Embracing Uncertainty: How to Make a Hard Decision

Embracing Uncertainty: How to Make a Hard Decision

Put down your pros and cons list and tap into your inner wisdom. 

How can you make a hard decision when you have no idea what the future holds? 

Should you quit your job? Cut off contact with your difficult friend? Buy the condo, or the house? Marry your partner? Dump your partner?

Some people swear by using a cost-benefit analysis, or a decision tree, or a patented Six-Step Decision Making Model for Tough Choices™. While tools like these may have their place in decision making, I think a lot of them miss the larger point…  

Decisions are about feelings

Does that surprise you to read? Maybe you’ve absorbed the popular idea that emotions are the enemy of sound, rational, goal-oriented decision making. In reality, having a good connection with your feelings is the only way to set meaningful goals in the first place, from which wise decisions can flow. Your feelings are a source of information, pointing the way toward the life you want. When you can tune into them, the right decisions become clear. This article will show you how.

I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic, featuring two of my Growing Self colleagues with a lot of experience with this topic. Alejandra P. is a marriage counselor on our team who helps people find clarity about their relationships, and Kristi H. is an experienced career coach and counselor who helps people navigate big, bold career changes. You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

How to Make a Hard Decision

You can’t know for sure whether you’ll look back some day and regret changing your career path, or ending a relationship, or committing to a relationship, or making any other important, life-altering choice. For many people, this uncertainty provokes a lot of anxiety. We may even feel paralyzed by it, and procrastinate on making the decision until inaction closes off some options and effectively makes it for us.  

It’s easy to go into analysis mode and ruminate on all of your options and their possible consequences. But there’s a limit to how much clarity you can achieve with a purely cognitive approach to decision making. Tuning into an older and deeper part of your mind, where you can pick up on the unconscious data we often call intuition, can be a better way to get unstuck and start moving forward with the choice that’s right for you.

What’s So Hard about Making a Decision?

When you’re faced with a choice that feels especially tough, there are a few factors that can contribute to indecisiveness:

  1. You Fear the Unknown

You may know for sure that you hate your job, or that it’s time to call it quits in your relationship, but still struggle with the decision to make a change because you’re not sure if what comes next will be better. Your mind may envision worst case scenarios when you picture the future — what if your next boss is an even bigger jerk? Or, what if you never find another partner and you end up alone?

Uncertainty about the future can keep you from moving forward, even when you know what the right decision is. 

  1. Your Goals Aren’t Clear

Sometimes we feel indecisive because we’re not clear about what our goals are. 

If you knew for certain that your goal was to be a graphic designer, and you were working as a bank teller, you wouldn’t feel unsure about whether or not you should quit your job. You would need to make choices about the “how” of accomplishing your goal — Should you enroll in a design program? Apply for an internship? Start a side hustle? — but you would know what you were ultimately aiming for.

When we have clear goals, our choices are just vehicles that move us toward them, which makes decision-making a lot less complicated.

  1. You Fear Letting Go

One mental quirk most humans share is that we give the prospect of losing something more emotional weight than the prospect of gaining something. For example, you would probably feel more disappointment about losing ten dollars than you would feel excitement about earning ten dollars.

The fancy psychology term for this bias is “loss aversion.” It affects our decision making because most decisions involve trade offs, or “losses.” Even when what we stand to gain is greater than what we stand to lose (i.e. you could find a career you love, but first you have to walk away from a career you hate), we fear letting go of what we already have. 

  1. You Lack Confidence in Yourself

If you’re struggling to make a decision, you might have a narrative playing in your mind about everything that could go wrong if you make the wrong choice. This points to more than anxiety about stepping into the unknown. It actually points to some self-limiting beliefs about your own competence to find solutions to problems when they arise. 

Few of the decisions we make in life are truly final. If you make an imperfect choice, you’ll probably have the opportunity to course correct and make a better choice in the future. As you learn through trial and error, you’ll get better and better at making choices that serve your goals. But if you lack confidence in your own ability to overcome setbacks, making “perfect” decisions will feel more important than it actually is.

  1. You’re Disconnected from Your Feelings

Our culture tends to prioritize logic and denigrate feelings, especially when it comes to decision making. How many times have you heard that you shouldn’t make an “emotional decision?” It turns out that’s not such great advice, at least not across the board. 

There’s a difference between making a snap judgment when you’re emotionally flooded — dumping your boyfriend in the middle of a bad fight, for example — and tuning into your “emotional guidance system” to get clarity about how you feel before making a decision. 

The truth is, not all problems can be solved through cold calculation. Some problems are rooted in feelings and you can’t make a good decision about them unless you can connect with your feelings and listen to what they’re telling you.

Using Your Emotional Guidance System to Make Hard Decisions

Being in touch with your feelings is harder than it sounds. We have low-grade emotional reactions firing through us all day every day, in response to everything happening to us internally and externally. We learn to tune out a lot of this data, and often to override it so we can get stuff done in spite of how we feel. We force smiles when we’re in a foul mood, put on a brave face when we’re feeling scared, and say everything’s cool when we’re really feeling angry. Over a lifetime of practice, we begin to disconnect from our emotions without even realizing it. 

This is a big loss. A much larger chunk of our brain power is devoted to unconscious processes than to conscious thought, and shutting out that unconscious information limits us. When you unlock the power of your subconscious mind, you simply have more information to use in making decisions.

An easy way to tune into your emotional guidance system is through a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness can help you turn down the volume on the conscious thoughts that are constantly running through your brain. When you can get some internal “quiet time,” some deeper feelings and sources of wisdom will rise to the surface. This will help you feel more sure of yourself and what you want. Then, the right decision may become clear.

