Why is that you can make certain decisions all day, every day yet agonize over making other decisions? Some decisions are a no-brainer like deciding to not roll through stop signs on your way to work but then some decisions seem tortuous like whether to eat what you brought for lunch or order in with everyone else.
Have you ever gotten so caught up in the fear of making the wrong decision that you made no decision at all? Most people experience this trap, agonizing over what to do or not do, and then ultimately doing nothing other than spinning in confusion and fear.
This fear about making decisions can show up in your life in more ways than you realize. It can manifest in the form of clutter, where you fear discarding objects because you “may need it later” or it can show up when you can’t decide whether to go for the promotion at work because you’re confused about what you really want for your career.
What I often see when coaching clients is that decision making issues come in “before and after” stages. The before stage is the period when indecision and hesitation take over and you can’t decide what to decide. The after stage happens once the decision is made and you experience doubt and possibly regret.
Maybe you believe that the feeling of confusion is a “sign” that you don’t know what to do however most of the time that is untrue. Your brain naturally wants you to keep things the way they already are. It just wants you to keep things status quo.
This week I’m going to discuss where confusion comes from, how to make decisions in the before stage and how to not regret decisions once they are made in the after stage.
Where confusion comes from
Are you aware of how many times you think or say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”? I bet you would be shocked! Confusion is one of those emotions that, when not addressed, can become habitual.
It’s important to point out that confusion is an indulgent emotion. An indulgent emotion is an emotion that keeps you stuck and leads to inaction. For example, by indulging in confusion about which gym to join, you actually don’t go to any gym.
When you have normalized confusion you may wind up asking other people for their opinions or waiting on the “stars to align”. You may think it’s best to wait for an indication that you are making the right or perfect decision.
As a smart woman you may also be used to overanalyzing things and believing that you just need more and more information in order to make a decision. This overanalyzing can then become “analysis paralysis” where you have enough information but overthink a situation so much that a decision is never made which paralyzes the outcome.
The part of your brain that runs your life more than 80% of the time, the primitive brain, is not the part of the brain you use to make decisions. If you haven’t learned how to powerfully use the decision-making part of your brain, then it’s no wonder you have difficulty making big and small decisions.
Since the feeling of confusion often leads to inaction, your primitive brain is fine with things not changing. You may have unknowingly created a habit of resisting making decisions so that now your brain resists making small decisions like where to go for lunch as well as big decisions like which house to buy.
“I don’t know” is the language your primitive brain is very comfortable with. But now that you have the awareness of where confusion comes from, you can learn how to use the decision-making part of your brain to your advantage.
How to make decisions (before stage)
Good decision-making skills make all areas of your life easier. With the overabundance of choices we have today, the ability to make decisions without spinning in confusion can save you time and offer you an indescribable freedom from unnecessary overwhelm and stress.
The key to decision-making is – you have to decide what you’re going to think BEFORE you decide what you’re going to do. For example, you have to decide how you want to think about the new car BEFORE you buy the car.
Not only can you use the decision-making part of the brain to decide between options but more importantly, you can use it to decide what you are going to think about your decision before you make it. This is such an important step that most people aren’t aware of.
When you learn to manage your mind you get to choose how you want to think and feel about any decision you make beforehand. When you don’t decide how you want to think about your decision before you take action, you are leaving the door open for the primitive brain’s negative tendency and the creation of the feeling of confusion.
You need to do your thought work BEFORE you take action. In order to do the thought work and decide how you want to think BEFORE you decide what you want to do then here are a few options:
- When deciding between two options, imagine that both turn out amazing. If you knew you would succeed at both, which would you choose? The reason you may be hesitant to choose one option over another is because you’re already anticipating failure which has created the feeling of doubt. For example, by imagining success under both scenarios, would you take that new job and have that be amazing or would you decide to not take the job and have that be amazing?
- If you have a pattern of fear of failure then redefining what failure is, is very powerful. Whether you realize it or not, defining something as a failure is just an optional thought. Instead of thinking you are either winning or losing which heightens the fear of failure, you can instead decide you are either winning or learning. For example, you can decide that running the Facebook ad for your business will either get you clients (winning) or help you to learn how to successfully run Facebook ads (learning).
- Imagine yourself 10 years from now. What does your future self say you should decide and why? Your primitive brain is motivated by instant gratification therefore it can’t think long term. By imagining getting advice from your future self, you are able to override your brain’s short term discomfort and tap into your higher brain’s ability to see the bigger picture. For example, if 10 years from now your future self can see you happily remarried and your children living in your peaceful home without two parents who argue all the time, then the divorce option would make sense.
