decision making
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The Dirt

Decision-making is hard. This helps.

By: Emma Shandy Anway

I work with a lot of college students in my practice, and one of the resounding themes that comes up during the weeks leading to graduation is how to decide what to do next. 

There is so much pressure to do the “right” thing, to have a clear five-year plan that sounds both accomplished and feasible, to make sure that whatever decision we make doesn’t leave us at 55 and full of regrets.

It’s not just 21-year-olds launching into the world who are plagued with the pressure of how to choose. It’s all of us. I’d argue the older you get—as you grow your family, career, network—the more complex pressure you feel to never make the wrong choice. 

The idea that there is somehow a “right” choice to make in life is what causes us to feel so overwhelmed and lost in the first place. 

“Should and shouldn’t, right and wrong, good and bad—they’re not wild. They’re not real. They’re just culturally constructed, artificial, ever-changing cages created to maintain institutions,” writes author Glennon Doyle.

When we operate the majority of our lives based on what we think we should do, we run the risk of living a life that’s not actually the one we want. We tend to live from a place of fear, anxiety and a need for a sense of control. 

“People self-sabotage to avoid change,” writes Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb. “Even positive change because they’re reluctant to give something up without knowing what they’ll get in its place.” 

Here’s how the human brain works: when we don’t know the outcome of a choice, negativity bias kicks in and we catastrophize. This tends to scare us so much that we either put off making the choice or ask another person to make it for us.

So what do we do? How do we navigate big and small choices instead of avoiding them or allowing others to dictate?

You have to start by looking inward. Identify and land on values you want to embody, and practice by making micro decisions every day to help internalize these values.

Ask yourself: How many decisions do I make based on fear rather than desire? What would it take for me to know myself and trust myself so fully that I no longer rely on external factors to decide my life for me? What tools can I use to mitigate my anxiety so it doesn’t prevent me from my true path forward?

Happiness does not come from the next achievement, the next box check. Happiness comes from living a life that truly belongs to you. 

Action Steps in Decision Making:

  • Spend ten minutes a day observing your thoughts without judgment
  • Get clear on what values you want to embody
  • Ask yourself: “If I knew everything would turn out okay, what would I choose?”
  • Stop “shoulda/coulda/woulda-ing” yourself
  • Manage your anxiety using the Wise Mind Exercise method

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