinite smorgasbord of options open to choose from. Rather than savouring the multitude of directions we could chose to travel in, we get stuck at the crossroads in overwhelm and analysis paralysis. Whatever we say yes to, we are saying no to something else – how do we know we are making the right choice? 

Enter fear: fear of making a mistake, fear of missing out on a better result, fear of embarrassment… this feeling is our brain reacting to change. It doesn’t really want you to make any decision at all. If you think about waaaay back when we lived in a much more difficult, hostile world, curiosity and adventurousness was not always a healthy thing. Your brain wants you to stay safe and sound “in the cave”… protected by familiarity, even if that familiarity is not in your best interest, or is even a source of danger.

Not only this, but our range of choice was much more limited. When faced with a hungry sabre toothed tiger, we would have turned, and run, or we would have fought. No concerns about if our sneakers were best for trail running, or which of our knives to use.

Run, or fight.

Our brain, so perfectly evolved for our survival in primitive times, is causing us to be stuck in the modern world. Entirely invested in our survival it holds on to where we are now like a safety blanket, discouraging us from pulling our head from underneath with primitive spikes of cortisol and adrenaline. We don’t know what’s “out there”, we have no way of knowing that “there” is better than “here”… the cost of making a decision is too much. Added to this, the modern world has weighted importance in decisions. The more investment (financial and emotional) we have in the end result, the more difficult a choice is to make (think buying a house vs what to have for dinner). Risk is dangerous. It is not the same as here and now, which our brain knows we are surviving just fine, thank you very much (even if we aren’t).

Think of your brain as a computer running basic functionality software (on, off, fight, flight, danger, safe), and this functionality is primed for danger alerts. Primitive fear applied to modern day non-threatening experiences and situations is like an error code our brain runs on default, believing it is protecting us. We have to load new programmes (thoughts) about our circumstances if we want to feel differently, and get different results. 

So how do we do this? How do we get our brain to a point that it is comfortable to make a choice? Here are 9 tools to get you out of stuck, and making decisions.

1) Be aware of your context:

Take a moment to consider how you are feeling, away from this choice. It is easy to have emotions from one situation overflow into another and it may be the indecision you are feeling is actually compounded by a different situation. Trying to chose a house to buy if a parent has just passed away is going to be significantly more difficult as your judgement will be clouded, activated by non-related emotions. Knowing where you are now makes moving forward much more clear.

2) Make a simple pros and cons fact list:

It’s an oldie but a goodie! If a choice doesn’t end up working out in your favour, you will feel better knowing you thought your options through and made a decision based on knowledge. 

Make sure your pro’s and con’s have a solid basing in fact, rather than your current thoughts about the fact. For example “The house is 15 miles from school, all on side roads” rather than “the journey will be a nightmare”. Your thoughts and feelings can be included in these lists too, but ensure all your start points are factual. 

3) Limit your research:

While it is important to gather knowledge to inform your decision, it is equally important limit your research. It is possible to pass the point of “educated decision” and head straight into information overload (this easily happens if you seek other people’s opinions!). If you find yourself in overload, go back to a fact list to simplify and narrow your focus back down.

4) Advise a friend:

Try and step outside of yourself and view the decision as if you were advising a friend. This distance from our brain gives an opportunity to observe patterns rather than be immersed in the 60,000 thoughts we have each day.

5) Question your assumptions:

Are your thoughts about this decision best serving you? Are you working to your own truth or a cultural or parentally given value? Do you want to keep making the type of decisions that got you where you are now, or do you want to change your default behaviour? Imagine taking the opposite route to one you would normally take: see what your life could be like with a new decision making pattern and try it on for size! 

6) Don’t panic:

This decision may be reversible, or if not reversible exactly (like quitting your job to be an entrepreneur) it can be reclaimable (getting another job if it doesn’t work out). Sometimes just knowing this gives confidence enough to make a decision.

7) Move away from the problem:

Spending time away from the decision, be it sleeping or distracting your brain by doing something different, that absorbs it. Coming back to a decision with a fresh mind is a surprisingly effective way of reaching a choice.

8) Don’t take too long to decide:

Your brain will happily keep you stuck, because you are “safe” there… if you set a deadline to make your decision (this could be anything from 2 minutes, 2 days or more, whatever is relevant) it will prevent you from avoiding the issue.

Then move on, because while your brain is happy without the perceived danger of change, it is using considerable energy keeping you in limbo. “Stuck” means you will be brain fatigued and less capable of dealing with any other situations that may arise. 

9) ACTUALLY DO MOVE ON:

Once you make your decision, act. Your brain, against all odds, will be greatly relieved to not be in limbo. All the efforts you have been spending thinking about your choice can now be refocused on creating the best result from you choice you made. Don’t go back. Don’t wonder what if. As Dory had it, just keep swimming.

That uncomfortable feeling you had at the start of the process is the sign that change is coming. As soon as you commit to the change (and you must really commit), your brain will start to look for evidence to prove that this is the correct way forward. Suddenly everywhere you look there will be house sale boards/ pregnant women/ red convertibles.

Whatever you have decided, you will see your decision reflected back to you, and slowly slowly the discomfort will lessen as new becomes normal.

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