Let’s start with the scenario where you have several options and you just can’t make a decision. There are lots of sayings that describe the consequences of choosing not to choose. One way of looking at it says that if we don’t make a choice, outside forces such as society, family, work, or circumstances will choose for us. This implies that we give up our personal power to someone or something else. The other side of that is expressed in the saying, “When in doubt, don’t.” If you can’t see a clear benefit to one choice over another, maybe the best thing is to take no action at all. Maybe there’s some piece of information you don’t yet have that would tip the balance toward one choice over another. Either way, life goes on. You will live out the consequences of not choosing and you will learn. Whatever happens as a result of not making a choice, you gain in experience and you gain in knowledge. That experience and that knowledge will help you make a choice, or not, the next time it comes around. You just can’t get it wrong.
What about agonizing over a decision, making the choice, then second-guessing yourself? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this in the past! Time and experience have taught me that none of that worry or second-guessing helps. We make the decision and then pay attention to what happens next. Depending on the result, we can do things differently the next time or change our minds and do something else altogether.
I’m not trying in any way to be flip or make light of decision making here. There are some choices that have longer-lasting consequences. If it the choice has financial consequences or impacts our overall health, it’s not always easy to have a do-over. We want to take our time and feel as sure as we can about what we decide to do. Still, most of the time, we can make course corrections along the way. We’re always going to face some choices that are much bigger than others. Here again, we can’t really get it wrong. We do the best we can at any given moment. Second-guessing just increases our anxiety and clouds our ability to evaluate the results of our choice. We make better choices when we look honestly at the results of the last choice and objectively look at how we might proceed from there.
For me, the key is to pay attention to my body feedback and my emotional feedback as well as what my mind is logically trying to reason out. Sometimes, the logic doesn’t square with my core values or with my true intentions. In those cases, our bodies and our emotions send out signals. Our culture values the well-reasoned decision above all else. My belief is that unless we balance the brain with the emotions, with our gut instinct, we aren’t making full use of our decision-making abilities.
So far, we’ve talked about thinking our way to a decision using logic and reason. We’ve talked about listening to our body signals. Is our stomach churning, do we have a headache or do we get short of breath? Our bodies have an intelligence all their own and they communicate with us non-stop. They also tell us when they approve of our choice, don’t they? We breathe easier, our shoulders drop down away from our ears, our stomachs relax. We do well to allow our bodies to have a say in our decision-making process.
What other methods can we use to help us make a choice? One of the things I look for is whether or not the lead-up to the event is easy or difficult. When doors seem to be closing in my face and one obstacle or another pops up, I stop and pay attention. Maybe I’m forcing a choice that isn’t suited to me or that I don’t want to make on some instinctive level. On the other hand, if everything just seems to fall into place and opportunities open up for me that are far better than what I thought would happen, then I know I’m making a choice that will benefit me on every level. Having everything go smoothly is an indication to me that I’m aligned with my core values.
Have you ever had a dream that changed the course of your life? It happened to me. The doctors found a small malignant tumor a couple of years ago. It was not an aggressive type of cancer, but the conventional treatment for it was surgery, potentially followed chemotherapy and radiation. This wasn’t a rare type of cancer. The treatment was accepted by the medical community and by nearly everyone in the world as the best way to go. I didn’t want to do it. It made me sick to my stomach to think of going through all that was being recommended. I tried to make my case with the doctors, but finally gave in and scheduled the surgery. That night I had a dream that was so vivid and so real. When I think about it now, I can see every moment of it as though it was a video playing on a screen in front of me. Just before I woke up I was yelling, “No more cutting! You have to stop cutting!” I called that day and canceled the surgery. My oncologist worked with me to make an alternate treatment plan and with medication and supplements, the tumor reduced in size and stabilized.
It wouldn’t have been wrong to have the surgery, chemo, and radiation. And it wasn’t wrong to refuse it. I acknowledged to the doctors that if the tumor kept growing, I might change my mind and have the surgery. In fact, my doctor asks me twice a year if I’ll ever consider surgery. And my answer is always the same: not unless it starts growing again. This was a huge choice, with life threatening implications. But I knew I had time to try something else. I couldn’t explain why I didn’t want the standard treatment. I just knew my entire body was rebelling against it. It took a dream to make me stand up for myself.
No matter your method in making a choice, make it yours. No one method is better than another. Logic doesn’t trump emotion. Emotion doesn’t trump logic or dreams or body signals. When we use everything available to us, we make choices that enhance our lives and bring us joy. If we don’t feel the joy, we make another choice. The first one wasn’t wrong, it just helped us make the next choice. That’s how we choose.