Let’s get one thing straight.
Feeling anxious about a big life decision is perfectly normal.
The fact that you feel anxious is an indication of your intelligence. Because the more intelligent a person is, the more likely he or she will put considerable thought into mental simulations of the future.
And when the future is difficult to see, you are faced with a form of blindness you’re not accustomed to. As an intelligent person, projecting your mind into the future is second nature to you.
Yet the complexity of the modern world, coupled with decisions that involve multiple unpredictable variables, can create uncertainty. It’s as if one of the main senses you use to navigate the world is suddenly missing.
So you feel anxious.
Here are just a few of the ways decision anxiety can manifest:
As a psychologist, I’ve helped my clients through anxiety in all its forms. But decision anxiety is not a problem you need to treat. Rather, it’s a signal.
Still, once you notice your decision anxiety, it’s important to channel your focus in a direction that will ultimately lead to resolution.
As the former monk, Dandapāni points out, “Energy is like water.”
When you water a garden, both flowers and weeds will grow. Water does not distinguish between the plants you want and the ones you don’t want.
And it’s the same way with energy.
If you direct your mental energy toward the things you fear, your fears will have a more powerful effect on your physiology and mental state.
If you direct the energy of your mind toward solutions, possibilities will arise and your emotional well-being will be strengthened.
Whatever gets your energy will grow, whether it’s fear of uncertainty or careful planning to build confidence and peace of mind.
This will reverse the human tendency to pace in nervous circles without ever using the deliberate power of concentrated focus to capture the key decision factors and analyze them systematically.
Still, some of you reading this article are in acute emotional pain. You need some breathing room. A temporary solution to escape the anxiety you feel.
In that case, here are two solutions to consider.
First, you may need to set the decision aside for a specified period of time. In essence, you are deciding to not make any decision until a specific point in the future.
If you use this technique, all you need to do is decide on a very specific point in the future (which could be one week, two months, or even one year) before you will allow yourself to pick up the work of making the decision again.
For this method to work well, you need to use a foolproof method of reminding yourself when it’s time to make the decision again. Mark it on your calendar, set a reminder on your phone, and picture yourself at the point in time when you will return to this decision. Then make an agreement with yourself to set aside the decision until that point in time.
Now, we both know what’s going to happen. The issue will come back to your thoughts anyway. So when that happens, use it as your cue to redirect your thoughts toward living more fully in the present moment.
Use it as a reminder to invest your mental energy in something else, like your relationships, learning a skill, or just getting better at the art of enjoying life one day at a time.
Now let’s consider another method to get temporary relief from decision anxiety.
This one is simple. Admit to a friend or professional counselor that you are feeling anxious.
If you use this technique, you haven’t solved the problem. But you’ve tapped into one of the unique things about how our nervous system works. Social support has been proven in countless scientific research studies to decrease most of the negative effects of stress.
And what about long-term solutions for decision anxiety? Is this a problem you can fix?
If you repeatedly experience decision anxiety, it may be time to examine your strategy for living a successful life. The truth is, you cannot control the future. So it’s important to overcome the illusion that you can actually control the meandering paths life takes.
What you can control is your valued directions. By this I mean the things you decide are important. The things you deem worth going after whether you succeed or fail.
I’m talking about values you would pursue even if you knew your life would soon be cut short. These are not goals that can be checked off when completed. These are values like investing in relationships, appreciating what’s good in life, and being as healthy as you can.
Focusing on your valued directions relieves some of the stress associated with attempts to control the future. You can’t control the future. But you can decide to go in a certain direction and keep moving in that direction each chance you get no matter how many detours life takes you on and no matter how many setbacks you face.
This is a long-term solution that can decrease the stress of making decisions. Because it grounds you. It focuses your mind on the things you can control rather than the things you can’t.
In fact, I am a proponent of “effortless success.”
Effortless success means going after the things you care about, but without the typical strain and emotional anxiety most people experience. It’s about moving toward what you want but releasing control over the “how” and “when.”
When I first began experimenting with this mentality, I was amazed at how rapidly I could move toward my goals while experiencing so much less mental strain. I had never experienced so little stress in my life.
But even more amazing was this. Lower stress translated to more energy to pursue my goals.
If you choose to use this mentality, then set your mind to achieve a goal, but release the need to control exactly how life will take you there. Trust that your persistence over time will be enough.
If you’d like me to influence you toward this way of thinking, or if you’d like my help channeling your anxiety toward a disciplined and systematic analysis of your important life decisions, follow this link to schedule a phone consultation.
Dr. Todd Snyder
Psychologist | Decision Consultant | Productivity Coach