How to Move Past the Fear of Making the Wrong Decision
Updated: Jan 6
One thing a lot of my clients have in common when I first meet them is that they feel stuck between desperately wanting to change something, and being paralysed by the fear of making the wrong decision.
And that’s totally understandable, right? If you’re feeling unhappy and unfulfilled in a career or business that you’ve already invested time, energy and money into, the last thing you want to do is invest more time, energy and money into shifting into something new only to find that you feel unhappy and unfulfilled in that. What on earth are you supposed to do then?
But in the words of Jen Sincero,
"Deciding is freedom. Indecision is torture."
If you’re not careful, that indecision becomes as painful and suffocating as the thing you desperately want to escape from.
But here’s the thing.
The secret to finding or creating work (and a life) that makes you feel happy and fulfilled isn’t making the right choice; it’s learning how to choose well.
So how do you choose well?
1. Let go of the belief that there is only one perfect career (and life) out there for you.
The thing that keeps many people stuck in indecision and inaction for years (sometimes sadly for their whole life) is the belief that there is just one perfect job/career/business/purpose out there for them, and if they don’t somehow work out what that exact life purpose is, then they will never really be happy.
And they usually believe that they have to figure out what that perfect job or career is before they can start actually doing something about it.
No wonder they feel paralysed and overwhelmed! The phrase “trying to find a needle in a haystack” comes to mind, and not only that, trying to find the needle without going near the haystack!
Let’s just take a minute to recognise how a) unrealistic and b) unhelpful that idea is. The world is changing at a faster and faster pace; there are many jobs, businesses and careers that exist now that didn’t 20 years ago, and even more will exist in 10 years' time that don’t exist now. Having a neat, clear 5 year plan towards a specific job title in a specific sector just isn’t helpful or realistic anymore.
And we are all multifaceted people, with a whole range of different strengths, skills and experiences. We are all capable of doing multiple different jobs well, and enjoying a lot of them too!
We change and grow as we go through our lives too. What may have suited our lifestyle and interests in our 20s might be very different to what works well for us in our 40s.
Rather than believing that you’ve got to work out your one life purpose (and all the weight that goes with that belief), how does the following feel instead?
“There are multiple great lives (and plans) within me, and I get to choose which one to build my way forward to next.” - Bill Burnett & Dave Evans “Designing Your Life”.
Doesn't that feel so much lighter and more freeing?
2. Think like a scientist
One thing I mentioned above is this belief people have that you have to work out exactly where you want to get to (i.e. exactly what job or career is right for you) before you can start to take any action.
Well, to be blunt, that belief is going to get you nowhere fast.
You might feel like you’re taking action by doing lots of googling and lots of online tests, but in my book that’s just procrastination in a thinly veiled disguise!
A hugely important step in making a good decision is information gathering. And while you can use the internet to gather some information about what jobs are being advertised, what careers other people with similar qualifications to you are in, that’s all just a tiny amount of surface level information.
And I’ll bet that actually whenever you spend half an hour (or more) looking at all that stuff online, it leaves you feeling more disillusioned and more stuck, rather than inspired and motivated. Am I right?
I want you to be getting out there and exploring.
I want you to think like a scientist.
The fundamental role of science is hypothesis testing.
You create a hypothesis (“I think I might like to be a graphic designer” or “I really want to work with animals” or “I’d like to be doing something that doesn’t involve sitting at a desk all day”), and then you design an experiment to test that hypothesis.
Think you might like to be a graphic designer? Don’t just blindly jump into spending £10K on a two year Masters course only to discover at the end that it’s not going to make you happy after all. That’s not good hypothesis testing, or good decision making.
Instead, think about how you could test that idea, in a small way.
Could you have a chat with someone who already works as a graphic designer, and ask them what they like and dislike about their work?
Could you take a short, free, online course on graphic design and see how engaged and energised it makes you feel?
Could you try designing a logo for a friend or a local small business?
