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Standing at the Crossroads – overcoming Fear and Indecision

October 18th, 2010

Would you like to “do something different” with your life? Do you have too many options and don’t know which one to choose; don’t know what options are available to you; or are you caught between two options, one which you feel you should do but doesn’t inspire you, and one which inspires you, isn’t particularly sensible, and may even be a little scary?

When we reach a crossroads – and it can happen several times in one lifetime – we may find ourselves “paralysed” by indecision. We know we want to make changes, and we don’t know what to do for the best.

Underlying this indecisiveness is one key emotion – fear:

* fear of failure
* fear of making the wrong decision
* fear of being trapped
* fear of making mistakes/getting it wrong
* fear of rejection
* fear of the unknown
* fear of being in the same place in another year/5 years/20 years
* fear of being given the unpleasant jobs
* fear of being different/standing out
* fear of being bullied
* fear of causing resentment
* fear of leaving friends and family behind
* fear of not being good enough
* fear of …

While fear is dominating your thoughts, it’s virtually impossible to make a decision, rational or otherwise. Ideas chase round inside your head as you analyse each option in microscopic detail and come to no substantial conclusions about which is the best option. Then apathy sets in, and you decide you don’t feel like doing any of them.

When I was looking for direction in my own life recently, my coach helped me to see that decisions about what I want to do can’t be made with my head. Decisions made by the head are all about what you feel you should do, or rather what you believe other people think you should do. It’s all about obligation. Your head is good at making rational judgements, like whether 2 + 2 = 4. It’s not good at making decisions about what your heart desires. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. After all – whoever decided to fall in love, using their head?

The best way to choose what you want to do with your life is to use your intuition – to go with your “gut” instinct, recognising and tapping into how you feel about your options. Picture yourself doing a particular job or living a particular lifestyle – and imagine what it would feel like. Does it feel inspiring? intriguing? challenging? or boring?

You may picture yourself doing something which inspires you, and yet you feel afraid that you won’t be any good at it, you’ll get it wrong, or you’ll discover later that you’ve made the wrong decision and will be trapped there.

What if you went out of your way to get something wrong, to prove to yourself that you can cope with making mistakes, and that nothing has to be forever? For example, choose a temporary job that you know you’ll hate, to prove to yourself that you can break free from an unsuitable career path whenever you want to. Or choose an activity that you like to do well, and deliberately do it badly when no-one’s looking. It can be really liberating to be told by a manager, team leader or teacher that it’s OK for you to make mistakes; that making mistakes is the most effective way of learning. So imagine how liberating it would be to tell yourself that it’s OK to make mistakes.

Fear stops us from participating. Fear stops us from living authentically, from being fulfilled and from tapping into the well of potential that most of us keep hidden because we’re afraid to show it – afraid we won’t be as good as we secretly think we are.

There is a positive side to fear. Fear prevents us from doing things which might cause us harm. It’s a natural process which is designed to protect us. The only problem is, the world has evolved, and our fear instinct hasn’t kept pace. Whenever we come across something we don’t recognise, fear kicks in automatically, to protect us from potential danger. Adrenalin starts pumping round our bodies, our heart starts beating faster, our palms start to sweat. This is the “fight or flight” syndrome. We’re getting ready to run away or fight back – and when it comes to things that really matter, often our tendency is to run away.

What gets you through the fear is the belief that you’re doing the right thing at the present time. It might not be the right thing in five years, or even in five minutes – and that’s perfectly OK, because you can change it.

How do you work out what the right thing is for you? Identify your Values – what’s important to you – so that when an opportunity arises, or a situation occurs in your job, you can ask yourself how well it fits in with your personal criteria. For example, if one of your Values is to achieve a balance between work and home life, and you’re regularly being asked to work additional hours in the evening and at weekends, how does that fit in with your Values? Similarly, if you’re passionate about protecting the environment, would you consider working for a company which is known to destroy the environment?

Once you’ve worked out what’s important to you, stick to it. If an opportunity comes along, and you’re tempted to take it, pay attention to your thoughts – are you using logical arguments to convince yourself it’s a good opportunity, or do you know instinctively that it’s right for you?

If you’re having difficulty identifying what’s important to you, look through magazines and cut out pictures which appeal to you – and see whether a pattern emerges, for example working outdoors, being with children, …

Write your Values on pieces of coloured card and put them where you’ll see them regularly, or where you may need them most, to bolster your resolve to live by your Values. For example, you might want to refer to a card in your desk drawer, which reads “I leave work on time”!

Whatever your particular fear, the important thing is to DO SOMETHING – however small – and trust that you will gain confidence with every step you take.