I can’t decide what to have for lunch. Do I want a kale salad with pepitas and tofu, no dressing please, or a giant, juicy burger with bacon and blue cheese? This is my perpetual struggle. Applebees is my own personal purgatory. It is so anxiety inducing for me, in fact, that I often avoid going out to eat at all. At home I can eat a hardboiled egg, watermelon, peanut butter and jelly, some tortilla chips, leftover lasagna, and some pickles during the course of one meal, no choices necessary. But when I go out to eat, I am inherently faced with one of my biggest fears: making a decision.
I can’t recall when, exactly, my bones were sucked out of my body and replaced with marshmallows. But it’s happened. When faced with a decision, big or small, I am reduced to a sticky, shapeless puddle of terror and hives on the floor. In my mind, every single choice I make will have significant consequences that will alter the very course of my life. Choose the salad and I’ll end up a seven figure CEO bathing in thousand dollar bills (I know those don’t exist, but if I eat the salad, they will), or eat the burger and end up sleeping under a bench smack dab in the middle of Failuresville, Iowa. THAT is the level of psychosis I’ve sunk to.
So I think it’s safe to say I need an intervention. It’s time to scoop up the melty, misshapen remains of my life and make a damn s’more already. Fellow marshmallow mommas, join me. Let’s go on an adventure of progress and courage.
Sure-fire Steps to Re-Growing Your Backbone and Making the Damn Decision Already
1. Remember that by not deciding, you are deciding. In fact, by not deciding you are giving the power to someone or something else that will make the decision for you. Because a decision will be made, whether it’s your doing or not.
In that same vein, inaction is action. In avoiding that phone call to tell your new dog walking client you don’t have enough hands after all, you are giving a tacit agreement that yes, you can take this stranger’s four pitbulls and chihuahua in addition to the six dogs you’re already marching down the block.
When you don’t decide, you are deciding, just as when you don’t act, that is your action. Remind yourself of this fact every time you start to waffle: either you decide or you suck it up and deal with what was decided for you.
2. Make a decision and gauge your own reaction. This is a play on the classic, “Honey, you choose what to do on date night. I’m happy either way” and then your boyfriend responds with the dumbest answer on the planet and you’re instantly filled with resentment that he didn’t see through your brain and know the secret correct answer -syndrome. Because you know most decidedly that you do not want to sit in his friend’s unfinished basement drinking Busch Lite and watching Family Guy reruns on your only date night this month.
Sometimes it takes making a decision to figure out how you really feel. Test one option out. Try it on for size if you will. Walk around with that decision in mind for an hour or a day or two. If you don’t have a crowd of protesters forming an enthusiastic picket line in your head, you realize you can handle packing up the lawn chairs and moseying on down to Billy George’s split level basement. But if they’re starting to seriously riot, your brain is telling you quite clearly what you do not want. So take your choices on a test drive, and listen to exactly what feelings and thoughts arise from that. These feelings are guiding you to your best possible answer.
3. Go with your gut. Remember how you always got to question 17 on the test and your brain fell right out of your head? Remember what you did? You looked back at the test and tried to mind-ninja the probability of the correct answer. Well, I used D last time, so it probably won’t be that again. Unless she’s trying to trick us… Or maybe it’s A because C would be too obvious to come after D. But I haven’t used B in a while… Once you’ve analyzed the schematics of the test and written a brief thesis paper on the inner workings of your teacher’s mental state and patterns of behavior, you go with B. Remember how you always get it back and there’s a big red circle over the D? You always say, “I knew it was D!” To which your teacher replies, “Always go with your gut.”
Can I be honest here? I’m not 100% sure where one’s gut happens to be. But I do recognize a feeling that burbles up inside when I’m faced with a decision. More tangibly, I find as I’m debating two choices that my mind continuously cycles me back to one of the options. When I start to consider the other side, my mind comes back with a thought about the other. My mind leads me directly to my path with exasperating persistence. What feelings arise and where your mind directs you to are sure signs about which choice you should make.
