5 Ways to Make a Decision Despite Anxiety



?There are so many reasons why we get anxious that sometimes I get anxious trying to decide what part of being anxious I should write about. How nuts is that?!

Doing the very thing you are afraid of is what reduces anxiety. Somebody said that. Probably Eleanor Roosevelt because she said everything cool, but I digress…

Everyday we are faced with decisions from the seemingly mundane, “Do I get out of bed today?,” (seemingly, because for some that is a major decision, no joke) to the life changers, “Do I take that job? Start a company? Have a baby? Move to a new city?”

Those of us who tend toward anxiety too often find ourselves going around in circles, towards a decision then backing off, only to go towards it again and backing off once more, like a toddler who can’t decide if it wants independence more than it wants to be with mommy.

Why do we get anxious about making decisions and what can we do about it?

We lack confidence. Somewhere along the line we were taught to be careful, practical, not to think too much of ourselves. In a herd it’s better to keep your head down and blend in. In the old days, the risk-taker became the saber-toothed tiger’s breakfast.

For each decision we anticipate a million “what if” scenarios that leap into the future and, believe me, whenever we “fortune tell” in an anxious state the outcome is never good! Why is that? Because when we’re in flight-fight mode we are reacting to a perceived threat which is always negative. Ever notice how easy it is, when we’re nervous, to build up the evidence against something? Easy to say, “I can’t do that and this is why!” Much harder to look for positive reasons to take the plunge!

We ask other people what to do which can make the spin worse if we’re not careful. Because we are anxious about making the RIGHT decision we look for guidance. Mentors, friends, parents, the Internet, all weigh in with their opinion. Sometimes this helps. Nothing wrong with gathering information. In fact, educating yourself is smart, but there are limits. There comes a point when it’s time for the research to stop.

We get caught up in the fallacy that there is a “Right” or a “Wrong” decision. We are convinced that there is a key that if only we had, would unlock the Truth and then all would be well. That’s a lot of pressure and totally a lie.

Basically we’re scared, and living life dominated by fear really stinks. 

How can you build up your courage to make a decision?

1. Accept that in many life decisions there is no right or wrong choice.

Unless we’re talking about something that is truly obvious like deciding to jump off a bridge (to which the Right decision is clearly No, don’t do that!) The truth is there is usually no right or wrong decision. No matter what decision we make there is always the path not taken. No matter which fork in the road we take there will be bumps. That does not make it the wrong decision. Just your decision with challenges.

2. Look out for people who say “This is definitely what you should do.”

For every person you speak to there is another with a different take. Each is well-meaning but each is thinking about the situation from their perspective, not yours. Be sure you are asking the right person for counsel. They should be someone you totally trust to look out for your interests who knows you and respects your boundaries. That person will say, ”If I were you I’d be leaning this way but it’s your decision and I will support you no matter what you decide.”

3. Boost your confidence by remembering just one time you made a decision, and had the courage to stick with it and overcame challenges. Was there ever a time in your life when you were fearless? When given this exercise a very anxious client remembered that  in her youth she raced at a national level. That was her! From that point on she channeled her youthful self  to see through difficult decisions that required risk taking and courage.

No matter how miserable we may be in the moment, we’ve all done something hard in our lives where we’ve managed to land on our feet. Let those moments feed your confidence to choose a path and move on.

4. It’s called a leap of faith for a reason. Vetting every possible ‘what if’ scenario is impossible. You can’t do it because they are infinite. But if you are so inclined at least do yourself a favor and notice, how the ‘what ifs’ you come up with tend to be dark, negative predictions. Challenge yourself to come up with a few “What if I could be happy?” possibilities.

5. What remains is: What do you want?

Once all the obvious stuff is out of the way, what makes your heart sing? Who is the You inside longing to be free from fear? What would she do?

I will speak for myself and say that the times I’ve made a decision to do something “crazy” like move to an unknown city, buy a horse or start my own business from scratch, I felt fear (oh yeah!) but the love I had for that dream waiting to be fulfilled proved stronger.

Was it smooth sailing once the decision was made? Not at all! Sometimes my thoughts wander to the ‘path not taken.’ Or when obstacles in my path loom large, “What the hell was I thinking?” crosses my mind.

But as someone (not Eleanor Roosevelt) once said:

“When you have decided what you believe, what you feel must be done, [you will] have the courage to stand alone and be counted.”

Sit somewhere quiet, take a deep breath, create a nurturing space in your head, away from all the demands on you. Close your eyes and ask yourself: What do I want? Then listen, take action and be proud.

What are your thoughts? Please click on the tab above that says “No Comments” (un-intuitive, I know) and share you experiences and insight!

2 comments


  • I love this post. Anxiety can be so immobilizing and moving past it can sometimes feel almost impossible. I just posted about this very topic on my blog http://www.simplybacktobasics.com/2014/03/stuck-in-maze.html. About a wonderful little book Who Moved My Cheese? which is about pushing through anxiety and suggests you consider “What Would YOU Do if you Weren’t Afraid?”

    Dr. Aletta’s suggestions are excellent in helping to let go of some of the fear and move onward. Don’t over analyze. As my late stepfather always said, “Nothing is cast in concrete”.

    2014/04/03
    • Thank you, Linda! And thanks for sharing your post.

      2014/04/03

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