Overcoming the Fear of the Unknown

Not everyone feels paralyzed by uncertainty about the future. People who like things to be more structured, orderly, and “under control” (this personality trait is represented by the “J” orientation on the Meyers-Briggs) tend to struggle more with the fear of the unknown in making decisions. On the other hand, people who are more adaptable and open to “going with the flow” don’t find uncertainty so scary. 

If you think that a fear of uncertainty is what’s fueling your indecisiveness, you can work on that by stepping outside of your comfort zone. The more you put yourself in unfamiliar situations, try things you’re not sure you’re going to be good at, and take calculated risks, the more comfortable you can become with the kind of leap of faith that making decisions requires.

Let Your Goals Be Your Lighthouse

Finally, you can make better decisions by setting clear goals

Knowing exactly what you want from a relationship, for example, helps you know when to stay with someone and when to walk away. Having clear career goals helps you make decisions about what jobs to quit, what promotions to pursue, and so on. 

When you have a clear vision for the life you want (based on a solid connection with your emotional guidance system), it’s easier to make good decisions that fit into that vision.

P.S. — You can find more articles and podcasts on making hard decisions in our “relationship clarity” and “career clarity” collections.

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Embracing Uncertainty: How to Make a Hard Decision

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

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Music in this episode is by Grimes with their song “Crystal Ball.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://grimesmusic.bandcamp.com. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Today, none of us really know what the future holds, and yet we’re challenged to make big major life decisions about our careers, our relationships and what we’re doing with our lives. On today’s episode, we’re talking about some strategies to help you make those hard decisions, so you can keep moving forward fearlessly. 

Setting the tone for us today is the legendary one and only Grimes with a song Crystal Ball, if only, right, would make everything so much easier. You can keep up with the latest grind news and see where she’s headed out on tour on her Bandcamp page, grimesmusic.bandcamp.com. Today’s show is as always all about you. I really appreciate the questions that have been coming in and have been thinking about how best to help people writing in about what do I do with XYZ. 

What do I do with this relationship? How do I know if it’s time to change my career? What should I do in this situation? Should I go back to school? Should I stay, or should I go when it comes to a romantic relationship? So it led me to think about what would be the most helpful way to really provide you with some meaningful guidance because everybody’s circumstances are a little bit different. 

But at the core, the process of knowing how to make a difficult life decision is frequently the same, and so that’s what we’re doing today. We’re going to dive into the core of this and talk about not necessarily the what, but the how. Thank you so much for letting me know what’s on your mind. If you’re listening and have not submitted a question or a topic that that you would like to hear addressed on the show, please do. 

You can come to growingself.com and navigate to our blog and podcast page, growingself.com/blog-podcast and scroll down to the bottom, and you’ll see a little form to submit a question. We also have a voice recorder if you would like to leave an audio question that I may play back on a future episode. 

Additional, you’re also welcome to just get in touch on Instagram, Facebook, wherever you hang out or send an email, hello@growingself.com, because I read those, and I use your feedback and your comments, and what you’re telling me is going on with you and your life to think about what would be most helpful in terms of the things we’re talking about here on the podcast. So you and I are very much co-creating this experience together, and I appreciate that, because that helps me know what would be most helpful for you. 

So let’s talk about this experience that I know we have all had, which is feeling like we need to make a very major life decision that may have potentially lasting implications, at least in the short term, right? Nothing is forever, but may define our life experiences at least for the next little while, and just validating how difficult it is to step confidently or turn confidently one way or the other when you really don’t know you. None of us have all of the information. 

None of us know exactly what is going to happen, and just how paralyzing that can be. Ironically, I think this is sometimes even harder when you have multiple potentially positive choices ahead of you. We all know that nothing is perfect. Everything is a mixed bag. But when you can really see the advantages of a few different courses of action or the relative risks of things, it can be very hard to sort through all of that and come up with what feels like the right answer for you. 

We have to make the best choices we can in the moment without knowing exactly what is going to happen in the future. I mean, you can’t know for sure if someday you’ll look back and regret like quitting a job or marrying someone or breaking up with someone for that matter. We all have to figure out ways of being able to make good enough decisions with the information that we do have without that confidence and competence. 

The alternative is often true where we become paralyzed, and we’re not making a decision at all. Or oftentimes we’re staying in situations that we probably should change for the better. But if we don’t know exactly what to do instead, it’s pretty easy to get stuck. I know I certainly felt this way at certain points in my life. I mean, a memorable one is right after college, right? There were so many different possible career paths I could take, and I spent more than a few years just feeling stuck and kind of treading water. 

Waitressing jobs were not my final destination, right, but I didn’t really know what else to do. So that kind of led me on this path of exploration that ultimately worked out well. But looking back, I certainly could have done without a lot of the angst. Also in looking back, there are some things that I’d wish I’d done differently that if I had better, I think, tools and strategies for figuring out what I should be doing, I think would have allowed me to have some different life experiences that, no, I would have appreciated having. 

So I have learned from that experience and know how to make better decisions now. But that’s why we’re also here today is to be able to share some of that wisdom with you like how do we handle that messy process of sorting out who we are, sorting out what matters to us, and really being able to put down the pro and con list, which is not always very useful, and instead, tap into this inner wisdom that always does have the right answer if we know how to connect with it. 

Because this is such a big, complex and oftentimes messy process, I have enlisted the support of a couple of my colleagues to talk with us today on the podcast. Joining me for this conversation, our two true experts on our team here at Growing Self. My colleague, Alejandra, is a marriage and family therapist who has a lot of insight into relationships and a lot of experience in helping people find answers related to big questions about their relationships and also the bigger picture of their life goals. 

