Making the “Right” Choice

No matter the scenario before me, I find myself stressing over making the “right” decision. Even seemingly simple choices are blown way out of proportion. Should I take a walk or not take a walk? Should I order take out tonight or cook? Should I clean today or tomorrow? When you break life down into these small decisions, it can become overwhelming quite quickly.

It appears as though everyone around me is moving through life intuitively, with confidence in their decisions. Even big life-changing decisions like leaving a job, getting married, having a baby, going back to school. I guess it’s not fair to say these are easy situations for others to navigate. Maybe they are just as tangled up inside as I am. I just only end up seeing the final result. Still these decisions are made firmly, as if they truly know it will be the right one. When it comes to big decisions in my own life, I can’t say I’ve ever even made one. Looking back most major life-changing decisions were made for me like getting a scholarship to college. Or I just find myself gently pushed into one like when I decided to do yoga teacher training with a friend from work.

It feels like all this time I have just been allowing life to happen to me, rather than playing an active role in directing my own experience. I guess I’ve always felt safer not being in control of these things. I’d rather feel like a victim than feel at fault. Perhaps one of the reasons it’s so hard for me to make decisions is because I know how hard I am going to be on myself if I make the “wrong” one.

I go through each day in a precise set of activities. Even though it might be nice to break away from my normal routine once in a while, I’m always too afraid. It’s not even so much about the tasks themselves, like I once thought. It’s more about not having to contemplate what to do next. When I have a schedule to follow, that takes away a lot of the decisions I’d have to make in a day. Take away the routine and I feel like I’m at sea, drowning in an ocean of possibilities.

The real issue here is thinking that there is a “right” decision to be made at all. Especially about such insignificant choices like whether to go for a walk or not. Rather than just thinking, “Oh, a walk would be nice” and going, or, “Eh, I don’t feel like going for a walk today,” and letting it go, I agonize over whether or not I should. I use up so much mental energy arguing and debating with myself about the smallest things.

I take life, and all the decisions that comprise it, far too seriously. I blow each little moment way out of proportion. Most of the thoughts I suffer over for hours or even days, won’t make a difference in the long run. It’s like I have this delusion if I can choose what to do with each second of my life perfectly, all my problems will go away. I know that isn’t true though. There is no perfect answer. There are no “right” or “wrong” choices. There is just me and what I want. And maybe the problem is I don’t know what that is. Or maybe the problem is I’m always looking for problems, so that’s what I find.

What’s the problem with being indecisive anyway? I can choose how I frame even this dilemma. I could take pride in this “flaw.” I’m quite careful and conscientious. These are excellent qualities. I want to make the most of this precious time I’ve been given. I don’t want to be wasteful with a single second. I am insightful and capable of self-reflection. Already, this mental shift has put me in a better mood. Now instead of feeling afraid and broken, I feel happy and proud to be the way that I am.

It’s so easy for me to look outside of myself for answers. I feel like in order to be happy or to love myself, I’ve got to change something outside of me, like the situation or my behavior. That’s always just another distraction though. I don’t need to change anything external to be happy. All I’ve got to do is give myself the space to find different perspectives of the same “problem.”

When I find myself sweating the small stuff today, I’m going to return to one of my favorite mantras: Can I love myself even though…? Can I love myself regardless of whether or not I go for a walk today? Certainly. Can I love myself even though I have a tendency to choose the path of least resistance and default to routine? Absolutely. Can I love myself even though I often take life too seriously? Of course. Can I love myself even though I spend so much time worrying about making the “right” decision. Yes I can. And that’s all that really matters.

Decisions & Intuition

A lot of the spiritual and mindful videos and podcasts that I listen to talk about doing what feels right in the moment or doing what will make you happy. I always catch myself waiting for them to explain to me how I will know what that is. Of course, they never do. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be self evident or if it’s just something that no one else can teach you. People always discuss intuition like it’s so clear. As if there is one particular thing you know you want, but you’ve been denying yourself. It’s never seemed that simple for me.

I’ve always been a very analytical and indecisive person. It’s hard enough for me to pick something to eat at a restaurant, let alone what path to take with my life, or what to do each day to best serve that path. I’ve never quite understood what people mean when they talk about intuition or just knowing they have to do something. I even remember learning in one of my psychology classes that most people feel more confident about a decision once they’ve made it. However, people predisposed to depression and anxiety don’t feel this same self assurance after making a decision. Instead they continue to doubt and question themselves. I would definitely count myself among the latter group.

I’ve been trying to listen for that voice of intuition in my head, but there are just too many contradictory voices. I’ve never known who to listen to. One voice may say: It’s a beautiful morning, let’s go for a walk. Then that voice is immediately shouted down by other voices saying: There isn’t time. The dog is going to make it too stressful anyway. You need to eat breakfast. You forgot to buy bug spray. Which voice is the one looking out for me? Which voice is guiding me towards what will make me happy? Some people may choose to just take the walk anyway and then feel confident it was exactly what they needed. However, for me, I’d just continue to wonder if I made the right choice and waste the walk ruminating anyway, over analyzing and second guessing myself. I guess that’s why I gravitate toward finding a routine and sticking to it no matter what my inner voices are saying.

Still I long to find fluidity and flow in my days. I don’t want every day to be exactly the same. I don’t want to remain stagnant and never experience anything new or novel. I want to be able to give my body and mind what it needs to flourish in each moment, not try to cram myself into the same box every day. My soul often cries out for more, but I feel I need an interpreter to decipher exactly what that “more” is.

