Do you have a hard time making decisions?
One of the most common problems that clients complain about is their inability to make a decision. This isn’t the same as procrastinating, where you put off doing most things. I’m taking about needing to decide yes or no, or to choose between different alternatives, e.g., should I do this or that? And an awful lot of people just don’t want to choose.
Why would so many people (including possibly you) put off making decisions when the failure to act often results in negative consequences in their lives? Should I ask that woman I like out on a date? Should I go out with the man who asked me out? Should I ask for a raise? Should I take this job or that job? Where should we go on vacation? Should we allow our teenage daughter make the trip she wants to make all alone?
Resistance to making decisions comes from fear
We’ve learned from hundreds of clients with this problem that the primary reason people resist making a decision is fear of failure. And the main belief causing that fear is Mistakes and failure are bad, one of the most common beliefs people have.
Why this belief is so common
Because parents rarely get parenting training, they tend to have unreasonable expectations for their children. They expect toddlers to be quiet, to be neat, to come when called, etc. These tasks are virtually impossible for children under the ages of four or five. But because parents expect their children to do these things, most parents get annoyed or even angry when their children “disobey.”
Some of the phrases parents commonly use have become clichés they are used so frequently: “How many times do I have to tell you?” “Don’t you ever listen?” “What’s wrong with you?”
If you were a young child and repeatedly heard those phrases thrown at you in an annoyed or angry tone of voice, can you see that you probably would eventually conclude: If I’m not doing what mom and dad want, time after time, I’m making mistakes and failing. And if they are upset, that’s obviously bad. So, mistakes and failure are bad.
Once you form this and other similar beliefs (such as, if I make a mistake I’ll be rejected), you become afraid to make a mistake. And here’s the connection between this belief and the resistance to making a decision: Every time you make a decision, there is the possibility of making a mistake.
Now if the decision to be made is similar to one you’ve made many time in the past or if the chance of a mistake or failing in a specific situation is slim, you are unlikely to experience anxiety in these situations.
But if you need to make a decision about something brand new, or if the consequences of a wrong decision are significant, the belief kicks in and anxiety results. And because most of us tend to avoid things that make us anxious, we do whatever we can to put off making this type of decision.
Steps of a process to eliminate beliefs
The simplest way to deal with this problem is to eliminate the belief, Mistakes and failure are bad. The fear of making a decision is the result of several beliefs, but this one is probably the most important. The Lefkoe Belief Process, which I created over 28 years ago, will help you do this. Just follow the eight steps below and when you are done in just a few minutes that belief will be gone.
Step 1: State the belief (Mistakes and failure are bad) out loud. … You might intellectually disagree with the statement, but doesn’t it feel true on some gut level? You know you have this belief if you would not want others to know about a mistake you made.
Step 2: Identify the source of the belief. In this case, it usually was mom and dad being critical and annoyed when you were a kid, not because they didn’t love you, but because they had unreasonable expectations and a lack of parenting training.
Step 3: Recognize that the belief you formed is one valid interpretation of mom and dad’s behavior, but there are other valid interpretations of the same childhood events. Such as:
- Mom and dad thought mistakes and failure are bad, but they were wrong; they are the best way to learn.
- Mom and dad yelled at me, not because mistakes and failure were bad, but because they didn’t have the parenting skills to teach me how to do what they wanted me to do.
- Mom and dad got upset when I didn’t do what they wanted, not because mistakes and failure are bad, but because they didn’t have the patience required to talk to me calmly.
- And finally, mistakes and failure were bad in my house; they aren’t necessarily bad everywhere.
Can you see that each of these alternative interpretations explains mom and dad’s behavior just as well as your interpretation, that mistakes and failure are bad? … If they do, then what you concluded as a child isn’t “the truth,” but merely one arbitrary interpretation.
Step 4: Imagine being a young child and remember mom and dad being annoyed because you didn’t do something they wanted. As you imagine this, doesn’t it seem as if you can see that mistakes and failure are bad? …
Most people do have a clear sense they can see mistakes and failure are bad as inherent in mom and dad’s comments and behavior.
Step 5: Can you really see mistakes and failure are bad? … If anything you can see you can describe, with a shape, color and location, you should realize that, in fact, you can’t see mistakes and failure are bad. All you can see is what actually happened, namely, mom and dad’s behavior.
Step 6: If you can’t see mistakes and failure are bad in the world, where has it been? … Do you realize it has only existed in your mind?
Step 7: Mom and dad’s behavior and comments had a consequence. They might have scared you or upset you. But does mom and dad’s behavior have any inherent meaning? By which I mean, can you draw any inferences or conclusions, for sure, about mistakes and failure from mom and dad’s behavior? … You can’t, can you?
Step 8: If the only place mistakes and failure are bad has ever existed is in your mind and if what you actually saw has no inherent meaning, say the words of the belief out loud: Mistakes and failure are bad. … Really, say these words out loud. …
Do they still feel true? We’ve used the Lefkoe Belief Process with clients literally hundreds of thousands of times and it almost always results in the belief being permanently eliminated.
Try it. If you only read the steps of the process and didn’t already eliminate the belief, do it right now. You have nothing to lose except your fear of making a decision.
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