Of course, my dear colleague, Dr. Kristi is a very experienced career counselor, career coach, and psychologist, and she has helped so many people get clarity around their path forward for their careers, but also to really cultivate a life that is truly and authentically meaningful and enjoyable for them. So I’m so excited to have the opportunity to share their wisdom with you today. Alejandra, Kristi, thank you so much for joining me on today’s show. 

Dr. Kristi Helvig: Thank you.

Alejandra P.: Yeah, thank you for inviting.

How To Make a Decision

Lisa: Yeah. So just to jump right in, let’s have a discussion about what in your collective experience can make decision making itself feel so hard, like when people get into that place of paralysis? Like what do I do? What is going on just internally that contributes to that stuckness? 

Kristi: Sure. Well, I think, again, I’m coming more from a career focus, because I see a lot of career coaching clients that that paralysis you talked about is very common. A lot of times when something feels so overwhelming, people don’t know where to start, and it’s easier than not to start at all if you’re not sure what direction to go in, if you just feel like the issue is so big. 

I also think that especially with career things and the pandemic and the uncertainty that I think as humans, we tend to err more on the double you know is better than the one you don’t, which is why people, I think, stay so long in jobs that may not be their dream job. But in their head, they’re like, well, the next one could be even worse kind of thing, which gets into some limiting beliefs and things like that that I help clients with. 

So I think that’s part of it, that it just becomes very difficult when you feel overwhelmed to know which first step to take. So a lot of times that’s why people wait, and then when they reach out to me, they’ve often been thinking about making a change for a very long time, and they just have gotten stuck.

Lisa: Yeah, but that’s a good point. It’s like that idea around but what if the next thing is worse and like not being 100% sure that it sort of leads us as a default kind of shelter in place. Right? Yeah.

Alejandra: For me, I think a lot of things make us freeze, right, when we’re taking decisions, but what I think is important to have in mind and to avoid this freeze is to have your goal, like the overarching goal of why you’re making that decision. I think that helps a little bit, because sometimes, the fact that you have to let go of something to choose the other one is so much more heavy on us, that what the other one is gonna bring. It’s like, I don’t know, I’m going to Paris or Milan. Exactly. 

Lisa: Can I do both? I want to do both. 

Alejandra: Exactly. You don’t want to leave any of them behind. You don’t want to lose the Italian or whatever. I don’t know. 

Lisa: Yeah. 

Alejandra: That’s also very hard. 

Lisa: Yes. No, but I love the way that you said that. It’s like you have to let go of something in order to make a big change and say yes to something new. That’s that letting go part that can be really hard, for sure. Yeah. 

Alejandra: Yeah.

Kristi: I think change is just hard for people in general. I always tell my clients any growth, personal growth is gonna come from outside your comfort zone, and a lot of times people like to stay where it’s known and comfortable. So in order to take those steps outside your comfort zone, I think it can be really beneficial to get help. Like Alejandra was saying, where do you want to go? What is your goal? 

Then you can start making steps toward that and creating an action plan toward that, but it still takes you out of your comfort zone. It just helps to have support and encouragement while you’re doing that.

Lisa: Yeah, that’s such a good point. Well, I could see, yeah, so to have a longer vision, to have a goal, because I think, when you look at it in that way, whatever choice you make is just a vehicle towards a goal. It’s not like the end all, be all in itself, which is sometimes, especially making a career change. It’s the thing, itself, feels huge. 

But if you can attach it to a 20 year plan for your life, the reality is that you may have a number of different jobs between now and then, and this is just one on a path forward and kind of like releasing some of the frankness of that one particular decision.

Kristi: Yeah, I use a car analogy that a lot of times clients will say, “Well, what if I start looking at a different career path, and I don’t like it.” That’s why they haven’t taken steps. So I say, “Well, if you go sitting your car in the driveway, and you never turn the car on, you’re never going to get to where you’re going. But even if you start driving and you make a wrong turn, and you have to do a loop around, you’re still going to end up somewhere different than where you started.” 

So what you were saying, I tell most of my clients, they’re likely not going to be in the same job for the next 20 years, which is a good thing as they continue to evolve and grow, they’re going to find their next path, and that’s a good thing. But it’s that initial, like starting the car and driving out of the driveway, even though it’s scary and you don’t know where you’re going, that uncertainty piece of not knowing where you’re gonna end up, I think is scary. But once you do that, great things can happen. 

Lisa: Yeah, and I think you’re also talking a little bit about this, having enough confidence and trust in yourself that if you realize at some point, you have taken a left instead of a right. You can fix that. It’s not like, cause I think sometimes before we go into something new, there’s a subconscious belief that, and so it shall be for all eternity. I know what I mean, right? It’s like, no, it’s all right. We’re going to keep steering. We can course correct.

Alejandra: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Regarding families, I know Kristi is talking about career, but I work with more of couples. I think what’s difficult making decisions regarding couples, when you’re in a couple is that sometimes your goal as an individual may differ or may counteract the goal that you have as a couple, so that’s difficult to manage. 

That’s what I see a lot in my practice is how to find common ground where you don’t leave yourself behind because it’s very important for you to continue being an individual even If you’re in a relationship, and on the other hand, also honoring that you’re in a couple. That’s also an important call to keep in mind where you’re taking decisions, you know.

