Tag Archives: worry

The Perils of Indecision

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Do you have trouble making decisions?  Is a decision as simple as what to eat for dinner or which movie to see enough to send your head spinning?  Do you second-guess your decisions immediately after you make them and wish you could turn back the clock and do something different?

Indecisiveness is a common problem and one I’ve suffered from tremendously over the years.  I have driven myself crazy when wrestling with all types of decisions, from the large to the seemingly insignificant.  I have wasted countless hours in weighing pros and cons and wracking my brain to make the “right decision,” and I have lost out on things I’ve wanted by taking too long to make up my mind.

Dennis Prager on Indecision

I recently listened to a broadcast of Dennis Prager’s Happiness Hour on the topic of indecision.  Both Dennis and his callers presented some powerful points on this important topic which have made a difference in the way I approach decisions in my life.  This post highlights some of these key points and I hope it will help you to combat the perils of indecision.

Dennis Prager gave an example of a man who was looking to buy a house.  He found two homes which met his basic criteria; both homes were great, but the man couldn’t make up his mind.  He had spent months trying to decide which home to buy and will very likely lose out on both options as a result of his indecisiveness.  I have had this type of thing happen to me with job offers and potential purchases.  Because I couldn’t make up my mind, the decision was made for me and I lost control of being able to decide my own fate.  I was paralyzed by my fear, so I didn’t get what I wanted.  I lost out on both door number one and door number two and was left “back at the drawing board.”

Looking for Absolute Certitude

Those who have difficulty in making decisions are looking for absolute certitude that they will make the right decision.  Unfortunately, that is something we just never get!  As Prager said during his broadcast, “Where in life do we ever get absolute certitude?”   Most of the time, we just don’t get to know what’s right beyond all shadows of doubt, so we have to proceed without knowing the outcome.

The indecisive don’t trust themselves to know or do what’s right.  They are plagued by both fear and self-doubt and are constantly looking for external validation.  It is not uncommon for such people to ask everyone they know for their opinion on a pending decision but not feel helped by the input at all.  They continue to engage in their “paralysis by analysis” and all their frenetic pondering only serves to keep them running in place and not moving forward in life!

Surprisingly Simple Advice

The advice given by Dennis Prager is surprisingly simple.  He recommends that when we are struggling to make a decision, we should ask ourselves, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I make the wrong choice?” A healthy attitude to adopt regarding decisions is to say, “So what if I make the wrong decision!” It is very rare in life that we can’t undo a decision.  Most of the time, we are able to turn things around if we find ourselves going down the wrong path.  Sure, it can take some courage and effort to course-correct, but it’s doable in most instances.

Even if a choice can’t be undone, often the gift of time will bring us perspective such that we don’t end up regretting what we’ve chosen.  For example, many divorced people do not wish they had never married in the first place.  Rather, they are grateful for the good times in their marriages, as well as the lessons they learned as a result of the dissolution of the union.

Two Good Choices, No Bad Outcome

When you think about it, many decisions are between two good choices and there are really no bad outcomes.  The man who was wrestling with his house decision had two excellent options before him.  While it’s possible that one house was a bit better than the other, neither would have been a bad place for him to live.  My struggle to settle upon a career bears strong similarities to the house example.  The options in front of me were all good and I seriously doubt I would have been miserable with any of them.  My indecision has led me to dabble in a variety of professions instead of resolutely following a singular path.  Thus, I have not achieved the level of career mastery that I would have hoped for at age 44.

My brother experienced similar career confusion for much of his life and found himself paralyzed by indecision for a number of years.  Fortunately, through the encouragement of his wife, he finally made a decision (without certitude) and became a teacher.  A decade later, he is satisfied with his choice and has made a difference in the lives of many young people.  Would he have been just as happy in one of the other professions he’d considered?  It’s very likely, as his options were based upon research and consideration, not random selection.

Set a Time Limit for Decisions

Dennis Prager recommends that we give some thought to the options before us and then make our decision!  It can be very helpful to set a time limit for rumination and consideration.  Keep the time limit short and after it has elapsed, force yourself to make a decision.  I remember a trick I learned (I forget where…) in regards to decision-making.  If you’re stuck between option A and option B, flip a coin.  On which side the coin lands is not nearly as important as your reaction.  You likely know in your gut what you want to do, but you are letting your emotions lead you astray.  The way you react to how the coin lands can tell you a lot about what you truly want to do!

Key Points on Decision-Making

I close with a recap of the salient points made by Dennis Prager:

  1. We never get to have absolute certitude regarding decisions.
  2. Ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
  3. If you wait too long to decide, you often lose out on BOTH options!
  4. Much of the time, the choice is between two (or more) good options.
  5. It is rare that a bad decision cannot be undone.
  6. Set a time limit for rumination and then make a decision!

While the points above may not immediately “cure” you of your indecisiveness, they can make a big difference in the way you approach decisions moving forward.  Setting a time limit can stop the “paralysis by analysis” phenomenon that can present a strong roadblock to your happiness.  Decision-making is a skill like any other.  With practice, it gets easier and you do a better job with it.  Won’t you join me in combating the perils of indecision?

Don’t Worry!

