5 strategies to help you make decisions without overthinking
“Think about it”
Most of us have been given this advice from quite early on in life when we faced a decision. It’s a reasonable thing to do, isn’t it?
Truth is, the biggest and best decisions I made in my life, I knew the answers in an instant. Whether I did or didn’t take time to ‘sleep on it’ the answer was already there, it was just a matter of letting it sink.
What I learned through my own experience and supporting clients through change, crossroads and transitions, is that quite often, when it comes to the big questions in our lives — Should I take the job? Should I start the business? Should I marry her/him? Should I relocate? Should I grab this opportunity? — thinking gets us stuck.
By thinking, I mean our everyday understanding of thinking — turning a decision over in our minds a million times, playing out all possible scenarios, making pros and cons lists… and by the end of it we’re supposed to have ‘figured it out’.
I see coaching clients and friends (and having been there myself several times) taking time to “think about” what they want to do next, and getting really lost and disheartened in the process.
The only thing we’re left with after long stretches of forced thinking is more confusion; and a headache.
Learning to make a decision with more ease and confidence, and then feeling good about it without second guessing yourself (which is emotionally and mentally draining), are skills you can hone. You can develop a set of tools and practices that allow you to connect with your inner wisdom, increase your threshold of uncertainty and therefore also increase your capacity to take risks (all important aspects when it comes to decision making).
If thinking works for you, if you managed to find a process / tools that help you find clarity and make decisions, great! Keep doing that, I’m certainly not against thinking. However, when approaching a decision by thinking about it is leading you to overanalyse and feels confusing, overwhelming, or crazy-making, I would love to invite you to experiment with the following tools:
1. SIT WITH IT
Sitting with a question over a period of time is a way of processing that’s less conscious and deliberate than thinking. We ‘park’ the question and let our brain work on it while we go about our lives. Sitting with a question without forcing ourselves to think about it, when paired with activities that help us connect inwards and nurture our creative thinking (such us spending time in nature, meditation, yoga, art, etc.), helps loosen up our subconscious. That’s when we experience new insights or answers “popping up” when we least expect it, often while we are immersed in some unrelated, absorbing activity (driving, folding the laundry, cooking, showering, etc.). It can also slowly build an answer over time by ‘connecting the dots’ through aha moments and synchronicities (a book falls off the shelf, a related job opportunity comes ‘out of the blue’, a conversation you overheard, a course, a program, etc.). *Watch out that you're not using this tool to procrastinate making a decision, that sitting with a question doesn't turn into indecision in disguise.
If you’ve been here for a while you know that I’m a big fan of putting pen to paper. We tend to think the same thoughts again and again (like a broken record) but we won’t usually write the same thing over and over again; journaling can help us break these habitual thinking patterns and therefore create space for clarity. You can also use specific prompts to specifically address the decision you’re making, such as: “What do I need to know about..?” Or “What is my next step?” “What am I not seeing?” then use a writing technique called stream of conscious writing, where you simply let your pen flow and don't stop to edit - write a little bit faster than your thought formation, even if it’s a little uncomfortable. Even if you don’t find answers directly through writing it can help you move past your mental loops and break down blocks that are standing in our way from finding answers.
Sometimes talking something through with a person that you appreciate and trust, having them reflect back to you and challenge you with insightful questions, can be really valuable when you’re trying to find clarity. Sharing forces us to clarify our beliefs, motives and desires. There’s a caveat though, not every person would be a good candidate for that. Friends and family are often too involved in our lives and therefore are biased. Find someone who is objective, who won’t impose their own agendas on you or project their own fears and desires on you. It’s important that this person doesn't give you advice or tell you what to do but rather help you to realize your truth, which is freed, not forced. I shared more about it over here in this IGTV
4. LEAN IN
Test the water, experiment, try things out, be playful. Your decision may require a small step, not a huge leap. Often when we take a step forward more information becomes available to us. Little experiments allow us to gather information from lived experience, not mental reasoning. For example: If you’re considering pivoting your career into a new field, instead of ‘thinking about it’ why not sign up for a short course? If you’re thinking about starting your own business, is there a way you can try it out on a smaller scale before you quit your job?
Visualising the different options allows you to experience how they feel in your body. Our body carries so much wisdom and can give us accurate information as to how we truly feel about a decision. Our body never lies, our mind does. Imagine yourself living through those different options and notice which option feels heavy and stressful, and which option makes you feel spacious and light? Which option makes you feel restrictive and which makes you feel expansive? Which option feels exciting and joyous? Which lights you up? As a coach, I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard clients come in overwhelmed by all the different opinions, by ‘what ifs’, by all the pros and cons, when the answer is actually already within them and is right there ready to emerge. I’ve learned that sometimes all you need to prompt the answer to come forth are 5 words: “What does my gut say?” And most important - be open to the answer — even when it is uncomfortable or scares the hell out of you. (Hint: Your gut’s answers are simple. No long elaborated explanations needed) When it comes down to big life decisions, we need to go with our heart and move forward. There is no way to predict how a decision will unfold. Even decades after you made a decision you can’t know if it was the ‘right’ decision, because you don’t know what would’ve happened had you chosen differently. You just need to trust that it was the right decision because it was the decision you made. Onwards & Upwards, Love, Naama