Yesterday, I was weeding my garden and listening to an audiobook called, Siddhartha. At one point in the book, Siddhartha realizes that he has been seeking knowledge of himself from others. However, he is the only teacher he needs if he wants to learn about himself. Although this seems rather obvious, it struck me as profound in that moment. Perhaps my problem is that I keep waiting for someone else to teach me how to listen to my own intuition, for someone to teach me how to make the “right” decisions. I suppose I’m really the only one who can teach myself how to do these things.

The first hurdle I must overcome in this classroom of life is agonizing over making the “right” decision. There is no right decision. No matter what decision I make, it will teach me a valuable lesson about myself. The only way I’m going to find out which of these voices inside my head truly reflects my heart’s wishes is by listening to them. It’s time for me to start studying myself as an impartial observer. I’ll make decisions and let go of worrying about whether or not they are the “right” ones. I will never be able to know that. What I can observe, though, is how different decisions make me feel. Hopefully by being mindful of this trial and error process, someday I will be able to truly connect with that evasive intuition.

For now, I am just going to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to not know. I don’t need to always have the answer. It’s okay to trip and fall along the way. It’s okay to make the “wrong” decision. It’s okay to feel disconnected from myself, from my body and my spirit. I forgive myself for all of it. I’m learning how to rebuild that connection. With so much external stimulation bombarding us at every moment, it’s no surprise that I have a hard time sifting through the noise and hearing my true self clearly. There is no shame in that. I often get so frustrated by not knowing that I forget how much I love learning. How sad it would be to know everything. I am so grateful for the complexity of this world and of myself. Whatever you choose to focus on there is always more to learn. It’s time I got excited to learn about me, to tap into my inner wisdom and honor how unique and intriguing I really am.

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Mental Energy

I remember someone telling me once that the time you spend mulling over your options in your head is actually using up energy. He told me that he thinks that’s why by the time I get around to doing something, I feel exhausted and uninterested. This made a lot of sense to me. I spend so much time, and energy apparently, agonizing over even the smallest decision. By the time I finally decide, if I ever do, I have nothing left to put into the activity itself.

While I found this idea very fascinating, it didn’t really help me to address the problem. I may know now that I’m wasting energy when I run through everything in my mind a million times, but how do I stop? How can I teach myself to be more impulsive? Intuitive? I wasn’t always so neurotic. I still remember being in high school making plans with friends. We always agreed that whenever a plan fell together all of a sudden, last minute, it ended up being more fun. Now it’s been literally years since I’ve made any last minute plans. I always want to have plenty of time to mentally prepare myself. But maybe that’s done me more harm than good.

When it comes right down to it, I need to remember that most if not all of these decisions don’t matter. Everything will turn out okay no matter what I choose. I spend my day to day in rigid structure to eliminate as many decisions as I possibly can. But of course I just find new smaller decisions to consider. What yoga poses should I do today? What should I draw? What should I eat? Which video game should I play? All absolutely inconsequential. I am always struggling, looking for the “right” answer. But of course there is no right answer. None of that stuff even matters.

I can’t even commit to the decision after I’ve made it. I continue to second guess myself. I want to remind myself that none of these things even matter. I could skip them all together if I wanted to. I began most of the things I do everyday because they are things that bring me joy. That’s it. That’s the whole point. Somewhere along the path of my life I have forgotten how to have fun, how to just be with myself in the moment.

I want to rediscover that connection with myself. I want to quiet my mind and listen for that soft voice inside. The voice of my inner child, my joy, my instinct, my intuition. I know that it is still there somewhere. I just need to uncover it again. And until then, I’ll keep reminding myself not to take life so seriously. Not every little decision is life or death. I am blessed with so many equally wonderful options to choose from. Each as good as any other. The point isn’t which I choose. It’s how I live in the moments to follow.

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An Overwhelming Age

In one of my psychology classes in university I remember learning that one famous psychologist suggested an interesting correlation when it came to freedom and happiness. I tried to look up who it was, but I wasn’t able to settle the matter with any certainty. My best guess is that it was Erich Fromm.

Anyway, the idea was that while having no freedom leads to unhappiness, too much freedom can as well. We feel powerless when we don’t get to make any choices for ourselves, but we also begin to feel overwhelmed and distressed when we have too many choices. This idea has stuck with me ever since.

I truly believe that in our modern age, most of the world has started to experience that unhappiness due to too much freedom. Never before in history have we each had so many individual choices to make each and every moment of every day. We are constantly being advertised to, we have twenty or more different options for each product we need to purchase at the store, and we have an unlimited number of options when it comes to the internet which is now an integral part of our everyday lives.

I personally feel paralyzed with indecision on a daily basis. And it has certainly only become worse as society and technology has progressed in my lifetime. I am mentally exhausted from weighing endless choices. Most of the time all I can do is try to shut it all out and do nothing. I used to think this was solely due to my anxiety disorder, but it does provide some comfort to know that this effects everyone to some extent.

It brings to mind a quote by Sylvia Plath that has always deeply resonated with me:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

I have felt this way all of my life, yet never could have created such a splendidly perfect metaphor. I am not sure what we as a society can do to address this problem though. It certainly seems wrong for the government or some other entity to limit people’s freedoms in order to protect them from being overwhelmed by choices. But I do often long to have been born in simpler times. While I am grateful for all the freedom I have, I am also somewhat fearful of it.