If you’re like me, you’ve struggled over the years with making decisions. From which book (out of the same title, mind) to buy to which color (and texture and length and quality) curtains to hang in your living room to deciding who to choose as a life partner or what career to pursue.
I can’t recount the number of times I’ve stood staring at two items for minutes (sometimes over half an hour or even an hour) trying to decide which one I should purchase. It zaps my energy and self-esteem, drains those who are shopping with me, and puts me on the verge of a panic attack. Quite often, it pushes me into a panic attack caused by an inability to pick and a feeling of being frozen in that moment while the clock ticks on and the rest of the plans for the day start to shrivel.
Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever stood staring at two copies of The Hobbit and then having to look at each copy for the “right” one (not too many wrinkles or creases, no discoloration or frayed edges)? Have you agonized over which item to order from Amazon, finally clicked “purchase,” then canceled the order to pick something else? This happens to me every week, to the point I put off making decisions (even tiny ones!) for as long as I can.
I get stuck mostly when deciding between items that are slightly different but ultimately just as good as each other. I still need to pick the “perfect” item, so I look them over, research, and compare until one emerges as superior. As you can imagine, this wastes an incredible amount of time.
Why? Why this inability to make a decision? Why this fear of not making the “correct” or “perfect” choice? The way I see it, when we have deeper issues going on, they emerge as surface issues. I notice I have more trouble making decisions when there is a lot of deep work that’s cropping up: when I’m dealing with uncertainty, loss, grief, or lack of self-trust or self-love. I then try to control these deeper issues by controlling the world around me. Some part of me truly believes if I make the perfect decision, I can control how my life will unfold.
This is a defense mechanism, and it’s important to recognize that. But what is it defending you from? For myself, it’s trying to create certainty and control when I most poignantly feel I have none. Sometimes it’s trying to atone for guilt—to make up for a perceived wrong. Every time I make a decision, it’s as if I see an entire butterfly effect branching out from that, and I’m scared to pick wrongly, lest my life unfold in a pattern I don’t want.
And yet that’s the very beauty of life. Life unfolds like a series of intertwined strings. Tug a little here, and those strands constrict. Loosen here, and those unwind. Lift, shape, form. We as creators and dancers and dreamers have the ability to shift the strands multiple times throughout our lives—thousands of times throughout or day. Tug the wrong strand? That’s ok! Now we’ve learned. Tug a different strand today. Try the red or the blue or the gray. Tomorrow try something else. Our story is constantly shifting and changing, and our lives are in our hands.
But to live fully, we must let go of the butterfly effect and approach life as play. We are here to discover, adventure, learn, share, and experience.
Okay, okay, but how does that apply practically? That’s difficult to explain because I’m not there myself. What I can say is I believe I lot of this is about really committing to your inner work. You have to show up for yourself several times a week to tend to the deeper patches which are causing you to need control or perfectionism. You must build self-compassion and the ability to laugh at and along with the flow of life. You must learn how to dance and play on the shifting sands that comprise this wonderful, dangerous, awe-inspiring world. The trick is not to control the river but to work with it.
But you asked for practical tips, right? So let me offer a few I think would be helpful. (1) commit to a daily practice of turning inward, whether that be meditation, journaling, or dialoging. Turning inward brings awareness and healing to the root causes of your perfectionism. (2) Be patient! Change, especially something as deep-rooted as perfectionism, may take a long time. Don’t get discouraged, however, because even slow change is wondrous when you’re used to feeling stuck! (3) Notice. Notice when your perfectionism is running the show and when it’s easier to move past it or ignore it altogether. What triggers it? What calms it? What responses work? Can you bulldoze through it and make a decision with a coin toss? Or is the perfectionism asking you to stop and turn inward?
What Do You Think? Do you struggle with decision-making and perfectionism? Spend some time meditating or journaling about it and share what you notice. What realizations did you come to? What has helped you?