By: Susanna Halonen | Coaching
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I felt my heart rate increase and my blood pressure rise. My breath got shallower and shallower, and I felt the temperature in my body rise. I started to feel hot, sweaty and claustrophobic. Anxiety kicked in. I felt trapped, lost and incompetent. My decision making skills flew out the window.
Even the thought of deciding what underwear to wear today made me panic. I was so overwhelmed I could barely remember to breathe. And then I remembered: it’s ok.
It’s ok to feel overwhelmed sometimes and it’s ok to feel anxious. It’s a completely natural part of being human, especially in today’s lifestyle where busyness seems to define our day to day life.
As an ambitious perfectionist and over-achiever, I suffer from anxiety when I feel like I’ve lost control of my to-dos or when I’m trying to decide between two equally attractive options. This tends to happen when I’ve lost sight of where I want to go, or when someone dangles a new tempting option (that wasn’t in my plan originally) on front of me.
Sometimes the anxiety gets so bad it leads to indecision paralysis. Anything you ever knew about decision making disappears from your life and you have no idea what to do. This can feel like the end of the world. And again, that’s ok. It’s not whether this happens to you or not that matters; it’s what you do to get out of it that does.
That brings me to decision making 101. You (and I) want to be clear and confident when deciding what to prioritise and how to choose between two (or more) attractive looking options. You want to commit to a choice with vigour and determination, not with fear and self-doubt. And there are things you can do to make that happen.
These are the seven steps I take to get that clarity and confidence back in my decision making process:
It sounds silly and unhelpful – yet it’s the first thing you have to do when you feel the anxiety kicking in. The faster, shallower breaths you take, the more stressed you’ll feel and the less clear your head will be. Take at least five deep breaths to calm yourself down (inhale for at least four seconds and exhale for eight) and get back in control of your brain.
2. Remind yourself what your long-term vision or goal is.
Clarity on this is crucial if you want to make sound decisions. Then, when you’re deciding between Option A and Option B, you can ask yourself, Is this going to get me closer to where I want to be? You can apply this same question to everything on your to-do list and prioritise based on that. If it’s the long-term vision you’re struggling to get clear on, visualise your dream life. Write about your best possible self. Imagine if you had the life you dreamed of in one year’s time, what would a typical day and week look like in your life? It doesn’t me you have to build the dream life in one year, but it does mean you have to get clear on what kind of days and weeks you want to have.
3. Stop asking people what you should do.
You can not ask the people around you to tell you how to live your life. Sure, chat about your dilemma with your partner and your friends, but do that to get clearer on what’s in your head rather than to obsess about the advice they’re offering. Otherwise you run the danger of being inundated with conflicting opinions and tips. Your voice will get lost with the voices of the other people and you won’t remember which voice is yours anymore.
4. Listen to your intuition.
Sounds cliche but it is so important. Your full being probably knows the answer already and it’s time you listened to it. I know this is even harder when you’re feeling anxious or stressed, but it’s even more important then. Take the time to breathe and reconnect with your soul with whatever way that works for you. It could be exercise, yoga, reading a good book, going for a walk in the park, taking a long bath or a million other things. For me, it’s riding my horse Mickey, cuddling and playing with dogs, and writing. Then, re-visit your choices and think about how each of them make you feel. If one of them makes you feel open, inspired and nervously excited, this is a good one to go with. On the other hand, if a choice is making you feel sick, lethargic and beaten down, this is probably not the path for you.
Another fun trick that can help with this is assigning each side of a coin one of your two options. Say to yourself that whatever side the coin lands on is exactly what you will do. Flip the coin up in the air and then pay attention to which side you actually want the coin to land on. Or alternatively, observe your initial reaction once the coin has landed and chosen the option for you. If you feel like you want to flip again, you probably want to go with the other option.
5. Do the classic pros and cons list.
Another cliche that helps! Think about the pros and cons for every option, and how much each item on your list actually weighs. When I was thinking about moving back to London from rural Surrey, I knew I’d have to commit time and energy to commuting to my horse and I’d also have to be prepared to pay higher living costs. I also knew I wanted to be closer to my partner, my friends and my clients who were all mainly in London. In the end it was a no brainer as the pros of making the move clearly outweighed the cons in my eyes.
6. Let go of your attachment to the outcome you desire.
Focus on the journey instead. If you choose Option A, it could lead to X, Y or Z – but regardless of what it leads to, will you enjoy the journey of working towards it? If you obsess purely about the outcome you desire, you will be too afraid to make a confident choice because you will forever keep thinking What if? to the other option. You can come up with a million What if’s but they won’t help you to commit to a decision with confidence.
For example, I’ve recently been brainstorming what kind of online courses I want to start offering. My biggest barrier to getting on with them has been the evil inner critic voice saying, What if no one buys them? You’ll waste all this time and effort into designing them and then they just sit there all alone. I’ve had to fight this voice back with: Regardless of what happens, I’ve been wanting to try them for a year now and people have asked for them. Even if they don’t sell as well as I’d like them to, they’ll still be there for some people to benefit from and potentially create some passive income. They could even be turned into books in the future.