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Fretting Over Decisions

Rejecting the need for certainty can keep the smallest decisions from paralyzing us.

I often feel exhausted and overwhelmed, and I end up making poor decisions because I don't have time to think my goals through. How can I learn to focus?

One of the prime ways we get ourselves "exhausted and overwhelmed," is by getting anxious about making decisions. Just to make it more exhausting, we then make poor and compulsive decisions. What does this bring? You guessed it: More anxiety. The circuit is complete. How do we get ourselves in this fix?

When looking at exhaustion, some people rarely get "exhausted and overwhelmed" with hard work, long hours, and long days. Those tasks merely make them tired or sleepy. So what you experience is one of many possible responses to decision-making. Some people get easily strapped over seemingly small issues, while others seem focused and calm under the most trying times.

This will help: Identify the internal trigger that makes you feel overwhelmed—and it isn't something that happens to you, it is something you do to yourself. When you believe that any decision must be the right one, then even small decisions can paralyze you.

Reasoning can take the form of all-or-nothing thinking—often called "dichotomous thinking" when you're anxious. It's about fight or flight, right or wrong, and good or bad. Nuance goes out the door. That's why you end up making poor decisions when you sweat about it.

You can practice confident decision-making by remembering a simple dictum over and over: You cannot have certainty and you don't need it. By accepting that no certainty exists and that you don't need it, you'll instead harness intuition and, by extension, confidence.

Here's the paradox: If you give yourself a vacation from fretting, you tap into something that may have gone unheard—your ability to reason. Reason is the human's ace up the sleeve—no other animal has it to our degree. However, the fount of reason is located in the neo-cortex—the most recently developed part of the brain. While all mammals have similar brains, ours (and perhaps chimps and dolphins) have developed reasoning abilities. But what happens when the ancient part of the brain gets freaked out? We get primitive, and usually self-defeating.

Ask yourself why certainty must be part of a decision. You can thereby embrace the answer and drop the angst.