“I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations – one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it – you will regret both.”
We have collectively evolved over thousands of years and we are far removed from the daily perils of survival for the most part. However, our ability to experience dread in the face of choices remains. As a therapist, it has pained me to write a blog since starting my practice. Why? What if I do it wrong, what if I’m unable to convey my message to those reading this, perhaps my peers will not be impressed nor will others perusing the internet either trying to find a therapist or are bored to tears with my words. The looming “What If?” is always present.
Fear can be based on experience, there are good reasons to question motives in the present based upon past results. You may be noticing certain thoughts, emotions and just gut feelings over a decision and it reminds you of another time in the past where you felt similar. This is information and it is used to learn. We need information in order to make better decisions.
There is the gloomier piece of “The Worst Thing That Could Happen!” Our brain is a creative organ and has a knack of informing us about what could happen. Even though the brain is a wonderful, creative and an intelligent organ it cannot predict the future. It can try to prepare us for the future, but for some it can be overly creative. This is where the crux of anxiety comes into play for the inability to make a decision.
Here are the issues that may have you in the vicious cycle of regret or the modern updated vernacular “analysis paralysis”.
The need for perfection. If the ideal cannot be achieved then what’s the point to begin with? Here’s the thing with ideals, they are unobtainable by definition. If and when you achieve the ideal, the ideal becomes reality. It may be a reality you enjoy but there is also the other aspect of the human condition where we become desensitized to the reality and again our brain begins to push us towards the next big thing to where it is impossible to appreciate the present. This blog isn’t perfect but my apprehension of wanting to write the perfect one has kept me from writing at all.
Fear of failure. Everyone starts somewhere, if you’re reading this, you likely did not begin reading at the age of three automatically, your parents and teachers helped you correct the mistakes along the way. Often times making big life decisions takes knowing where to begin. But the fear of failing may be misperception. People tend to gravitate towards where their competencies and interests are. While you are caught up in what you perceive to be the reason you will fail you neglect the inner resources you already have available.
Tyranny of choice. This phenomenon was originally identified in social psychology as it related to retailing products to consumers. There’s a reason your local market stocks limited number of items and it’s not because of lack of space necessarily. It’s due to the reason that provided too many choices a customer will leave in frustration over spending too much time thinking through the costs and benefits of selecting a product. The need to choose becomes anxiety provoking. This was observed well before the internet. With the internet there are a thousands of choices to select from to address a single issue. Someone can spend more time researching on Google than actually treating the issue. I’ve spent hours researching how to write a blog with way too many answers to sift through to the extent I just quietly walk away from blogging altogether.
Returning back to Mr. Kierkegaard’s advice is that regret is part of the human condition. But perhaps the harshest regret is not trying at all which brings me to the last part of this inaugural blog.
How To Move Forward
Start somewhere. You don’t have to have all the answers. Making mistakes is part of any learning process and it’s quite human. A thought experiment you can use is imagine what you’d tell a friend that is experiencing the same issue. You may notice you are much kinder and gentler to your friend than yourself. But really notice the difference and tone you use with your friend if they were in the same situation. For instance, my inner critic is reading these words with high intent while another part of me is saying “It’s ok!”
Be realistic. Often times in therapy, it’s about setting the achievable goals first. This builds confidence and competence with whatever the new skill may be or issue being addressed. Breaking down the issue into steps narrows down what really needs to be done. Remind yourself of past achievements and how you accomplished those. Typically, you didn’t wake up to accomplishing an amazing goal. It began with a small but simultaneously large step towards the accomplishment.
The leap of faith. I will credit Kierkegaard again with this concept. In essence, we never know where our decision will land us for the most part. We have choices to make and not to choose is still a choice as Jean Paul Sartre observed. If we are unable to make a decision, one will be made for us. Ultimately, the fear of regret brings us passiveness and passiveness eats time and time ultimately may be the only thing we possess. This regret can manifest into the “Tyranny Of The Should’s” observed by the psychoanalyst Karen Horney.
So thank you for your time here and I hope you’ve enjoyed the leap of faith I have made!
Andy Martin M.S., LPC, LCDC