What’s great with hypothesis testing as part of decision making is it can be low risk and low investment. And the only way to fail is to not do something.
If you test the idea of being a graphic designer and the result of the test is that it doesn’t feel like a good idea after all, that’s success not failure!
You’ve learned something really valuable and saved yourself a lot of potentially wasted time, energy, money and hope.
3. Learn to tune into your gut
We’ve all heard the common phrases about “gut instinct”, and "trusting your gut”.
While it’s true that we do all our conscious thinking in part of our brain; as well as there being approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain, there are also 500 million neurons in your gut.
We often find ourselves saying we’re torn between listening to our heart (really our gut and certain parts of our brain, although there are neurons in your heart too!) and our head.
But what’s really powerful in good decision making is being able to listen to both.
So yes, do all the rational, logical information gathering. That’s important.
But also take the time to listen to what your heart and gut have to say. That “second brain” has so much useful information to tell us. When you can combine the power of your logical brain with the power of your emotional brain, that’s when decision making becomes a lot stronger.
When we’re rushing around being “busy”, trying to squeeze in our job, exercise, chores, family, perhaps a social life if we’re lucky, we stop hearing and listening to our gut. And when our response to a little bit of free time is to crash on the sofa and binge watch something on Netflix, we’re numbing out, which also stops us hearing those whispers from our gut.
Make some time to slow down and tune into what your gut is telling you. There are lots of different ways to do this. For some people it’s meditation or yoga. For others it’s drawing or cooking. For one of my clients it’s going for a walk somewhere quiet, without his phone (so no podcasts or music to distract him). Essentially it’s prioritising taking the time to slow down.
4. Embrace the power of small (practise on the small stuff)
One thing I’m always encouraging my clients to do is embrace the power of small. Small steps, small wins, and small habits (making a habit of slowing down is one powerful thing to do, for example).
I am not trying to say that decisions about your career (and life) are not big and important.
And so if you’re struggling with making big decisions, why not practise with some smaller ones?
Take all the things I’ve talked about so far, and test them out on other decisions in your life, where the stakes feel smaller.
My boyfriend always agonises over what to choose in a restaurant. He’s definitely fearful of making the wrong choice. So he often stays in his comfort zone and misses out on trying new things he might love.
You could take a situation like choosing what to eat in a restaurant, or which restaurant to eat at, or where to go for a day out, whatever, and test out tuning into your gut, or thinking like a scientist.
You only get good at something through practice, so if you want to get good at making decisions when they feel like they really matter, practise making them well when they maybe don’t matter so much.
5. Make sure you've got a process
The point of thinking like a scientist, and embracing the power of small, as I just discussed, is that you’re developing and practising your decision making process.
Having a process is key.
It’s said that successful people are so successful because they make decisions quickly. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they know exactly what to do as soon as a decision presents itself, but they start taking action on that decision straight away by starting to work through their process.
Having a process massively reduces the temptation to procrastinate. We often procrastinate because we’re not sure what the first step is, or because the first step feels too big and/or scary.
But if you have a tried and tested process, you already know what the first step is and, because you’ll have practised that process, that first step will feel familiar and comfortable rather than big and scary.
And, just like there are multiple different great career and life paths out there for you, there are also multiple different processes you can adopt.
That feeling of comfort and security that comes from having a tried and tested process is one of the things I provide for my clients.
Although the exact way we work through that process looks different for each client (because every client is different), I take them through the same process that I have tried and tested myself.
Whether they want to make a decision about a career or job change, what direction to take their business in, whether to take voluntary redundancy or not, or what steps to take in what order to achieve the change they know they want (these are just a few examples), I support them to walk through and put into action everything I’ve talked about here, and much more.
I hope this blog post helps you to feel less paralysed and start to move forwards with whatever decision you’re facing.
If you feel like you’d really love some support with whatever decision or dilemma you're facing, and you’d like to have a chat about what that could look like, you can book a free, no-strings-attached 30 minute call with me here.
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