Try to remember how you made decisions as a kid. You didn’t have to analyse or overthink the things you wanted to do, you just basically did them when you had the chance. Some of you may say, “But my parents made me do stuff” or, “I had no voice in my family”. I get it — when we’re very young, we are codependent on our family. In fact, parenting plays a huge role in our ability to make our own choices and decisions. But children have a natural tendency to be curious, which is usually followed by immediate action.
One of the most common reasons why most people can’t decide what they want to do in life, or remain paralysed by the choice of infinite possibilities, is that they have a limited ability to make choices. That limitation, however, comes from a place and time when a certain event happened, which was emotionally overwhelming, and is now remembered as a “do not cross that line” lesson.
For example, your parents found out about you smoking at the age of 15, and they used shame as a tool for you to learn a lesson. Your peers laughed at your crazy ideas about what you wanted to do when you grew up. Maybe your school teacher gave you a hard time, telling you you’ll never be able to do something. You were told off, and so your natural curiosity for novelty started to fade away. Your psyche couldn’t handle the emotional pressure and gave up resisting.
Now, you’re in your early twenties, have recently graduated, and are looking for a new job. You remember that in the third year of your uni, you already felt like you had no idea whether your degree would help you get the job you want. You were also unsure about what job you actually wanted. Randomly, you were offered a place at a startup. How exciting! A few months down the line, that excitement vanishes and you start questioning whether you took the right path.
You’re aware that you could do more with your life so you decide to find a side hustle. You’ve now decided to be uncomfortable. You leave your job to find another one, or you even start a business. “Now I shape my destiny”, you think to yourself. Sometime after, you aren’t enjoying it anymore, something has shifted and you don’t know what.
You’re puzzled, and perhaps not completely clear on what to do next.
So what can you do?
1. Start being curious about everything but have a good sense of judgment
You can’t undo the way you interpreted events when you were a kid. But you can take control of what limits you to make good choices as an adult.
Most of the advice you’ll find on the internet is aimed to prevent choice paralysis, by helping you prioritise your goals, face your fears, or use logical tools to help you see things from a different perspective. While it may help you to make choices with the ‘logical side of your brain — kind of like drinking water when you’re hungry to trick your stomach into thinking you’ve just had a meal — it’s all just a temporary solution.
Instead, I invite you to use your nervous system as a tool for making choices. To do that, you need to remember what it felt like to have childlike curiosity.
Try to answer these questions:
As a kid, how did I feel in myself when I wanted to try new things?
If I imagine myself as a kid again what things would I try now?
What did I like when I was a kid?
What was I most curious about? What did it feel like?
If I would bring the child-like curiosity back into my life now, would I make choices differently?
What would happen to me if I just started following my curiosity?
In other words, start seeing the world as a playground for you to experiment. The inner resistance will almost always be there. But this is exactly why it’s there; to challenge you to embrace it.
2. Learn to dance salsa
This is just a fact that we all struggle to accept. The way most people live their lives looks like a prescription from a doctor. If things don’t go according to their plan, their brain starts to throw stuff around, screaming and begging you to stick with what is already a ridden path.
Your thinking is overthinking.
But if you’re thinking of starting a new diet, launching a business project, or following your dream of becoming an actor, you become vulnerable to your own mind. Just by thinking a few steps ahead, you’ll end up worrying how your diet will take too much effort to follow, your business idea is silly because none of your friends will like it, or your acting dream is impossible because you don’t live in Hollywood.
If you aren’t used to living in the moment or thinking on your feet, you can’t put yourself in a position to see the best possible choices that are presented to you on a daily basis. And if you don’t see these choices, how can you choose what’s right for you?
I’ve always told people that the best antidote to “life stiffness” is travel. Not the holiday type of travel, but the real, adventure-discovery type of travel. It broadens the hell out of your perspective and is something you can’t learn from a book, a video, or a coach. On top of that, try public speaking, drama classes, role-play exercises, learn from pick-up artists, get a sales job, enrol for a dancing class. Do whatever it takes you to get out of your own head and embrace spontaneity.
Paradoxically, when you don’t make deliberate choices and instead learn salsa, (trust your body) you end up learning how to use your intuition, and that teaches your subconscious mind to process information when making important life choices. And that’s how you start navigating through life with a much higher awareness and joy.
3. Be aware of BS opinions (including your own)
You’ve heard so many times that family and friends’ advice is just a projection of their own experiences, yet still, you manage to stay under their influence? It’s good if you’re aware of this. Recognising the fact that you’re taking on someone else’s expectation or opinion is the first step towards defusing its power.
Sometimes, it’s wise to listen to what others have to say but, as a rule of thumb, your friends and family are biased about you and your capabilities. The only person who decides how much time to invest in your work, what to eat, with whom to eat, where to live, and how to wash the dishes is you.
The second step is to learn how to believe in your way of doing things. I can’t tell you how you should do that. But, for someone like me, it meant moving to another country and living on your own. For somebody else, it could mean taking drama classes and pursuing an acting career. Remember that opinions are cheap and you’ll find plenty of them unless you stop paying too much of attention to what others think of you and your life choices.
Annie Duke, a professional poker player and author, explains this, and lots of different factors that play a significant contribution to our decision-making ability. She explains that it takes an act of will to combat our innate tendency to distort reality, and it requires us to address painful truths about ourselves. Basically, we need to practice tough love on ourselves if we want to be truthful about our wants and goals.
4. Take the present moment seriously
Time is irrelevant, but what you do with it is not. They’re infinite possibilities of what might happen with your life if you choose to do x instead of y. Doesn’t matter how hard you try to rationalise outcomes and compare what’s best for you — you’d never be able to make “right” choice, solely based on your experience and knowledge.
What you can do, though, is slow down and pay attention to what’s going on around you. In other words, rethink your strategy for how you make choices in life. Instead of thinking on the go, start observing yourself on the go. Instead of reacting to circumstances, anticipate them. Instead of overwhelming yourself with work, take one task at a time. There’s no shortage of ways you can be in the moment, rather than all over the place.
Finally, I want to remind you (and myself), that there’s no such thing as right or wrong choices. We all do our best with what we’ve got.
“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” — John C. Maxwell
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