If you’re stubborn like me, you’re going to need some more concrete evidence here that your brain is truly focusing on one of the options more than the other. We’ve all heard about making a pro/con list. Here’s a spin-off, and an easier version at that. As you are going about your life, pre-decision due date, make yourself a chart on a notecard. Label it Option A, and divide it into a positive and a negative column. Make a second chart, label it Option B, and repeat. As you go through your days, keep your notecard with you and be aware of the ways you are thinking about your choices. When they float through your mind, let them come as they are, but pay attention. Were your thoughts around Option A positive just now? Put a tally in that column. Were they negative? Tally. See what your stats look like at the end of the week. When you see that the positives for Option A have taken over your page, trust your freaking gut and go with it. That’s what it’s been trying to tell you all along.
4. Look for the signs; the universe is talking to you. I realize that this may make you question my mental stability, but hear me out. I’ve always believed in little signs in the world that contain a message: a song coming on the radio preaching to “just break up with him” when you were literally just having a conversation with yourself about that very thing, the way the phone rings just as you were about to call that very same person. In fact, I’m totally guilty of picking lottery numbers based on a stale fortune cookie I got from a small grocery store Chinese department. (I won $8 by the way.)
If you look hard enough, the universe is talking to you.
I’ve been wavering back and forth trying to decide if I can continue coaching high school track this coming spring. I love the people I work with, I absolutely love the team, and I love the rush of setting a new PR or watching the girls give perfect handouts around the track to beat their archrival by one tiny point at state. But it is an enormous time commitment that involves basically not seeing my six-year-old daughter for three months. Do I do track for me, or do I give it up for her? Daily, I would be determined that I had finally come up with the right answer, then the next day rolled around and I would be sure about the exact opposite move. I was making absolutely no progress in tackling this decision, and it had been giving me anxiety for months.
One day I came home and as soon as I tell my daughter she is going to dance she bursts into tears. “I don’t want to go to dance. I miss you too much,” she wailed. She was beside herself. It was only by promising to buy her as much ice cream as she could eat afterward that I finally convinced her to even look at her leotard. A few days later was a repeat performance. And then a few days after that. And again. Finally I stopped her and asked her what the real problem was. “I just miss you so much and I want to see you before track.”
I recounted this story the next day to the principal at my school, someone I consider my mentor, and he looked at me like I had three heads. “How much clearer of a sign do you need in order to make a decision? She’s telling you exactly what she needs. What will it take for you to finally listen?” I was struck by this response, mostly because he was exactly right. I was ignoring the signs that couldn’t have been any more obvious.
Choose to pay attention. Choose to listen to what the universe is telling you, be it in the form of your daughter, your gut, or a poignant song on the radio that plays at just the right time.
5. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a (hell) no. If you aren’t moved enough to feel a strong emotion toward one choice, that’s probably not the one for you.
6. Think, is this going to help me reach my goals? If the answer to this question is no, the answer is no.
7. Stop being such a people pleaser. People appreciate when you level with them. They can handle it, and they will move on. Stop putting success on an outside source you have no control over. You might make someone unhappy. That can’t be your measure of success. If you approached the subject with kindness, love, and the best of intentions, and you addressed something that really needed to be addressed, that is your success. Make the decision that is going to be right for you.
8. Make a decision and be done with it. What you’ve decided is what you’ve decided, and you need to go all in. Sometimes we make a decision, but we have a contingency plan in mind in case we decide to change our mind later. When we do this, we’re standing with one foot in the mix and one foot back on safe ground. We’ve got the back door cracked in case we need to run out of it later after all, and this prevents us from truly committing to our plan. Of course things aren’t going to go well, because we aren’t going to stick it out when things start to get tough. We back down.
From now on, once you’ve made a decision, you commit wholeheartedly. Leave no emergency escape routes open. Speak boldly, act boldly, and do not waiver.
It’s not going to be perfect. At least not at first. But in keeping these things in mind, you will slowly be able to pick yourself up off the ground and find your true form once more. You will learn to stand up for yourself and place value around what you really want, and people will learn that when you decide to go all in, you’re going to deliver. Most importantly, you will learn that about yourself too.
For the record, I went with the burger. Because a salad just wasn’t a hell yes.
Picture from Medical Daily: http://www.medicaldaily.com/decision-making-process-choices-require-more-time-decrease-our-confidence-even-when-314648