Lisa: Definitely. Well, if we can dive into this a little bit more, Dr. Kristi, if this is okay, just for Alejandra and I, kind of, to drill down, and I’d love to hear your perspective on this as well. One of the things that I know can be so difficult for people, and I know that you’ve had these conversations, Kristi, I’m sure have to, but this idea of whether or not to stay in a specific relationship is a very difficult decision, and it can take a lot of different forms. 

But generally, we’ve been together for a few years. I am aware of some differences in values or some relational problems. Is this particular relationship worth investing in, working on, making it as good as that can be? Or is there really something better for me? Is there a better, more compatible person, a better fit? That creates so much stress and anxiety for people, and that’s even an absence of something really regrettable have happening, having happened, which also occurs. 

I think sometimes people are always pushed into this, like if there was an affair or some betrayal. Then it turns into more of a, oof, do I stay or do I go and more escalated way, but like a lot of people struggle with that, like this is my person?

Alejandra: Yeah. What also makes it hard is that you don’t know if you’re, let’s say you decide to invest in their relationship, but you don’t really know what the other person is going to do. Both of them have to invest in their relationship for it to work. So I think that is also like it’s not only you that has to make a decision for yourself, but it’s also do I trust the other person is going to make the same decision, and we’re going to put the same effort, the end like give ourselves to make this work. It has so many layers when you’re talking about the couple.

Lisa: Yeah, it’s not just something that you can decide for yourself. There are some systemic, kind of, factors that go into it also. I’m thinking about one client I had, and I’m going to de-identify this, but who was dating somebody that he described as a very nice. He was probably in his mid 30s. I would say she was probably in her late 20s, that he described as being very nice. 

They had a great relationship, didn’t fight, were very compatible in many ways, good communication, wanted a lot of the same things, but he was still like, but I don’t know. What would you even do with that? I know that that’s a big thing, and I don’t want to put you on the spot, but because you and I talked about that for quite. I think that some people are in that space. It’s like, no, no, my partner is invested. They would love to get married, but do I? I know they’re in this. 

Alejandra: Yeah, well, then. But that makes it a little bit easier, because one of them wants to be tested. 

Lisa: Yeah. 

Alejandra: Just work with that person to see where’s this coming from, what is coming up for this person, what does relationship commitment mean. Everything that is boiling up that is making them doubt it. 

Lisa: Yeah. 

Alejandra: And not being able to take that plunge.

Lisa: So I’m hearing you say, go deeper into the what. What is giving you pause? Let’s understand what that is.

Alejandra: Yeah, yeah, if that makes sense. I mean, I would go that way. 

Kristi: Yeah. Well, okay. So I also believe, though, because I do end up doing a fair amount of talking about relationships with my career coaching clients and coaching. But I will also say there’s some intangible pieces to that sometimes someone can’t necessarily define why this isn’t their person or not, but they are feeling it’s not their person. I’m a big believer in following your gut, business wise, career wise, relationship wise, and so sometimes I don’t think there’s necessarily an answer. 

I don’t think in some cases, that is the person has a fear of commitment. I think sometimes there’s a piece missing that someone can explain, and then they know it when they’re in a relationship that has it and whatever that may be. So I don’t think there’s something necessarily a problem to fix with that person, but it may be that that relationship because not, I don’t know, I’m just playing devil’s advocate a little bit.

Lisa: Oh, and both air. Totally I mean, I do think that it is helpful for all of us to be exploring, why do I think the way I think or why do I feel the way that I feel, because certainly there could be some, yeah, you saw your parents go through a really traumatic divorce. They’re subconsciously, maybe, are afraid of it. We need to know, and to be asking those kinds of questions will help you uncover the patterns that could potentially emerge in any relationship if you’re on the cusp of deciding to commit or not a lot of other things. 

So that is definitely important and valid work. But Kristi, I’m also hearing you say that if you really do that reflection be like, no, I’m not sure why I feel this way, but I do. Maybe that is actually good enough of a reason to trust that and decide to do something different, even if you don’t know what that other thing is yet. The fact that you are ambivalent and can’t really put your finger on why, in itself, like evidence of the truth. Did I say that in the right way?

Kristi: Yeah, I just do a lot of mindfulness work with my clients, even with career themes and growing sort of that inner sense, that inner knowing that sometimes, yeah, you don’t always need to know. But if you’re feeling really strongly in a certain way to honor that, because that helps grow that intuition muscle, which a lot of my clients use, obviously, for business, but also in your personal life. So, yeah, I’m just thinking personally. 

I dated a lot of very nice people before my husband, where I couldn’t have said, this was wrong or that kind of stuff. I just knew it was like, no, this isn’t who my person is, and there wasn’t a rational explanation. So I guess I’m also talking from personal experience.I just think it’s important to follow your gut and do all the inner work so that I really believe if you’re a whole complete person in yourself, you’re going to attract someone who is a whole complete person. 

I see people who haven’t done that work, and they tend to attract people who are also needing to do work on themselves. So I think when you do that inner work, you bring more people into your life, relationships and business wise, that are people more in alignment with the type energy you’re putting out.

Lisa: That is a fantastic perspective, and thank you so much for sharing your own personal story about one of those fork in the road moments. I was actually wanting to ask each of you in it. I’m willing to share on my own, but just you know what that process has looked like in your life. 

So Kristi, I’m hearing that for you, the way that you have made some of those difficult decisions in the past and that really works for you is through a lot of self awareness, mindfulness, being clear about like, what you’re gonna say, this risk of sounding corny, but like this inner wisdom is really what it is, and like just listening to that voice and that that has worked for you.

Kristi: Absolutely.

Lisa: Yeah.

