Decisions tend to be hard for me. I think it must be because of my propensity toward anxiety which causes me to second-guess and swirl whenever I have to really plant my feet firmly in a decision. I don’t like the idea of losing my options or, worse, making a “wrong” or “bad” decision and then having to live with regret.
Making decisions is a part of life. Just about every single day. And as I’ve been working along the journey of becoming more brazen and less woeful, I’ve wanted to become better at the decision making process. If for no other reason than I’d like to stop torturing myself so much when the particularly large decisions come my way.
So here are FIVE things I’ve learned about making decisions. Certainly some of these things I’ve had to learn the hard way . . .
ONE> FEAR CANNOT BE THE MOTIVATION
A couple of years ago Steve and I had to make a big decision. And the tentacles of the decision got all tangled up inside me to the point that all I could see or hear was confusion. It was a decision about our kids’ school, and I was in knots. I asked God to show me something different than the frantic confusion, to make a way through it, to help me untangle the tentacles that were squeezing my insides.
And here is the only thing I kept hearing from him: “Leeana, do not make a decision based on fear. Don’t let fear be the impetus. Don’t let fear be your guiding principle. Instead, what decision would you make, Leeana, if you felt perfect freedom?”
When I looked through the lens of freedom instead of fear, I gained an incredible amount of clarity about the entire situation. I realized I was hooked into other people’s expectations, my own assumptions, and outcomes I had no control over. I had to actually identify and process what I was afraid of.
What would I do if I felt perfect freedom? What would I do if I felt perfect freedom? I kept asking myself that question and the answer came toward me with a surprising amount of ease.
When we make decisions based on fear, we’re making a decision based on trying to avoid something. And I don’t think we end up moving toward our true desires when we are in a posture of avoidance.
TWO> SEEK GUIDANCE INSTEAD OF ANSWERS
Too often I just want someone to tell me what to do when I’m faced with a big decisions. But this is kind of a cop-out when I stop and think about it. It’s a way to escape having to take ownership of my own desires, fears, regrets, confusion, hope. I am a huge believer in guides in our lives, people who can help us sort through our thoughts and feeling and stirrings and pace us on the journey.
The wisest guides listen and reflect and know that the answer we need is inside us and their job is to just help us find it for ourselves. Some people want to tell us what to do. It helps them feel powerful. This is not good for them or for us.
When I seek guidance instead of answers, I find that I am truer to myself and to my own path than if I simply find someone who will tell me what to do. In other words, other people’s solutions are typically a shortcut that stunts a valuable process I need to navigate.
My spiritual director, Beth, is a skilled guide. She is less invested in telling me what to do and more invested in the deep work that is happening inside me. She’s teaching me how to fish instead of just handing me the fish.
THREE> THE THIRD WAY
When I look at a decision that needs to be made, I am often looking at two potential options. I can either do this or that. What I’ve come to learn is, even if I can’t see it, there is usually a “third way” hanging around just waiting to be noticed — an option that isn’t readily presenting itself, but is there nonetheless. The third way may be a middle ground, a totally new paradigm, a “wait” option, or some creative combination of them all. If you can only see two options in front of you, ask God to show you the “third way” and then resist the pressure to act until you have clearly seen the third way.
Often we feel so frantic to just make a decision that we don’t wait for the third way to develop, and then in retrospect we see it and wish we would have waited for it.
FOUR> AVOID GOOD/BAD AND RIGHT/WRONG THINKING
The Soul Bullies are SO very invested in coaxing us into either/or thinking. “You will either make a good decision or a bad decision.” “You will either make a right decision or a wrong decision.” It’s like a full court soul press. They raise the stakes, raise the stakes, raise the stakes, which makes us both frantic and paralyzed at the same time.
The Soul Bullies are always trying to convince us that we are one step away from ruin, that there is no grace in this decision-making system, and that there are only good and bad/right and wrong decisions in this world.
What if we backed out of that dichotomy all together. What if we decided that we were not going to allow those words to touch our potential options. What if the words instead were:
Is this decisions healthy for me?
Will this decision be life-giving?
Is this decision in line with my values?
Am I basing this decisions on fear or freedom?
Am I trying to please people (who I will never be able to actually please) with this decision?
Am I trying to fill a hole inside myself with this decision?
Have I talked to God about this decision?
Have I talked to my own soul about this decision?
These are different kinds of questions than “Is this a good decision or a bad decision?” If the Soul Bullies can trap you in their either/or thinking, then everything feels deeply urgent, which isn’t helpful when we need to be clear-headed and centered. If you feel yourself moving toward “good/bad” and “right/wrong” take a deep breath, get out your legal pad and spend 20 minutes with your soul reminding those Soul Bullies that you are refusing to assign any judgment to your options at this point.
FIVE> MAKE A DECISION FROM A PLACE OF BELIEVING NOT BULLYING
My mom has always told me that the most transformative decisions are made from a place of strength not weakness. We do not bully ourselves into decision making. We believe ourselves there.
If you’re making a decision right now based on your desire to shame yourself into better behavior or different behavior, I promise you it’s a doomed strategy. We do our best work when we are making decisions from a place of self-compassion, caring about ourselves and wanting more for ourselves. I don’t care how many “bad” decisions you’ve made in the past. Do not make your next one out of penance. In other words, do not make your next decision out of self-punishment. Make your next decision from a place of finally believing you are worth more, you are enough, and you are resilient. Make your next decision out of self-care and worship to God.
If nothing else, take your time, slow your breath down, drop your shoulders, breathe into the tight places in your chest and your back and your neck that are carrying all the tension of this decision. Allow God to sit beside you for a time. Until you hear him say, I love you. And then move into your potential options from THAT place, the soulful place, instead of the striving/solving/shame place.
What resonates with you? What intersects with your own decision-making process? I so hope this was helpful and can give you even just a tiny bit of space and grace in whatever decision you are trying to make.
Love to you,