Grappling with a life-changing choice, or simply find making your mind up a complete minefield? Here’s how to decide the right path
Having to make a choice which can affect your life and the lives of others can feel like a real burden of responsibility. How can you know you are doing the right thing? Here’s what the experts advise…
“Talking things through is a natural, human need and definitely recommended when it comes to hard or life-changing decisions,” says psychotherapist counsellor and coach Chanelle Sowden (chanellesowden.co.uk). “Friends or family are helpful because they care and know you and your patterns personally. It is natural, though, that the advice from those closest to you can be clouded by their own past experiences, current circumstances or what they think is best for you. This is not their fault, they’re just being human.” For this reason, it may be better for you to seek professional help with your decisionmaking in the form of a therapist, who is more likely to question long-held assumptions which might help you see things in a different light. “Another alternative is approaching someone in a position that you aspire to be in from making this decision, and asking if they would speak with you,” says Chanelle. “Even the process of preparing for a discussion like this can be helpful.”
While chatting things though with a trusted friend or family member can help in some circumstances, beware of being persuaded into a decision that is more right for them than it is you. “Advice is in an interesting word,” says hypnotherapist and coach Jessica Summers- Jackson (hebdenbridgehypnotherapy.co.uk), “and one which suggests to me that people can tell you what they think about something without taking responsibility for the consequences. Someone’s view on a topic, no matter how well meaning, is just that – their view – which is based on their own personal experiences. You have your own set of experiences which include what you can live with and what you can’t, and these are bound to be different from anyone else’s, even if they are similar in some areas.”
Jessica says she feels we all have the answers we need within ourselves, and sees evidence for this daily when working with clients. “By all means gather the information you need,” she advises, “but always go with what fits with your own world view, not theirs.”
“Your decision doesn’t have to be the ‘best’ by popular opinion or be understood by others, it just has to feel right to you on your journey,” agrees Chanelle. “Even better than making the ‘right’ decisions all the time is making the decisions that are true for you and where you’re at.”
The first thing to realise when faced with a difficult or lifechanging decision is that getting tense and stressed over it will not enhance your effectiveness – in fact, the reverse is true. “The neuropsychotherapist Stephen Gilligan describes this as ‘neuromuscular lock’,” says Jessica, “and suggests that our creative capacities are at their most limited when making decisions based on fear – be that fear of getting it wrong, fear of what people will think, or fear of creating an undesirable financial future, for you or others.
“So the first thing you might want to do is to take some deep breaths and give yourself space to explore a range of different options without judging them. This is the creative process and should be viewed as brain-storming without any pressure for your ideas to make sense or even be viable. Unless you give yourself this space of non-judgement, your thinking will be limited and will fail to incorporate the bigger picture.”
Then it’s time to tune into your body and feel what it is trying to tell you. Jessica suggests that, if you don’t feel relaxed when thinking over your options, this is a red flag. “It could be because you’re doing what you think you ‘should’. Whose view points are you taking on? Chances are, they may not be your own,” she says. “Are you trying to fit in with what your social circle might do in that situation? Are you behaving as your parents might have done? It’s surprising how often this happens. Generate a few more options that help you breathe more easily, no matter how impossible they feel to you right now.”
You think you know what you want to do, you almost decide, but then there are butterflies in your stomach, your heart is pounding and you’re consumed with fear. Or could it be excitement? Many of us are so stressed all of the time that the basic feeling of excitement can actually feel like anxiety. Here’s how to tell the two apart: “A way to check in with yourself about the origin of the butterflies in the stomach is to seriously consider not taking the action you’re contemplating – do you feel disappointment? Then it’s most likely excitement you were feeling and any initial nervousness should be swallowed up by your enthusiasm.”
It’s an oldie but a goody – that gut instinct we all possess is there for a reason. You can actually test this for yourself – think back to a time when you made a decision that worked out really badly for you. Close your eyes and really relive that moment. Now pay attention to how your body feels. “Is there a tightness and heaviness in your stomach? A sinking feeling in your heart? Maybe you get red and your hands start to shake? These are all signals that this did not fit in with your values,” says Jessica.
“Now think of a time when you made a decision that just felt right from the moment you chose it. Perhaps it almost felt like an ‘awareness’ or ‘knowing’ rather than a conscious decision on. Where do you feel it in your body? Is it a lightness or enthusiasm? Notice your breathing and how your chest feels.
“I would like to invite you now to think of something about which you’ve been struggling to make a decision. Think about two choices around this issue. Which one feels light and expansive? Which one feels tight, heavy and constricted? I’m willing to bet you had these feelings before you chose the way you did and you ‘thought’ your way around your awareness. We are often afraid that decisions made in this way are arbitrary, however, when you pin down the origins of reasoning, it’s usually based on the past and what went wrong before – is this, in fact, any less arbitrary? The most original thinkers and entrepreneurs do not base future actions on past mistakes, so why should you?”
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