Back when I was in high school, I was a member of my church’s youth group. I remember attending a conference that all the youth groups in the diocese were invited to. It involved prayer, worship music, lectures, and small group talks on individual themes. It could have been a real good time… had I not been the only kid in my youth group to attend.
Basically, I was surrounded by a bunch of sweaty, hormone-raging teens with astronomical levels of B.O., either picking at their acne or their braces, and I didn’t know a single one of them. (No, I did not have many friends, but you’re missing the point, KAREN.)
Anyhoo, at one point during the conference, we were each given a map of the building with the rooms where small group talks were taking place. They rambled off quickly which room would be talking about what. Since I was the only teen in my group, my youth minister told me to decide which talk I wanted to attend.
Cue the hyperventilating and rapid heart rate that comes with the anxiety of making decisions.
Suddenly, I couldn’t remember what the topics were and my eyes couldn’t focus enough on the map to read what each room listed. But everyone else was separating, heading to the room of their choice. As much as I hated making decisions, I hated being the last one everyone had to wait for even more. Panicked, I quickly pointed at a random room on the map. I remember my youth minister gave me a funny look before she said, “Really? Huh. Okay!”
It turned out to be a talk on labor unions.
I didn’t know what a frickin’ union was yet, much less understand the concept. And what the heck do unions have to do with a religious youth conference anyway?? To make matters worse, my youth minister and I were the only ones in attendance for this particular talk, so it wasn’t like we could just leave…
Decisions, decisions… Stressful little boogers, am I right?
I know a lot of people who get very anxious when they have to make decisions. You’d think you asked them to choose which wire should be cut to defuse a bomb. (If you have to make bomb-related decisions, my condolences… I cannot help you.)
Why is it so hard for some of us to make decisions? It may be different depending on the individual, but I’ve determined that it’s primarily fear of making the wrong decision; especially if the “wrong” decision may affect someone else in some way, or elicit an undesirable reaction.
In other words, we feel mighty guilty if we believe we’ve made the “wrong” decision.
We go around in circles in our heads, trying to figure out which decision is the “right” one. But the pressure actually ends up clouding our judgment because the fear of being “wrong” is so overwhelming. In the end, we usually go with the choice that WE are the least happy with, even if it makes everyone else involved happy.
Here’s another example: My ex-boyfriend used to make me choose where we should go to eat for dinner. (He knew I hated making decisions, which is why he made me do it; for his own enjoyment.) I deplored the idea of making him eat somewhere he didn’t like. It made me feel guilty. I knew he liked Chili’s, so even when I wanted to shake things up and go to IHOP (I love me some cream-filled crepes, and, of course, there’s plenty of bacon), I usually chose Chili’s. (I mean, they have plenty of bacon there too, but that’s not the point, KAREN.)
And then there are those people who INTENTIONALLY make us feel guilty and use guilt triggers when we’ve made a decision they don’t like. As if making decisions wasn’t already hard enough…
I’m happy to say that in recent years, I find it a lot easier to make decisions. (My parents and younger sisters are laughing at that statement right now.) It was no picnic at first; I felt guilty every time I made a decision. But I grew further and further from that feeling of guilt the more practice I had at decision-making.
The key is working out those decision-making muscles. Flex them bacon bits!
Since I know how hard it can be at first when you suffer from indecisiveness and low self-esteem, here are some tips I’ve found useful when it comes to making decisions.
Go With That First Sizzly Feeling (That’s Your Bacon Talking)
Yes, I am referring to your gut. “But my gut doesn’t even know how to make decisions.” No, you’ve just ignored your gut for so long and given your guilt-bearing muscles way more workout time, so your gut’s voice has faded into the distance.
If you pay really close attention when someone asks you something like, “Would you like to go to the beach or to the museum,” you have a teeny, tiny tingling in your belly; a little inclination. You just don’t give it enough time to simmer before you sprinkle in all the self-doubt. That inclination is your bacon; the self doubts that start sprinkling in is all the extra flare you think you need to add to it.
Your thought process might go something like this:
Oh, the beach sounds fun.
But I do like art, and like I don’t want to seem uncultured.
And I think Janet would prefer the museum.
But it’s hot out, so would I regret not going to the beach?
But the museum is closer.
But the beach is free.
But I want to be smart.
I JUST WANT TO GO TO BED!
See what happens? You start to overthink every little thing when really, your first inclination was that you want to go to the beach. Give yourself a chance to taste that bacon before you start adding tomatoes, lettuce, and onions because your bacon probably doesn’t even need any of that extra stuff. (NOTE: I am not bashing actual veggies; this is just an analogy. I am not trying to offend anybody.)