Alejandra: I can definitely relate to that, Kristi. I mean, in the bottom of your cards, I’ve always known what decision I’m about to make, even if it’s been hard. But like I said, In the beginning, I think what also has helped me to guide me is to see the goal, like what I’m working for in my relationship, be like with my husband or as a family or work related. I mean, always knowing where you’re going and having that in mind while you’re deciding.

Lisa: Yeah, I guess I don’t want to put you on the spot, but is there like a personal example where you did that? You were in a place where maybe there was is this the right thing, but have that, a longer term goal that was kind of the lighthouse, I’m hearing, like there was a true north?

Alejandra: Well, I can actually relate, like for my family, maybe, to always remember when I’m talking to my husband and we’re making difficult decisions together of what to do, or in a relationship or as a family. Having in mind that the end goal for me is to have this family together. This has been very helpful because in the moment you must be very angry at your partner. What is this? What is this? What are you thinking? 

But if you take a step back and say, okay, we’re a team. We should want the same thing. We love our children. We want what’s best for them. We want the best for us. So to take that step back and be able to say, okay, so for us, maybe I’m going to have to sacrifice something I wanted or he’s going to sacrifice something that he wants. But having that goal is to keeping us together, because we have a lot of good to build from.

Lisa: Of course, yeah. So, again, just like that longer term goal, the smaller decisions in the moment, in context of the goal, you have a lot of clarity about what the right thing is to do, and the here and now to go there. Okay. So I wonder, I’m so curious to hear what you guys would say, because I think that conventional wisdom a lot of times in our culture is that when we’re faced with a difficult decision is that we want to think through this. 

Let’s bust out our pros and cons list and kind of approach this decision logically. What’s so interesting is that I’m hearing from the two of you, and also reflecting on my own life experiences like that is not even a little bit what we’re talking about now. It’s much more visceral, intuitive. Maybe it doesn’t make a ton of logical sense in the moment, and we know it’s the right thing anyway. 

So what would you say to someone who, I know you’ve had this experience, who was here on the therapy couch and has their pro and con list, like with a column down the sheet of paper and like, here’s the reasons to, here’s the reasons not. Is that even useful? I mean, what do you do with that?

Kristi: I see a lot of clients with pros and cons list. 

Lisa: Yeah. 

Kristi: Then at the end of the day, what you want to do is do some of that mindfulness work where you get quiet. When you have constant chatter going in your head, it’s really hard to get guidance in that inner wisdom, because you’re drowning it out, literally, with all of your thoughts. So when you do some kind of mindfulness practice to get quiet, to get a little more still, a lot of times, you get clarity much faster. I’ve had multiple clients tell me business decisions. 

They were able to make amazing decisions that actually went against their lists that they created on paper and they learned to then trust that inner wisdom. They’ve told me now that’s the best thing they’ve learned in life, and they can use it in all areas of their life. So yeah, some of my people who like data and stats, I still have them do the list, but then do this other work, and it’s amazing to see what comes out of incorporating even just a little bit of mindfulness work.

Lisa: Yeah. We’ve really put so much emphasis and prevalence on this logical thought that there is a rational answer. You can think your way through this problem and arrive at the right decision, and that the reality is that the way this works is a totally different level. By going into a place that maybe you’re not even aware of having before listening to the show or working with somebody like Dr. Kristi, that’s actually where the truth, air quote, truth resides.

Kristi: Yeah, I had one client who was struggling with a pretty big business decision, who was telling me he was going on a trip hiking, and I said, great, just be present, go hike, do not worry, do not try and overthink this, just let the problem go while you’re on this trip. He came back and told me in the middle of the trip, he decided to sit down in this beautiful area, do some mindfulness, just did a meditation, just to connect with nature around him. 

He said he came back from the trip and he suddenly just knew what he was supposed to do business wise, created this new business and is doing amazing with it. But it was almost by letting go, surrendering the problem and just going and getting quiet that he got the response that he needed to its problem.

Lisa: Yeah, and also just want to add because again, I think that what you’re saying, Dr. Kristi, is kind of the antithesis of these cultural messages about how important it is to think it’d be logical on everybody to know that Dr. Kristi is a licensed psychologist so this is not coming from like a lunatic, and just for our rational thinkers out there, they need these things. There is a ton of research to support what you’re saying. 

There’s one book I haven’t finished the whole thing. I’m in progress, but it’s called Thinking Fast and Slow and it talks all about how there are almost like different levels of thought and different layers of brain functioning. One of them is conscious, and it is our reasoning. It is our if this, then that, kind of, linear thinking. There is a whole lot of brain power that is accurate. It is true. 

It is not always conscious, but it is the part that is like synthesizing all of these different things on a deep level and often speaks to us in the form of feelings or intuitions or dreams even or hunches. That it can be easy to discount them because they’re not speaking in that logical language. But this is a very valid and real part of the way that your brain works. It’s just a different kind of thinking.

Kristi: Yeah, my training was very cognitive behavioral in nature, and so absolutely, the way I explain it to all my engineering side clients, it’s like the subconscious is like your software programming. So the thoughts you think impact how you behave in the world, how you view the world. Your perception truly is your reality. Sometimes everybody’s got limiting beliefs and things like that. 

That’s part of the software, the subconscious stuff that’s running in the background. So if you can do some work on that, absolutely, then things become more conscious. Therefore, you’re using more of your brain power, but in different ways, like you said, and I haven’t read that book. So I’ll have to add it to my list.

Lisa: Thinking Fast and Slow. I actually don’t have the copy in my office anymore, because I gave it to my dad, who is a logical thinker, and we’re working on that. He’s reading the book, so it’s all good. But so then, another another piece of this and, Alejandra, maybe you can speak more around this idea of having goals and having that clarity is that it sounds like having that that sense of what it is that you ultimately want to move towards. 

