Are you facing a difficult decision right now? Perhaps you feel stuck in a job you don’t like and something is stopping you from taking the step of looking for something new. Perhaps you have been unhappy in your relationship for some time and are trying to decide whether to leave. Sometimes we can become paralysed when faced with a dilemma, not knowing which way to turn. Having listened to many people who are stuck at a crossroads I think there are three main fears that get in the way of us making a clear and wise decision….
1. Fear of making the wrong decision
It’s a common myth that when making a decision only one way can be “right” and the other is “wrong”. We have a strong sense that making a wrong decision could be disasterous and change our life for the worse. We become paralysed when we can’t work out which decision is right.
One antidote to this problem is to view whichever choice you make as a path leading to positive opportunities. If we choose to leave our partner and become single for a while we have the opportunity to learn to live more independently and build trust in ourselves. If we stay we have the opportunity to learn how to persevere in the face of problems and find a way to resolve them.
If you do make a “mistake” in your decision making this is a useful opportunity to learn and helps you identify what you don’t like or don’t want to do in the future. The greatest inventors are those who fail many times until they hit upon the right formula. Susan Jeffers says we should be afraid of NOT making a mistake – “If I am not making any mistakes I can be sure that I am not learning and growing” (Feel the Fear, p123)
2. Fear of what other people think
We often make decisions based on what we think others will expect or approve of. This can happen because we don’t trust ourselves to make a good decision so we look outside ourselves for guidance. This can lead to us making decisions that don’t sit right for us. We may become resentful towards those whose advice we trusted. We become paralysed when we feel that our decision is going to upset someone.
Here are some useful questions to help you identify what is important for you – yourself – when making a decision.
“If a miracle could happen so that you automatically had the full approval of everyone who matters to you (and therefore you weren’t trying to please or impress anyone) then what sort of things would you do with your life and what sort of person would you try to be?” (Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap, p199)
Imagine yourself aged 80 looking back on your life. What decision would you like to have made? What advice would you give to your “today self”?
Bear in mind that others may think they know what’s best for you but you are the only one who has to live your life. If others judge you, so what? Their thoughts about you can’t harm you. They can’t know all the complexities involved in making your decision so stick to your guns knowing that you made this choice for good reasons.
3. Fear of the unknown
It’s very natural to feel some trepidation about stepping into a new phase of life. We all have to go through this at various points in life in order to grow – starting school, moving away from home and starting our first job are all examples of this. Fear of the unknown keeps people stuck in a job they hate – sometimes we prefer to stay with what’s familiar even if it’s uncomfortable. There may even be part of us (let’s be honest!) that likes to have something to moan about and this stops us taking action to change what is annoying us. We may need to wait until the discomfort of staying here outweighs the discomfort of moving into the unknown.
If we do stay put for now it’s helpful to acknowledge to ourselves “I’m choosing to stay here because….” This helps us to connect with our own power and responsibility for making this choice.
When faced with a major life change remember there will be elements of continuity as well as change – getting married will change some aspects of your relationship but others will remain the same. Sometimes we need to be brave and step out into the unknown as part of the process of working out what we really want – you can only steer a ship that’s moving.
If you are at a crossroads, counselling can provide a useful space to talk through all your options with someone who will not judge you and will not try to steer you in any particular direction. Once you have made your decision, don’t look back! Don’t waste time agonising over whether it was the “right” decision or not – embrace the new opportunities that your decision has created.