- In order to make a decision, check in with how you feel right now. No matter what decision you make it’s paramount that you like your reason for the decision. If you are coming from a place of fear or impatience it’s best to uncover the thoughts creating those feelings. Any decision you are about to make from a place of negative emotion requires a pause. Stop to do the thought work to feel better so that you like your reason for making your decision. For example, if you have been house shopping for some time and feel impatient then its best to pause, look at the thoughts creating the feeling of impatience and manage your mind before making a decision about which house to buy.
- Sometimes you don’t have all the information you need and your indecision is distracting you to the point where you aren’t able to focus on other areas of your life at the moment. You can actually make a conscious decision to not decide and let your brain stop focusing on the tug of war between the choices. This releasing of the need to decide in this moment can allow you the space for the awareness of other options that you weren’t able to see when you were spinning in confusion. For example, you may feel under pressure to make a decision about which car to lease and it’s distracting you so much that you are unfocused at work and grumpy at home. Deciding to not decide for a set period of time, like 30 days, gives your brain a break to focus on what’s important right now.
No matter which option you use, deciding what you’re going to think BEFORE you decide what you’re going to do helps to clear up confusion. By feeling less confused you free up your mind, your time and give your self-confidence a boost, trusting that you know what to do.
The next step after making a decision is honoring that decision. This next step is the difference between moving forward and being stuck in confusion all over again.
How to not regret decisions (after stage)
Besides the primitive brain’s lack of decision making ability, another important reason why you aren’t making decisions is because you are afraid of what you’ll think in the future about the decision you make in the present. You believe there is a “right” and “wrong” decision and you’re afraid of the regret you may feel in the future if you make the “wrong” decision.
You may have a thought like “I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake” because you’re afraid of making that “wrong” decision. This is when the primitive brain is comfortable with “I don’t know” and “I’m not sure”.
Here’s the truth about decision-making – there are no wrong decisions! What makes a decision “right” or “wrong” are your thoughts about it and your thoughts are 100% within your control when you learn how to manage your mind.
If you did your thought work in the “before” stage of making a decision, then you just need to practice that thought. Your brain will show you proof of whatever you decide so if you believe in your decision, you’ll see proof; if you don’t believe in your decision, you’ll see proof.
To understand this let me offer you this example from my life:
I struggled with the idea of getting a divorce a number of years ago. I went to therapy to make sense of things and to get help with my decision. At the time my self-confidence was really low so I asked many other people their opinions in order to form my own opinion.
In my fear of making the “wrong” decision, I made no decision. Thankfully what I realized at the time was that I was the only one that needed to believe I made the “right” decision. I had learned that my thoughts about my decision would actually make my brain search for proof that I made the best decision.
When I chose to believe I made the “right” decision, I saw proof that my children were thriving in a home without the stress of their parents arguing, I saw how I was able to rise to the challenge of being a single mom and I recognized how peaceful I felt. I saw how my marriage was meant to only last as long as it lasted. I found so many things to be grateful for about the years we were together. I was excited about what my future could hold.
On the other hand if I chose to believe that I made the “wrong” decision my brain would show me proof in the form of questioning every mood my kids were in and blaming it on my decision, in the thought that it was much easier when another parent was around to take the kids to their school things and in the feeling of how scary it was at night being solely responsible for our safety. I would feel jealousy for other people in good marriages. I would look back and challenge all the valid reasons I had for wanting the divorce in the first place.
As you can see from my example, making a decision and then deciding that it is the “right” decision before and after making the decision would give me a completely different outcome than believing I made a “wrong” decision. If you have regret about a decision you made, a powerful question you can ask yourself is “How does it serve me to believe I made a wrong decision?”
When you second guess yourself after a decision is made you open yourself up to indulging in confusion all over again. The antidote for this “after” stage is to manage your mind and have your own back. You can decide to think you made the right decision, allow your mind to look for all the proof that you made the right decision and question the oppositional thoughts that come up.
If there’s a new decision to be made in the future, you now have all the tools you need before and after when you learn the power of managing your mind. Decision-making is all about doing some thought work and deciding what to think on purpose. I believe that’s the best decision you can make.
- Why is that you can make certain decisions all day, every day yet agonize over making other decisions?
- The part of your brain that runs the show more than 80% of the time, the primitive brain, is not the part of the brain you use to make decisions.
- The key to decision-making is – you have to decide what you’re going to think BEFORE you decide what you’re going to do
- What makes a decision “right” or “wrong” are your thoughts about it and your thoughts are 100% within your control when you learn how to manage your mind.
If you’d like some help with decision-making, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.