Big picture can be very important to this, the confidence that or even like if you have an intuition or a hunch that you’re like, yes, that is actually right, because that is in alignment with where I’m going. I know that this could be a huge discussion on its own. But in your experience, I’m curious to know what kinds of activities or even questions to ask oneself that you found to be helpful for people who are trying to make decisions related to matters of the heart to get at what are those goals? What do I want in this domain, right? 

Alejandra: Yeah, yeah, so that can be, yeah. Like you say, this is a very ample subject. We could be talking about it forever, because we all have different definitions of what we want in a relationship and what we need from our partner. There’s obviously not the partner of our dreams. So what are you willing to give up? What not to give up? What do crosses your boundaries, and this I cannot put up with? But I’m willing to work on this. 

Yeah, so that’s basically a lot of the work we do. I’m gonna say in my office, but it’s not really my office, it’s zoom of getting these conversations going, and I always tell my clients when they started, like I’m going to be asking a lot of questions, because I need to get a sense of what you’re looking for, because you are the expert on yourself. I just have the studies and that. So I make a lot of questions about what each person is looking for and how this complements who they are and how this ties to their background and what they live through. 

Until just talking about this gives them clarity and gives them a vision that is much more workable with, so they can make their own decisions, obviously. It’s not so hard, because I think then people get stuck with not really knowing what they want. So just answering my questions, I think is helpful for them.

Lisa: Yeah, yeah. Even before making a decision, you can totally get stuck and not really even knowing for sure what it is that you want, which is a weird thing to think about, but it happens all the time. It’s just not having that clarity. Okay. I’m curious what else you would say to somebody who like, Kristi, what you said a minute ago or while ago, is that you often have people who are showing up who have been contemplating different options for a long time. 

That phrase, analysis, paralysis, kind of, comes to mind is just sort of this almost stuckness of thinking that it can feel like procrastinating. It can feel indecisiveness. It can feel like ambivalence seeing two different sides of the same coin at this same moment. Do you have any sort of thoughts for why it is that people do that and can stay in that space for as long as they do, and just the advice? Well, you may have already shared the advice, which is to stop thinking altogether. But how can somebody just break out of that? 

Kristi: Yeah, well, usually there’s a tipping point, I would say, of some kind, and that’s usually when they reached out for coaching, where they’ve been stuck in that analysis, paralysis, not sure where to start. Double they know is better than the one they don’t. Usually, there’s a tipping point, and that is when, again, I think one of the benefits of the pandemic is people really reflected on what was important to them, and realizing life is short. 

For me, my goal for my clients is that they get to do what they do for work every day, and they’re excited by it. They love it. I tell people, if you’re experiencing a sense of dread on Sunday, that you have to go back to your job on Monday, that’s pretty telling. Again, making a change, looking at, at some point, if that dread is weighing out, over weighing, sort of any of the positives of the job, sometimes people will stay in a job for a while, not their ideal job, but they like their co workers, and they have a supportive boss. 

There’s reasons why they’ve stayed so long, always, and that’s not a bad thing. If somebody is counting on that money, they’re a single parent. They need to raise their children. Everybody has different circumstances. So I don’t think there’s like a blanket statement. Like, oh, if you’re unhappy, you should leave your job. But I think if you are at a point where you’re consistently unhappy, more days than you’re happy, it’s worth looking at doing something about that and exploring that. 

Exploring doesn’t mean you’re going to quit your job. I’ve had clients come to me wanting to explore whether they should quit their job, and it turned out, they actually really liked their job, but they were in a toxic environment. Once they switch to a different job, a different employer, they actually love their jobs, so they didn’t even change careers. So everybody’s different. 

But I would say just taking a step out of your comfort zone, whether that means talking to a friend in a different field and asking them about their job, reaching out to talk to a coach, just taking one step outside your comfort zone to see, am I ready for something else?

Lisa: Yeah, just a little, I think, who said that it may even have been Oprah is to do, I know everything. What is the smallest, next best thing, and it could be just talking with somebody else about their job. It could be just, I’m going to get more information that that in itself is an action, right? That doing something? Yeah. Okay. So another big piece of this that I know we’ve all experienced personally and professionally, it can be related to the fear of uncertainty, the fear of the unknown, that how difficult it can be. 

I think this is probably true for some personality types more than others. I think I’ve experienced this more with people who have strong J tendencies on the Myers Briggs, who tend to be more planning and kind of here’s what’s going to happen next can be so hard to take action in a direction that you don’t really know what’s going to happen. We can try to educate ourselves to the best of our abilities, maybe have reasonable hopes for what could happen but don’t actually know. 

It feels like just sort of walking into the darkness and hoping that there continues to be floor underneath of you each step right. But what do you think makes that fear of the unknown, that fear of uncertainty, so paralyzing and so challenging? Because at the core of making a hard decision is really sooner or later a leap of faith, if you are, Kristi, as you say, letting go of the known or maybe Alejandra was you letting go of what you have to be able to maybe go into something different. What is so scary about that, do you think?

Alejandra: You were talking and just the same creature of habit. I think we’re just all creatures of habit, and we like to know what’s going on. Because I have a lot of clients expressed how even though they know it’s going to be better for them, they are still petrified to do that, which get me really curious because if we know it’s going to be better, why not take the leap? I just go back to this phrase, we’re all creatures of habit. 

