I am fascinated by decisions. We make beautiful and hard decisions everyday. Where to eat? When to smile? Should you get a divorce? Should you forgive your partner? Are you being selfish? Is it worth having kids in this crazy world? How should we raise our kids?
The word “decide” means “to cut away from;” so, letting go. For example the issue of having a second child. What a beautiful and hard decision! It is a mutually exclusive choice. To decide to NOT try for a second child means to let go of a dream. The family you at some point envisioned with two kids won’t happen. The loss of the dream can be heartbreaking. To go for a second child means embracing the fear of the unknown. Will your life be better or worse? What if you change your mind? Children are non-refundable!
Irreversible decisions are heavy! Decisions to divorce, stop a pregnancy, have children, travel, retire, get treatment for an illness, or not continue with an affair are hard. They all involve potential losses and fears. Unprocessed fear and loss will keep us stuck. Unprocessed fear and loss will affect our behavior.
Not making a choice can, of course, be helpful. Sometimes, to not make a choice seems simpler, easier, safer. It also can be paralyzing. So, how do we know when to make a choice and when it is better to think more? Better yet, what would help you to make a choice in the best frame of mind possible?
Make sure you have processed your fears and your potential losses. We all have them. Some we know, some we find out when talking to loved ones or therapists. Sometimes, the emotion is clear. Other times, only the behavior resulting from the emotion is clear. So, it is important that you process the emotions and behaviors related to the choice. Fighting partners are often motivated by different emotions. Sometimes, this results in opposing arguments and fights or refusal to talk (behavior). To process the emotions sometimes changes the behavior.
Get comfortable with risk. Have you seen the movie Sliding Doors? In it, we watch Gwenyth Paltrow living in two different versions of her life — one that happens if she catches the train and one if she misses it. We get to see how her life would have turned out either way. If only life could be this way!! Then we are sure our choices are the right ones. I have a little secret. There is no movie of your life. Don’t tell anyone. It is true. We choose based on what we think will happen. So, since there is no way of ever knowing, 100%, if your choice is the right one, get comfortable with risk. Particularly, risk that your choice will have consequences that you may not like. The good news? Most of our choices are fixable. The other good news? Make choices with the best information available to you at the time. That’s all any of us can do. The 3rd best news? Imagine both of your choices. Draw or write how your life might be based on each choice. In other words, pretend that Sliding doors is a reality for you. Write what you think will happen and which risks there are. Then take a few days break. Go back to it and look at both options. Which makes you more comfortable with the risk? Which do you see living?
Then trust in your ability to make choices. How? Look at previous decisions. Fear increases when we assess the danger to be higher than our abilities or the situation. Think of times when you made good choices. What allowed you to make those good choices? How can you replicate previous choices to the current decision?
Also, indecision can be helped by CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) techniques. These could be a cost-benefit analysis, brainstorming, or the pie chart method. I would recommend looking for a mental health provider for these.
Finally, ask yourself: Is there anything gained by waiting? What will I lose if I wait? What needs to happen now so that I can make this decision? Henri J. Nouwen, one of my favorite writers, said “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” This applies to many choices. We choose something and we choose joy and we keep choosing it.
Sabrina Bowen, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda, MD office. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Sabrina.