Mostly, these are small decisions: Should I cook or go out? Should I buy the blue or the red sweater? Should I get cable?
While these decisions are small, they are worth paying attention to, because the ripple effects can be quite big. (This is why we don't have cable--the time I could waste watching the Food Network alone boggles the mind!)
So, while it's important to be mindful of some of these smaller decisions, today I'm interested in the big ones. So, for example: Should I quit my job? Should I get married? Should I get married to her? Should I start my own company? Should I move to the West Coast?
Fortunately or unfortunately, most of us are keenly aware at the impact these big decisions can have on our lives, and so we can become paralyzed by indecision, afraid to act at all for fear of making a huge mistake. For some, this may pass, and you will find that you are able to decide. For others, the decision simply gets put off: first for days, then months, then maybe even years slip by with no action taken. Inertia becomes the only thing propelling your life.
As you may have already guessed, this is not ideal. Any power you do have over your own life is going to waste.
So how to break free of this kind of paralysis? I have used very focused visualization in the past to great effect. Perhaps this will seem obvious to many of you, but I know that it seemed like a revelation to me at the time. I hope you find this technique helpful.
Here's what I do:
- Find a place you can lie down and be totally alone. This is likely to be your bedroom, but so long as you're lying down and no one is nearby, it will work.
- Lie down, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. You need to calm your mind, relax your muscles, let your breath rise and fall from your belly and not your shoulders. You need to get into a near-meditative state, really. This can take several minutes. Be patient.
- Once relaxed, with your eyes still closed, focus your mind on the decision. Put it in either-or terms. As in: I can either stay in Texas, or I can move to Arizona.
- Pick one, and begin to construct the movie of that decision in your mind. So you decide you will stay in a certain place, in a certain job, with the social network you have. What does that look like? What do you see next week looking like? Next year? Get down to the details. Who will you be seeing often? Which bars/restaurants/offices will you be spending time in? How does this make you feel? What do you like and dislike about this option? Again, imagine this to be as real and visual as possible.
- Pick the other decision, and create that movie. Once you feel like you have really explored both the images and the feelings of one option, switch to the other and do the same exercise over again. If, in this example, it's imagining something you aren't familiar with, recognize that. Imagine the moving van, and the drive into a place that's only sort of fuzzy. Imagine that you won't know who your friends will be, and so you'll have to talk to people on that getting-to-know-you level. Get down to all the practical ramifications of making that decision. Does that excite you, or fill you with dread?
- Pinpoint your emotions. Try to put into language the emotions you felt in each scene. Get up and create a list of words that apply to each visualization. Come up with as many that apply as possible.
- Analyze the emotions. There will likely be positive and negative emotions in each decision. But now you can figure out why you feel the way you do. For example, you may feel fear at both the prospect of staying and of leaving. But is that fear exactly the same? Is one the fear of missed opportunity, and the other the fear of loneliness and unfamiliarity? Which one scares you more? Which emotions excite you more?
- Meditate on what you've discovered. You likely won't have a "Eureka!" moment when you've finished this exercise, though it is possible. But having gone through the practice runs in your head, the identifying and analyzing of emotions will certainly give your subconscious something to chew on. When your mind explores a decision, you may feel a tightness in your throat, or a feeling of calm. Pay attention to that. Also pay attention to your dreams. Listen to all the signs of your body and mind in relation to each decision.
If you think of your life as a movie, be the director. Your movie should be directed by you, not by inertia. So start storyboarding--soon, you'll be ready to yell "Action!"
UPDATE: I've recently expanded on this topic in this post, titled "How to Live With a Big Decision." If you liked this one, I think you'll get a lot out of that one, too!
UPDATE 2: Another entry in the decision-making category for your perusal: "How to Make a Decision, Period." I hope you find it useful.
UPDATE 3: Another decision-related entry, this time on "The Consequences of Delaying a Big Decision."