Never making the decision you know you need to make has been called ‘analysis paralysis’; ‘sitting on the fence’; ‘considering your options’; ‘waiting for the right time’ (when there is no right time); ‘not wanting to rush into anything’; and, in new age lingo ‘being kind to myself by NOT making a decision’. OMG, really? However, deep inside ourselves, if we’re willing to be honest, we know it by another name, and it’s not ‘procrastination’.
It’s called “F.E.A.R.”.
I know fear well, and my guess is that you do, too.
We all do, if we’re honest. And the only difference between those who make fearless decisions and those who avoid them, is that fearless decision-makers are usually creating a life where they’re taking charge of the direction it’s going, and the others are not.
Of course, life has its own way of taking charge from time to time, so we can’t override everything that happens in our lives.
But we can sure make a huge difference in terms of how we feel about ourselves and our lives if we place the decisions that we’re actually able to make into our own hands, and not into the hands of ‘fate’ or, worse, into the messy bog of lethargy and passivity.
Oh, how heavy that bog weighs over time, especially when we heap a ton of justifications and rationalizations on top.
At times we fear making the wrong decision, so we wait until some magical time arrives when the right decision, with all associated guarantees of a positive outcome, has finally presented itself.
But, alas, that usually never happens.
Instead, we just have to jump in and take action, and the action itself often helps us get unstuck to an extent where we can see even more positive action that we can take, and thus, begins our journey out of what we thought was a safe harbour of stagnation.
Later, in retrospect, we usually view being stuck as the limiting and suffocating prison that, in fact, it really was. But until we view that place as our enemy, as opposed to our sanctuary, we’re destined to continue fighting with two sides of ourselves: the one who wants to stay safe, even if it means living a life of stifling boredom; and the one who wants us to reach out and become all that we can be during our lifetime.
The choice we make between those two ‘selves’ ultimately reflects our belief systems.
For example, over many years researchers have studied the motivations rooted in the particular decisions that people make over time, and their conclusions indicate we make decisions simply on the basis of what will spare us the most pain.
So we’re not necessarily choosing joy or happiness, rather, we’re just running away from pain.
This conclusion makes sense if you think about it, and if you consider evolutionary biology and its main tenant: the survival of the fittest. We make decisions that will ensure our survival rather placing ourselves at risk.
However, in this day and age, that doesn’t mean we need to make life and death decisions on a daily basis like whether we’re up to fighting dinosaurs this morning while the sun’s up or wait until sundown when it might be safer. Instead, we’re making decisions about whether to join a new fitness group, or go to a lecture of interest to us on our own.
Or, we could be struggling with starting a project, applying for a desired new job, writing a dreaded essay, cleaning the house, or finally organizing all of the financial papers that are being consistently stuffed into ‘that’ cupboard.
Each of these decisions, even the one about dinosaur hunting, has at its root the notion of choosing less pain over more pain, rather than opting for some pain in order to gain more joy – especially if you’re the kind of person who consistently gets stuck in procrastination (a.k.a. fear).
So, the surprising conclusion to these studies is that we appear to ignore the ‘more joy’ decision in favour of the ‘less pain’ one, and how we eventually make those decisions depends almost entirely on what our belief systems (our decision-making center) define as ‘more pain’ and ‘less pain’; and for each of us, it could be different.
For example, a decision about whether I should I go to the store today or tomorrow to buy groceries because I have nothing much to eat at home depends upon what my beliefs are around eating well. If I don’t care that much, then I’ll likely wait until tomorrow (more pain, in this case, is going today when I’m already comfy at home or trying to get home after being at the office all day).
However, if my belief system defines eating well as very important, for whatever reason, then less pain will mean going to the store today. You see how this works? If you take some time to examine almost any decision you’ve made in this way, you’ll likely piece together the belief systems that inform the decisions you make.
Another example might be trying to decide whether or not to spend $5,000 on a holiday to Hawaii in the spring. And again, your belief system will guide this one equally well. You might decide to go, even if you haven’t yet saved the money, because you hold a belief that it’s more important to live life fully in the moment as opposed to waiting until you have the funds in your hand.
Or, you might not decide to go into debt for a holiday because it would violate a belief you have about the importance of being fiscally responsible.
In both of these examples, the person is choosing ‘less pain’ over ‘more pain’ based directly on their personal belief systems (i.e., putting oneself in debt to go on a desired holiday vs. denying oneself a desired holiday; and being fiscally responsible vs. being in debt).
In this same way, you might find it useful to examine kind of decisions you’re making (or not making) to see how this ‘belief system’ principle is working in your life.
Which decisions are you making (or, again, not making) that are keeping you safe, yet stuck in a prison, comfortable though it may be?
And, which ones do you need to make that will most likely provide you with the kind of longer-term gratification that will actually offer you more joy, rather than merely less pain?
Sometimes choosing ‘more pain’ will ironically produce ‘more joy’ in the end, and more often than not, the ‘more pain’ decision means facing our fears head on so we can wrench ourselves free from the frozen place we grew beyond in spirit long before now.
So take some time to examine your decisions (or refusal to do so, which of course, is still a decision) and see if you can find places where you can choose considerably ‘more joy’ in your life, despite the short-term pain you might need to experience in order to arrive at a place where you’re no longer imprisoned by your fear.
I am an Adlerian-trained psychotherapist in West Vancouver in a private practice, and I work with individuals, couples, and families. I’m committed to providing the highest level of service to all my clients, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, politics, ethnicity, or nationality.