I had to make some major decisions this week.
Not decisions like whether or not to push a red button or pull a plug. I know, I know, those are the most utterly depressing examples of decisions but they’re the most difficult decisions I could think of and I was going for a dramatic opening.
Luckily my decisions were much more along the lines of “possibly life changing but all good and everything will work out fine either way.” Way better than life or death decisions but I still found them challenging.
I used to be a stellar decision maker. The kind that had an answer before choices were even doled out. The kind that confidently chose the red M&Ms because everyone knows they taste the best. The kind that had my life all in order by eighth grade and everything unfolded according to that plan.
Until it didn’t.
I was in college when things took a turn toward the indecisive. My life plan slowly started to unravel like that sweater in that Weezer song. But I battled indecision with all my might, using the best of weapons. I made new life plans and kept it moving, figuring those would work out.
Until they didn’t quite either. And neither did the next ones. Or the next ones.
Nothing really bad happened. Things just didn’t quite materialize and I simply ran out of ideas after a certain point. Suddenly every decision became a red button decision. Left or right? Up or down? Mexican or Italian?
I still made decisions. But with trepidation. The confidence I once had headed for the hills, wanting no part of the responsibility for when things didn’t quite go according to plan. Of course, I heard over and over that no decision is a decision. So I’d make a decision and then get the shakes, fearing that it would lead to being sucked into a dark abyss never to surface again.
I mean, really, who wants to take full responsibility for themselves? We say we do because it sounds good but as humans we’ve invented all kinds of things to absolve us of responsibility. Religion is a big one. Which is fine. I’m not knocking religion or anything else that helps us feel and do better -- we’ve all got our thing. Making decisions can be really freaking scary. Still when it comes down to this life on this planet we’re ultimately responsible for our human experience.
Which means we better make some effing decisions! Because don’t forget, no decision is a decision.
At a certain point I entered into decision making recovery and have become better at making them again. I may always be a little more cautious than I was in my youth but in retrospect some of those youthful Evel Knievel decisions resulted in substantial physical damage so caution might actually be an improvement.
Of course, it isn’t always easy, like this week. In general I almost always struggle with food because I want it all. I would love constant access to a tapas buffet.
Overall, though I’ve reached a point where I realize very few decisions actually have the capability of Darth Vadering my life. Even if I make the “wrong” decision I gather information and then make another, hopefully better, decision.
I could look at choices that didn’t quite work out as setbacks or instead, more accurately, that they led me to where I am today. I could bemoan the fact that I didn’t stick with my first career choice long enough to become “someone important under 30” or be happy that it was part of the journey that has led me to a career I actually love. Plus, since I’m definitely living to be 100 I have plenty of time for “someone important” awards.
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. When that’s the case I just breathe. Like one of my best friends so wisely told me, “That isn’t something you have to think about.”
Then I start small. I do this because I have a natural tendency to want to go big, which I think a lot of people can relate to. I’ll run that marathon tomorrow. Next thing ya know blisters at mile three and disappointment while watching everyone else cross that finish line.
Starting small helps me wade through the fear since that gets in the way of decision making. Fear of missing out. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of what others will think.
I begin with decisions unrelated to the larger ones and that are essentially inconsequential. I just pick left or right, Mexican or Italian (Why not just mix those suckers!) because, in the grand scheme of things, how much difference will they actually make in the outcome of my entire life. Granted, you never know but odds are you’ll move on with your day and never think about that decision again.
I use those smaller (Which can still sometimes feel like Everest.) decisions to reacquaint myself to my intuition. For a long time society scoffed at intuition, but I think they’re slowly coming around, because folks, it's so dang helpful. We take in so much information at once that our brains can’t process it all consciously. Intuition makes up for that, as the subconscious keeps poking its finger in our sides to get our attention. How often have you “just known” you should have done something, didn’t, and bemoaned yourself later? All the time, right? That gut or heart or third eye talking to you isn’t BS. Listen to it. Practicing listening to it on small decisions helps build confidence.
I also try not to think too much about it. If you hem and haw over it that seems to make the process even more difficult. Take your mind off it. This is where the breathing helps. Meditate, move your body in some nature, clean, take a shower. Instead of forcing an answer, let the decisions come to you.
I did exactly that this morning knowing I’m coming up on a deadline. Brief panic set in. I'd been breathing all week and still nothing. So I breathed some more. I meditated. I did some free writing. I went for a run. I made breakfast. I questioned whether I had the time to do all these seemingly unrelated but fun and relaxing activities. Still I kept at 'em. Then in the middle of my scrambled eggs scrambling (What a metaphor, huh?) I had my decision. Clear as skin post-dermatologist appointment.
And so now on to the next decision. And the next one. And the next one. And the next… Time to start breathing again!