For quite some time now I’ve been feeling very indecisive about things. Whether it’s about important decisions like moving to a new city or minor ones like what movie to watch, it’s been taking me way too long to decide what the best options are. Usually I narrow it down to two options but the problem is that both of them seem appealing yet neither quite fitting. I mean which option is the right one? Am I selfish to be doing this or am I just doing what is right for me? Do I really need to do this or am I fooling myself? Are my motivations pure or am I deceiving myself into picking what is advantageous? These are the sort of questions that I have been torturing myself with for a while now.
The latest difficult decision I had to make was today and it was about whether I should buy two books I found in an antique store. Because…there are so many things to consider like…am I just being a compulsive book buyer? Do I really need this book? I don’t even read that much science fiction. Do I buy just one, do I buy both of them or do I not buy any at all? Ah, but I’ve been here for so long, it’d look suspicious not to buy anything. And this other book…it seems like I already know much of what it’s about…do I really need it? This is the sort of questions that arise in my mind whenever I doubt myself. Eventually I was so worn out that I just bought both books and got the hell out of there, because I was starting to have panic attack symptoms. The moment I stepped outside I started feeling better. The major challenge of casually shopping found its resolution…one way or another.
It all started in the relatively recent past when I made a couple of really bad decisions which seriously crippled my confidence in my ability to choose correctly. Since then I’ve
been trying to ensure that all things are considered before making a decision so that I don’t end up repeating past mistakes. However, this approach turned out to be a form of punishment, holding myself accountable for actions I hadn’t even performed yet. The threat of making a mistake again was enough to keep my nerves stretched until I’ve analyzed all aspects of a problem which could take hours, days, weeks or why not, months. Because you want to make sure that the choice you make is the right one. Not that it might be the right one, but that it definitely is the right one. And that’s how you fall into the other extreme where you postpone choices as much as possible until you either lose both options, or one option chooses itself by default. The fear of not making a mistake turns into the refusal of choice/agency and that is the equivalent of powerlessness.
[Duality by Louis Dyer]
Even if you eventually choose something, the doubt behind it is enough to overshadow the positive aspects of the choice, like trying to kick a ball in a straight line, but bending its trajectory instead. It soon becomes apparent that the attitude with which you make a choice influences how you will feel about the choice once it is made. For instance, now that I bought those books, I am not that excited to read them, because I bought them as an act of resignation, not as an act of joy. Some of the doubts I had about buying those books were reasonable. But I’ve become so fed up with changing my mind so often that I sometimes just get tired of arguing with myself and randomly pick something. I suppose that on top of the choices I have to make, I now have to deal with the fear that indecisiveness might turn up again. Like a self fulfilling prophecy or a feedback loop.
I’ve been reflecting on this problem of indecisiveness and I realized a few things. The first is that I have this expectation of knowing in advance whether a choice is the right choice. I need to somehow intuit or feel that my decision is the correct one, I need to feel good about it before I experience it. It’s like wanting answers to a problem before you start solving it. I think this sort of thinking switches the focus from the reasons why you are making the choice to the imagined outcome of the choice you make, which triggers what is referred to as analysis paralysis, overthinking things to such an extent that you lose sight of the bigger picture. Basically you are acting on what you think you should do instead of primarily considering your motivations for doing so.
A few months ago I was on the verge of making a very important decision. I was very conflicted about it because it was about something I didn’t want to do but I thought I needed to do it or that I had to do it. I was driving myself a bit mad with thinking about what I should do and I could not get clarity. As it happens, I sometimes like to listen to psybient music when I meditate or when I reflect on things. So I sat down on the floor in my room, thinking about all the aspects of the problem I could think of, wearing myself down with overthinking things. I was really absorbed by my thought processes, I probably wasn’t even aware of myself at that point. Each decision had its advantages, but both implied some form of struggle. So I kept analyzing things, trying to figure out what was the best course of action. And then, as if out of nowhere, I heard a voice. It said…”do you understand what I’m trying to tell you? There are no answers, only choices.” It was so sudden and unexpected that it startled me. For a second I thought that it came from the ether or from my subconscious/unconscious, or…who’s to say if they’re not one and the same thing. But no, it wasn’t a mystical experience, even though that would have been cool. The voice came from the speakers. It was a sample taken from the movie Solaris used masterfully by the guys from Carbon Based Lifeforms in a song called Set Theory. I think it was the question that woke me from my reverie: “do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?” as if shaking me into focus. I was so moved by it that I even shed a few tears. Somehow that quote was all I needed to hear. It was as though it switched something inside of me. I wasn’t going to get the answer of whether my choice was correct if I kept focusing on the outcomes.
The following days came with a few insights, though I was still confused about what to do next. The decision was about whether to go back to an old situation and synchronistically I kept meeting people from my past that were involved in that situation. My self doubt was so strong, that one night I experienced a true “dark night of the soul”, feeling as though I was under siege, and the fortress of my mind and soul were under heavy assault. That night was a much needed initiation because it opened my eyes to the fact that I’ve been lying to myself for a month and a half, thinking that going back to that old situation was a good idea. The only thing I should have considered was whether I really wanted to do that and I 100% didn’t. I even convinced myself that going back was the better option and that the friction was due to the difficulty of the choice. But that was not the case, the friction was because I was opposing myself, trying to persuade myself into thinking I was doing the right thing. Really I was just afraid of the consequences of not doing that thing, of losing people’s support for doing so. I was refusing to take responsibility for my experiences and I was going to act the way I thought I should have or the way I was supposed to, the approved way. I was quite amazed about how easy it is to deceive yourself when you don’t frame things the right way. So once I stopped resisting and made the choice, it became apparent that it was the right decision. The realization of whether the choice was good or bad would have arisen regardless of what I would have chosen. The feedback comes afterwards. The only thing you need to do is to have self awareness and honesty to call things by their right name. For me a clear indicator of having made the right choice was a sense of relief and determination and a willingness to bear all the consequences of that action. If I were to choose differently I could see myself blaming other people for it and bracing myself for the unpleasant consequences that I would not have embraced as necessary steps in my evolution, but that I would have regarded as testaments of my cowardice.
Ultimately it’s a matter of honoring yourself. You have to ask yourself whether you are choosing something you really want to do, regardless of how others feel about it. It’s a matter of principle and of courage because you have to be willing to bear the unpleasant consequences of your actions and also you have to take responsibility for the way you feel. You cannot blame others for the decisions you make, they are not responsible for your well being. That’s not to say that you should never consider how you impact others, this is an important aspect that needs to be taken into account. But you have to think about your motivations for doing something, not the consequences. Otherwise you end up negotiating with yourself about what you should do and you end up compromising.
[TO BE CONTINUED…]