Focus on the Present, Not the Future
It’s waaaaaaaaay too easy to agonize over the future. “But what if THIS happens, or THAT happens, and WHAT IF IT’S ALL MY FAULT????”
Simmer down there, Charlie. You got this.
Worrying about the future ruins your now. You’re a powerful force, but I hate to break it to ya: you can’t predict or prepare for every possible outcome. Focusing too much on what COULD or MIGHT happen will do you no good. (Unless you’re an airline, in which case, yes, please DO think about and prepare for what COULD or MIGHT happen, or I’m never flying with you EVER.)
The best way to bring your mind to the present is by focusing on your breathing. If you’ve had a lot of practice at meditation, you know how to stop and smell the bacon. When you’re faced with a decision and start to panic, take a moment to breath; focus on nothing else but breathing in and out. Let all your self-doubting thoughts out as you exhale. Then let yourself make the decision that comes to you in the simplest form (i.e. without all the self-doubt).
Take a Shot (No, Not an Alcoholic Shot)
Your gut doesn’t seem to be telling you anything. What do you do now?
Simple: take a shot in the dark. Any decision you regret is something from which you can learn. Say, for instance, you’re trying to decide between two new pizza places. You choose one that ends up having really crappy pizza. It’s not the end of the world. You just know now that you don’t want to eat there anymore.
Learning is always a good thing. As long as you have good intentions backing your decisions (e.g. you aren’t trying to screw anyone over), then you really have nothing to lose. (Except maybe a few taste buds, depending on how bad the pizza was…)
Ask Yourself: Is My Fear Realistic?
Do you really believe your friend is going to pull you out of her will just because you chose a crappy pizza joint? (If so, you should have written her out of YOUR will a long time ago.)
Yes, people are not always going to be thrilled with the decisions you make. You can’t control other people’s reactions. You are only responsible for you; whether or not people freak out about your decision is on them. Don’t dwell on others’ reactions to your decisions, because that would be like pouring a giant bowl of expired milk all over your bacon until it shrivels up into disgustingness.
Remind Yourself That Your Bacon Is Allowed to Make Decisions, Too
People make decisions every day. You trust other people to make decisions all the time, I’m guessing. So if others can do it, why can’t you? If the mere act of making decisions was wrong, no one would decide anything ever. So why should you be any less allowed to make decisions than everyone else? Your bacon has a lot to offer the world, so don’t hide it!
Remember That You Are More Than Capable
Again: who says you’re the only one who isn’t capable of making decisions? We were all born with this innate ability to survive and thrive, each in our own way. If you were to take away all the outside crap that makes you doubt yourself (e.g. other people’s opinions, society’s expectations, etc.), you would be making decisions left and right, completely carefree, and you’d see just how capable you are at it. Act as if that is the case: no one can touch your bacon and your bacon is free. Because that’s how it should always be. (I rhymed!)
Ask Yourself: Does My Decision Hurt Anyone?
So when I say you shouldn’t let other people influence your decisions, that doesn’t mean you should skip around making decisions that hurt other people without any consideration of their feelings or well-being. For example, making the decision to steal your friend’s donut instead of buying your own is so not cool. (Like seriously, I would probably karate chop you in the neck.)
When making a decision, ask yourself: “Does my decision hurt anyone” or “Is my intent to screw someone over?” If your answer is yes, that’s when you should rethink things. Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about a situation like deciding to go to the beach and your friend ends up getting stung by a jellyfish. There’s no way you can predict something like that.
However, if you decided to go to the beach with the intent to stick a jellyfish on your friend’s face while she’s suntanning… Yeah, you should definitely regret that and apologize and probably get some professional help…
If You Regret Your Decision, Look for the Positive
Not all decisions are going to end the way you want them to, and that’s okay. Like I said before, you can always learn something. If you’re really feeling down and guilty about a poor decision, write in your journal all the good things that may have come from it.
Take the example of the jellyfish sting. Some possible good things to come out of your decision to go to the beach that unexpectedly ended with Janet getting pee on her leg:
- You now know what to do in that type of situation.
- You now know what NOT to do in that type of situation.
- You now know you need to be careful when swimming in the ocean.
- You can come better prepared next time.
- You now know what a jellyfish sting looks like.
- It will (eventually) make a very funny story (assuming Janet’s still alive).
And the list could go on. Making decisions only stresses out your bacon if you let it. Flex those decision-making muscles, even if it results in a bad decision now and then. No pain, no gain, right?
And if you need to sleep through a lecture on unions, so be it. (Although I don’t recommend it.)