How to stop fear from driving your decisions

Today's article is inspired by the film Sliding Doors. I won't spoil the ending but for those of you that haven't watched it, here is a very brief synopsis courtesy of google: "When Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow), a London ad executive, is fired from her job and rushes out to catch a train, two scenarios take place. In one, she gets on the train and comes home to find her boyfriend, Gerry (John Lynch), in bed with another woman. In the second, she misses the train and arrives after the woman has left."

The film plays out these two parallel lives and it got me thinking about how our choices affect our lives. Often we struggle to make decisions, spiralling down the overthinking rabbit hole and agonising over our choices, not wanting to make the wrong one. 

Or sometimes we make a decision and then quickly realise that the grass isn't greener or we aren't happy with our choice, and so we beat ourselves up and start to doubt our ability to make good decisions.

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to time travel and play out our choices so we can know with certainty that we are making the right one? 

Unfortunately, that option isn't available. And thereby hangs the problem with decision making. The truth is that sometimes we can't go back and pick the other path, we have to make choices in the moment based on the information that is available to us.

The point I'm making is that we don't know what we don't know. Once we do know then we can do better, but often that knowledge is the wisdom of hindsight - the new knowledge and experience we gained from making that choice, in that situation, at that time.

Now I've made some pretty big changes in my life over the years - I left my husband, changed career (twice), moved house a number of times, built a house from scratch and started a business to name some of the more anxiety-inducing decisions! So I consider myself reasonably experienced at 'taking a leap'.

I'll be honest though, I have also agonised over decisions for way too long, spent my fair share of time thinking "Eeek! what have I done" and I've certainly not always navigated these times with the finesse and grace I would have liked.

Yet it's those experiences, both good and bad, that have made me the person that I am today. An older, wiser, kinder version of myself and someone I'm proud to know. 

So here are nine decision making truths and tips I've learned along the way...

1. Feel the fear and do it anyway

Fear is a survival mechanism - it's healthy and normal to feel fear. Its purpose is to keep us safe; however, that doesn't mean we should always listen to it or let it run the show!

You see the part of our brain that operates our response to fear hasn't really evolved. It's still stuck in the caveman era when we had to hunt for our food and fight lions and bears to stay alive.

It's not well equipped to deal with our modern age of technology and social media and isn't good at telling the difference between a real threat to our lives and something scary on tv! So we really need to be discerning about how much attention and control we give our fear.

The unfortunate thing about fear is that it never really goes away, but you can get to a point where it doesn't hold you back. I really love how the author Elizabeth Gilbert describes taking her fear with her as a companion on the journey - 

"I recognise and respect that you (fear) are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

2. You can't please everyone

You cannot live an authentic life if your number one goal is to not upset, hurt, displease or disappoint anyone because your decisions will always be influenced by their reactions, thoughts and beliefs, which might not align with your own!

This is fear again but in disguise - people-pleasing and perfectionism are ways we have learned to cope with our fear. Back in the day when we were hunters and gatherers and all lived in tribes, it was important for our survival to fit in with the group and be liked. This is still hard-wired into us.

Anytime we do something that risks going against our group it's likely to trigger a fear response because our brain doesn't realise that times have changed and people disapproving of our actions, whilst still uncomfortable, probably isn't life-threatening these days.

This is why it's important to determine whether our fear response is helpful and proportionate or an over-reaction. Waiting for the perfect moment or for everyone's approval is a great way to stay small and stuck.

3. All decisions incur losses

No matter what you decide there will always be losses or costs that come with that decision. The very nature of decision making is giving something up, which is probably why we find it so difficult! So I'm curious...

  • What is most important to you?
  • What are you most prepared to lose?
  • Do the benefits of staying where you are, outweigh the costs of change?
  • Do the benefits of changing outweigh the costs of staying where you are?
  • What happens if you do nothing? How would that feel?

4. You can always choose again

Some options may no longer be available but you still always have a choice. If you made a decision and then find yourself somewhere you don't want to be, don't be afraid to choose again.

You didn't fail, you learned something new about what you don't want, which can inform your future choices and help you make better decisions. Remember failure is not the opposite of success, it's part of it.

5. Plan B

If you really want plan A to succeed then sometimes you have to get off the fence and ditch plan B. Now, this isn't for the faint-hearted and you need to weigh up your options and choose what is best for you and your individual circumstances.

Personally, If I had truly known how uncomfortable it would be before I made some of my riskier decisions, I probably would have never done it! Yet I'm so pleased I did. 

Was there a better, easier, less anxiety-inducing way to go about it, probably! But as author Nancy Levin says, "Jump and your life will appear". Sometimes you don't have to have it all figured out. You just need to take the first step...

6. Everything is figureoutable

In the words of Marie Forleo, everything is figureoutable. You have a 100% success rate of making it through hard times. Trust yourself to navigate whatever path you choose.

Sometimes it might get worse before it gets better. You might even mess things up and that’s ok too. Because that’s how we learn. I’ve made plenty of bad decisions and I survived. You will too.

7. Stretch yourself

Change can be uncomfortable because it requires us to grow. We have to let go of certainty and embrace 'not knowing'.

I'm not advocating living life in your stretch zone. Sometimes we need to pull back to our comfort zone to rest and replenish. However, nothing amazing ever happens there so it's important we don't get too comfortable and end up stuck!

If you are feeling unfulfilled in your life or work my advice is to choose courage over comfort and stretch yourself.

8. Just decide

Indecision is energy-sapping. In the words of Abraham Hicks:

"Make a decision and then make the decision right. Line up your energy with it. In most cases, it doesn't really matter what you decide. Just decide. There are endless options that would serve you enormously well, and all or any one of them is better than no decision." 

If you are really struggling to pick a path then decide to defer making a decision. Set a review date for a few months time and allow yourself to put down the weight of indecision and play things out a little longer. You can continue on the path you are on until you are ready. However, remember this is still a choice YOU are making which comes with its own set of losses or costs.

9. Get clarity

If you can willingly accept the pain associated with giving up the road not taken, you can embrace the decision you did make and move forward with clarity.

- Susan David.

The best way to make decisions is to throw all of the pieces of the jigsaw out on the table and start to build a picture of what's not working and what you'd like to be different.

When we get clear about what is going on inside us, it's easier to decide what we want and need, and begin to shape our outer world accordingly. One way to do that is through journaling.

I shared my favourite journaling exercise 'an emotional check in' in a previous article entitled "Ditch the self-care checklist and try this instead..."

I believe in today's world where we are all multi-talking, digitally overstimulated and being pulled in different directions, it's important to regularly 'stop the world' and check in with what's going on on the inside.

Ok, sure, we can’t stop the planet from spinning, but it is within our power to take time out of our lives to think and get clear about the choices we’re making and whether they’re the ones we want to continue making for the rest of our one precious life.

I love that I get to help people to pause, unpack and unpick the many thoughts, ideas and insights that already exist inside them and use these to find solutions, help them to make decisions and changes.

It takes clarity and courage to make big decisions and a willingness to step into the unknown. Ultimately we won't know what is further along any of the paths available to us until we pick one and start walking...

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Braintree, Essex, CM7 9DB

Written by Amy Metson

Braintree, Essex, CM7 9DB

Amy works with people who have a big heart & care deeply about others, often to their own detriment. She empowers them to become 'responsibly selfish' by understanding where they end & others begin, building inner & outer confidence, the courage to be true to themselves & striking a balance between caring for others & honouring their needs too.

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