A rooster’s crow is loud enough to permanently damage hearing. Yet rooster’s never go deaf from all the noise they make.

The rooster is immune to its own crow because as it opens its beak, tissues inside its skull cover the ear canal and dampen the noise. This is like putting earplugs so deep inside your ears that you can’t hear a thing. As a result, the rooster is protected from the sound of its own booming voice.

When we struggle to make decisions our inner voice is often confused. Should we do this? Should we do that? Decisions get easier when we can protect ourselves from these voices of confusion. We do that by eliminating a specific kind of belief — survival strategy beliefs.

What are survival strategy beliefs?

Survival strategy beliefs are beliefs that tell you that you need to do something to feel OK about yourself. They say you have to be successful to be good enough. Or that you have to do things perfectly to be worthwhile. When you have such a belief, your behavior is driven to reach goals related to that belief. And if you fail to achieve these goals, you feel awful.

Why do survival strategy beliefs interfere with decision making?

These beliefs make certain decisions harder because they raise the stakes so high. If you have to plan a project and your self worth is on the line, then every decision becomes crucial to proving that you are good enough or important. Failure says something about you, not just about your actions or strategies.

The clearest example comes from people with beliefs such as “What makes me good enough is having others like me.” When I had this belief, it was often hard for me to figure out what to wear to a party. I couldn’t wear something of which others might disapprove. I couldn’t wear something that stood out or was different than what others were wearing. It might be too dressy or not dressy enough. Now, these are concerns I no longer have, so a simple wardrobe decision no longer takes me hours.

How do we find the survival strategy beliefs that make decisions hard?

First, identify a type of decision you face regularly for which you struggle. It could be what clothes to wear, what food to eat, what business to start.

Second, ask “What am I trying to do with this decision?” Am I trying to do things perfectly? Am I trying to achieve something? Am I trying to be right?” It may be something else.

Third, ask yourself, if I make the “wrong” decision what would that mean about me? It might mean “I’m not worthwhile” or “not good enough” or “not important.”

Fourth, take what you find and put it in the form of “What makes me [belief] is [result/action].”

For example, Jessie struggled with writing lesson plans for her elementary classes. She would spend hours creating a single lesson, much more than other teachers in her school. She spent much of the time researching ideas on the internet to find the very best ones. She often couldn’t choose between several ways to teach a lesson.

When asked “What does it mean about you if you make the ‘wrong’ decision?” she said, “That I’m not good enough.”

“And what are you trying to do by making the right decision?”

“I’m trying to make the best lesson plan possible. I need them to be perfect.”

We were then able to put this into the statement “What makes me good enough is doing things perfectly.”

Once this and several other beliefs were gone, she no longer struggled to make decisions witch lesson plans as well as other areas of her life. She was free to sometimes just choose without worrying too much.

But is it really true that every time we struggle with a decision, a survival strategy belief is to blame?

Survival strategies are just one type of belief that makes decisions hard to make. If-then beliefs can also make a decision difficult by telling us that the consequences of the wrong decision would be dire. “If I make a mistake or fail, I’ll be rejected” is a great example. Self-beliefs such as “I’m not good enough” can make us struggle too because like survival strategy beliefs they say that success or failure means something bad about us.

Summary

  • Survival strategies are beliefs that say you need to achieve something to be OK.
  • They make decisions hard because they make the emotional stakes very high.
  • You can find survival strategy beliefs that make decisions hard with four steps: Identify a difficult type of decision, find out what you’re trying to do by making a good decision, find what it means about you if your decision fails, then put this together into a statement of belief “What makes me [belief] is [result/action].”
  • Survival strategy beliefs are just one kind of belief that makes decisions hard. Others include if-then beliefs and self-beliefs.

When you eliminate survival strategy beliefs, you will likely still value making useful decisions. But you can do so without such a strong emotional need to get them right. With the emotional noise out of the way, it’s easier to hear your own inner voice guiding you to useful choices.

Next Step

When you eliminate survival strategy beliefs, your entire world opens up. The things you felt you “had to” do, feel like options. You don’t have to succeed. You don’t have to look good. You don’t have to achieve. You can choose to do these things or not depending on what you value.

In our Natural Confidence Program, we help you eliminate two of the most common survival strategy beliefs. You can find out which beliefs are included and how to eliminate them here.