Yeah, the change part is so difficult. We just want to stay, leave everything as it is, even though we’re not happy. I don’t know. So it’s mind boggling at the same time.

Lisa: Well, what do you make of that? I mean, the attachment to what we have now that even though we know it’s creating problems, we don’t like many aspects of it, that we still have this attachment.

Kristi: Well, I think, Alejandra, that’s very common, what she’s saying. I think overall, a lot of times people operate, and maybe it comes from survival, how we’ve evolved, but we operate a lot of times based out of fear, fear based thinking like, well, it’s better than no job and not having an income, or this relationship is better than being alone, because I’m terrified to be alone, that kind of thing. 

I think wherever you put your energy in life that thing grows, and so if you focus a lot on all the fears that can easily become paralyzing and overwhelming in a very short amount of time. So part of the work I do with clients is to get comfortable being uncomfortable, that’s what I tell them. The more you can operate out of your comfort zone a little bit, the more you’re not as afraid of uncertainty, because so much of life is uncertain. 

I also think with the pandemic, there’s so much that has been out of people’s control for so long that people tend to try and grasp onto what they can control, and that’s where, I think, that fear of change, because they feel like they have control over this situation. Because if you give up control over that, you have control over nothing, and then you feel like you’re spiraling. 

So I think it’s helping to ground people in focusing their energy like that goal-focus thinking Alejandra was talking about on what you want, and then trying to keep your energy there rather than get diverted by all of the things going on in the world, which there are always plenty that you could focus on that would. But you want to make decisions as much as possible based on what you want, rather than what you fear. 

Alejandra: Also, hearing you talk, Kristi, I’m getting philosophical here. Things are always changing. So it’s just like fake comfort that we have, that we have it all under control and that everything is changing, because really, we have no control. Everything is constantly changing, but I think we don’t want to think about this too often because it would be anxiety producing.

Lisa: All right, well, I think again, some personalities are more, I think, concerned. I don’t know where you guys fall on the spectrum. I am a very strong like P on that Myers Briggs spectrum, the perceiver. So I honestly don’t need to know what is going to happen next, and it’s very easy for me to like change and do things at the drop of a hat, which is its own problem sometimes if we can talk about another episode. 

But I love what you’re saying, though, that this idea, this illusion that we can stop time, stop evolution, stop things from changing is not actually true. The other thing that was coming up for me, as you guys were talking too, is also this myth that the things that we are afraid of are actually real threats or likely to happen, because that in itself can be an illusion. I could tell a personal story. 

When I was younger, my husband and I had been married for 11 years, and having a child was not a life goal. I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to have kids for all of these very logical and reasonable reasons on the pros and cons list. So I was like, no, thank you, and then we had a love child. I remember being so like, oh no, what are we going to do, and this is not an alignment with the choice that I had thought that I’d made. 

I had all of these reasons in my mind about why having a kid would be so hard, the worst thing ever, and all these things that I was afraid of, and zero of them came to pass. It turned out to me the most wonderful experience of my entire life, and it was, like I had all those logical reasons for why I didn’t want to do this. But in that, what we’re talking about, like those quiet moments, just this little whisper of, it’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be good. 

I just like, okay, okay, that’s fine and it was. It was wonderful. But like I think, sometimes we’re not suspicious enough, almost, of our own thoughts, expectations, preconceived ideas about what is so scary and threatening in the first place. Do you know what I mean?

Alejandra: Totally. Yeah, your mind goes to dark places like, it’s gonna be the end of the world. 

Lisa: Right. 

Alejandra: Yeah, I always tell my clients, if you feel your mind is going to dark places, please get a hold of it. You have to bring it back. If you imagine that that’s going to happen, it’s probably not going to happen, because we can’t see the future. So if you’re already imagining it that way, it’s not gonna be that way.

Lisa: Yeah, totally, the things are not as bad as we think they’re gonna be, often not as great as they think, as we think that they’re going to be either a lot of times. There’s always somewhere in the middle at the end of the day, usually. Okay. So, are there any other ideas or things that we should talk about for the benefit of our listeners? Actually, let me ask about this. 

One of the things that is coming up for me, when I think about making hard decisions, and I’ve had interesting experiences with this in my own life, but procrastination, the desire or the act of avoiding making a decision, I will think about that later. I am going to just not deal with that right now. What do you think that is about? 

Kristi: Well, I will say, a lot of my clients that procrastination is more coming from a place of perfectionism rather than not wanting to face it, which might be different than relationship clients. So it’s really addressing for some of what’s going on behind that, and so I always recommend Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection for that, because I think it’s an amazing book. 

Procrastination, a lot of times, it’s that fear based what if you’re making the wrong decision. So if you’re not making any decision, at least you’re not making the wrong one, right? So if you’re procrastinating, then you’re not having to commit either way. So it’s just working through, again, different personality styles have more different ways of addressing things than others. 

So I tend to see it in certain clients more than others, and it’s just something that we work through together, because I don’t think anything limits your ability to create the life you want to have for yourself, but you have to be willing to look at yourself and address those issues going on if you want to make changes from there.

Lisa: Yeah, and I think you’re saying that procrastination is actually safe, and that procrastination is also tied with perfectionism, or like the paralysis is maybe like this core belief of, I can’t make a mistake. If I make a decision, it has to be the correct decision, and we know that that’s actually not true. You don’t have to make the right decision. You can and should make mistakes. Because why?

Kristi: Well, I don’t even call them mistakes. What I tell my clients is It’s not a mistake. It’s a learning experience. Nobody who is successful in life has done it by staying perfectly safe and always waiting to make the, there is no perfect decision, and stay parked in the driveway. Yeah, you’re not turning the car on, and so you’re not getting anywhere. So it’s better to have learning experiences, and I say the more the better, because then you’re learning and growing even more and just reframing calling that failure or whatever it is. 