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This message is a cautionary tale from a longtime “worrywart” (or as my father-in-law used to say, “worryhorse”).  I have wasted many hours and sacrificed endless enjoyment by worrying about all sorts of things, most of which never came to pass.  It is my hope that my insights today will help other worriers to reform their ways and increase their happiness in life.

Reasons Not to Worry

I recently listened to an episode of the Happiness Hour from radio talk show host, Dennis Prager.  The focus of this hour was on worrying, so I knew I needed to listen carefully.   Unlike many people who have “blind spots” in terms of their weaknesses, I knew full well how much of a detriment my habitual worrying was to my life and my happiness.

Dennis Prager stated that there are two powerful reasons to break the habit of worrying:

  1. Most of what we worry about never comes to pass.
  2. When one is worrying about what might happen, it is impossible for him to be happy in that moment.

Freakish Accidents and Ailments

Let me explore both of these reasons and relate some personal experiences.  In the past few years, there have been some high-profile celebrity illnesses and deaths, some of them from rare or “freakish” accidents or ailments.  Two which come to mind are the death of actress Natasha Richardson from a seemingly minor skiing accident and the near-death of singer Bret Michaels from a rare type of brain hemorrhage which strikes without warning.

After I read about the death of Natasha Richardson, I started to become terrified after even a minor head bump which would occur around my house.  I worried that I would suffer a fatal brain bleed like that of Ms. Richardson.  I was so fearful that I even went to the emergency room after bumping my head on an open cabinet door back in April 2009.  While I did feel dizzy and lightheaded, I learned that most dangerous head injuries are coupled with unconsciousness or severe symptoms within a short time period after the injury.

Many Worrywarts Out There…

During my ER visit, I was given a CAT scan which revealed no hemorrhaging and was sent home shortly thereafter with instructions to rest in order to recover from the slight concussion I had experienced.  I was also told that the incidence of ER visits for head injuries had increased exponentially since the death of Natasha Richardson.  Evidently, I’m not the only worrywart out there…

It is common for people to worry about being struck with a life-threatening ailment, but what we have to realize is that the worrying doesn’t do anything to prevent such illnesses from occurring.  Yes, we can modify our lifestyles to minimize the risk of certain accidents and diseases and we should endeavor to do what we can to prevent ourselves from becoming ill.  However, there is only so much we can do to mitigate our risk.  After all, even a person who never leaves his or her house could be victim to earthquakes, tornadoes, break-ins, or errant plane crashes!

Wasted Worries…

A caller to Dennis Prager’s show related a powerful experience.  She was hit by a truck and was lying on the ground waiting for the ambulance to arrive.  As many thoughts went through her head, including the fact that her injuries might prove fatal, she had one thought that was especially poignant to me as a lifelong worrier.  She said that she wished she hadn’t wasted so much time worrying about breast cancer.

When we are in a state of worry, it is impossible for us to enjoy what we’re doing.  Worry is almost always future-focused.  We concern ourselves with what could happen and what might happen, and in the process we are not present to where we are and what we’re doing in the moment.

Personal Experience With Worry

My husband and I periodically travel and leave our two cats in the care of a very caring and competent pet-sitter.  The pet-sitter comes to our house twice a day to feed our cats and give them love and attention.  I know my cats are in good hands, but that doesn’t stop me from spending quite a bit of time and energy in worrying about them.

I noticed myself doing this on our recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area and was able to stop myself.  There I was on vacation and spending time with my mom and my husband at one of my favorite art festivals, yet my mind was at home in my apartment with my cats.  Fortunately, I was able to alleviate much of my worry by checking in with the pet-sitter a couple of times and then using self-talk to shut off the automatic “worry machine” which seems to continually operate inside my head.

Gay Hendricks on Worry

Gay Hendricks provides some useful tips for eliminating worry in his excellent book, “The Big Leap.”  He correctly asserts that “worry is useful only if it concerns a topic we can actually do something about, and if it leads to our taking positive action right away.”  He suggests that when we find ourselves in the midst of worry, we ask ourselves the following two questions:

  1. Is it a real possibility?
  2. Is there any action I can take right now to make a positive difference?

If the answer to the first question is no, that should be a cue to stop worrying!  If the answer to both questions is yes, you should take the action you’ve identified as soon as possible and then stop worrying.  If the answer to question one is yes, but the answer to question two is no, then you should also cease your worry because it is counterproductive to your enjoyment of your one and only precious life.

Those Cancer Worries…

Let’s take the example of breast cancer.  According to the American Cancer Society’s website, the chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman’s life is slightly less than 1 in 8 (12%).  So developing breast cancer is indeed a real possibility for women.   However, there may not be any action many women could take to reduce their chances of developing the disease.  While an overweight smoker with a poor diet could make lifestyle changes which could help, many healthy women can do little to affect their chances of developing breast cancer (although regular screening is definitely recommended).

Powerful Words to Remember

Fortunately, I spend very little time worrying about breast cancer, but it would serve me well to remember the words of both Dennis Prager and Gay Hendricks when I find myself immersed in other worries.  Some additional insights can be found in the Serenity Prayer, something which I’ve posted previously but bears repeating:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I vow to face my worrywart tendencies head on.  Eliminating needless worry (and much of it is that!) is integral to my journey toward healing my life and becoming a happier and more peaceful person.  If like me, you also suffer from consistent worrying, I invite you to join me in becoming an ex-worrier.