Every successful business owner has gone through what they would call failures. But the ones who succeed, just learn from it, adjust and keep going.

Lisa: Even changing the language around it can be very powerful. What will I learn in any direction? Yes. Yeah, can I tell you guys a really weird thing that I have learned about my own relationship with procrastination fairly recently, but it kind of ties back to what we were talking about a while ago with that, like the thinking mind, and then the slow mind. I used to beat myself up sometimes because I would procrastinate when it came to decisions or to taking substantial actions one way or the other. 

I wouldn’t do things for a while, and I knew that I should do something, and I had like reasons for why I should do those things. I would be annoyed with myself and what I have recently discovered, probably in the last six months or so, is that when I have this subconscious, like heavy feeling, it’s like I’m not doing those things because there’s this heaviness, this tiredness, or is this something? 

What I have discovered is that at a later time, some new information or circumstance will emerge that I didn’t consciously know when I was telling myself, I should do this thing, or I need to make that decision. There was this other part of my mind that was like, no, wait, that I’m beginning to believe, knows other things that my conscious mind doesn’t. So it’s also really helped me stop beating myself up for not making decisions or taking immediate action, because there’s this other part that’s like, you don’t have all the information yet. 

Kristi: I totally agree. 100%. That’s that intuition piece, though. I don’t even see that. I see that as indecision versus procrastination. So if someone who’s truly indecisive, I tell them to honor that, because I told them, they usually don’t have all the information. It’s an intuition thing and to honor that. So the fact that you did honor that and that heaviness feeling, so many people experience that and discount it, and they’ll make it anyway. 

That’s your inner wisdom telling you in that way. Don’t proceed right now. Yeah, I don’t even consider that procrastination. I consider that.

Lisa: Yeah, that’s a wrong word.

Kristi: Yeah, and to honor that, that’s great.

Lisa: Yeah. But that was really helpful for me to kind of put that together.

Alejandra: When it comes to your conscious mind, that you didn’t do it, because you had fright.

Lisa: Right. 

Alejandra: Oh, this is why I hadn’t thinking that step forward. 

Lisa: Yeah. 

Alejandra: It’s like I did something didn’t feel right. So you had to wait until and like everything takes care of itself. No, everything ends up being okay.

Lisa: Yeah, yeah. But I think it’s, you know, just sort of full circle around this idea that we have many different layers of ourselves, our minds, our experiences, and it’s at those really deep layers, they’re hard to access, sometimes, consciously, but that’s really where the truth. I think it can be found. So I’m so glad that we discussed this today during our time together, and I’m imagining it was probably a different conversation than some of our listeners expected coming into it. 

But thank you both so much for helping to get us there and for sharing this real wisdom with our listeners today. Is there anything else either of you would like to share, sort of in closing about making hard decisions, being comfortable with uncertainty, or embracing the discomfort of uncertainty, I guess, we should say? Or have we talked about what we needed to talk about?

Kristi: I would just say like, it’s the end of the year, which is a really nice time to reflect on how the year went, and then looking ahead, what you would like talking about goal setting that Alejandra mentioned. What do you want next year to look like? If you want it to look a little bit different than this year, what initial step can you take to get there? Just do some small step out of your comfort zone to make that happen.

Alejandra: Yeah, that’s super nice, Kristi. Also, I think that I’m more of an attached person with the past, also like making the rituals to let go of the year that passed, and thank God or whoever you want to thank for where you live and your experiences to be able to embrace and to look to the future too.

Lisa: Yeah, yeah, that’s reminding me of what you talked about earlier this idea that we need to be able to let go and really say goodbye to something in order to allow something new in and to find ways of being able to do that actively and consciously can be part of that change process. Well, thank you both so much for being here with me today. This is a lot of fun.

Kristi: Thank you. 

Alejandra: Yes, it was. Thank you.

Lisa: What an inspiring interview. That was fantastic. Hey, if you guys would like more advice from either Dr. Kristi or Alejandra, you can cruise over to our blog at growingself.com. Dr. Kristi has written a number of very helpful and insightful articles specifically about how to make career related decisions. You can find those growingself.com/blog-podcast, and then navigate to the success collection. 

Then from there, enter into the Career Clarity Collection for more information about that, and in that collection, too, you can find not just articles from Dr. Kristi, but other articles and also podcasts that I’ve done with other really talented career counselors on our team here at Growing Self, so those are all available for you. Then of course, we have more from Alejandra in our relationship collection to find that same place blog-podcast, and then enter into the love collection. 

I recommend the Relationship Clarity Collection for lots of information from not just Alejandra but also many other couples counselors on our teams have written articles and podcasts about ways to make difficult choices about relationships in particular, including articles on like when to call it quits on a relationship versus signs that a relationship can be saved. 

Then certainly too in our Personal Growth Collection, you can find lots of information on just generally how to get unstuck, how to start feeling more confident, how to trust yourself, that’s another really important topic that you might consider taking advantage of some of the resources that we have there. So lots of information on today’s show. Again, I hope so much that this was helpful for you. 
If you have other questions or topics for the podcast, get in touch growingself.com. Of course if you would like to speak with Dr. Kristi, Alejandra or any of the other truly wise experts here on our team, you can schedule your free consultation appointment with one of them at growingself.com as well. So thanks again for listening and spending this time with us today. I hope you enjoy more Grimes with Crystal Ball, and I’ll be back in touch soon.

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