Many of us struggle to make decisions. We might take hours to pick out what to wear, months to decide what color to paint the house, and years to decide whether to leave a job and hang out our own shingle. (For the record, it took me five YEARS to decide to go solo!)
All this indecision can be exhausting. We’ve all heard of decision fatigue.
There are a lot of systems and practical advice about how to make better decisions. You know, writing out a list of pros and cons. Putting a deadline on a calendar and just doing it. Etc. Common-sense crap we already know.
But if you already KNOW that stuff, and it still feels bad and you’re avoiding a big decision, or saying yes to too many different things and not deciding that anything is a “no,” some insight into why it’s hard to make decisions is in order.
FOMO — the fear of missing out — is one version of placing excessive importance on the outcome. It’s one major reason why otherwise smart and capable women struggle so much with making decisions. Inside, we are afraid we will be mad at ourselves for the “wrong” decision, or fear we will be sad about the thing we passed up.
Many of us actually have decided on what we really, really want in our heart of hearts, but don’t do it because we are afraid someone else will be mad or sad. And sometimes we go years without even telling our own selves the truth about what we really, really want.
This stems from our “good little student” syndrome again — we want people to be happy with us and this strategy has been largely effective. Sometimes the smarter and more capable we are, the more seems to be at stake, which brings us back to the first point — placing too much importance on the consequences.
It’s human to want to grow and expand, try all the things, taste everything that life has to offer. I’m not here to suppress that impulse. But there is something incredibly sweet about really savoring just a few select things.
In this Episode, I give you permission to say no and embrace constraint to strengthen your decisionmaking muscle, so that each successive decision you make is easier and faster and with less drama.
And I recommend an awesome article (linked in the show notes) that will have you re-thinking whether a multitude of options is a net positive for your happiness.
I’m SaraEllen Hutchison and this is the Feminine Energy Feminist podcast, episode number Eight: How to make better decisions.
Welcome to Feminine Energy Feminist, a podcast for professional women who are ready to tap into their feminine energy, so they can be happier at work and in their personal lives. It’s time to redefine what a professional woman is in those historically male-dominated fields that don’t always embrace the needs and talents of women.
I’m your host, SaraEllen Hutchison. I’m a life coach and a practicing lawyer. I’ll help you learn how to embrace who you are as a woman; body, mind, and spirit, so you can be more powerful in your career and fulfilled in your life. So, if you’re ready not just to be a high achiever, but get what your soul wants too, let’s proceed.
Welcome back to the Feminine Energy Feminist, Episode 8.
So last week, I shared my criticisms of the advice to women to “lean in” or “lean back,” because to the extent that you take that advice and force yourself far off of your own inner wisdom and guidance, it’s not really showing up fully in your own power in your life. And, if you are a woman, if you’re way far off your own center, you’re in the land of trying too hard, which isn’t empowered feminine energy.
So today, I want to talk about decisionmaking, something that a lot of women tell me they have difficulty doing. And I’m a great person to talk about this because I changed my college major a lot, and moved a lot, and changed jobs a lot before it was as accepted as it is today. But I lived to tell about it and actually became a rather decisive person, someone who could decide I wanted a new car, go to one place, and drive home a new car that very day, with nothing about it being impulsive.
But I still know very well what it feels like to be indecisive and tell myself I don’t know what I want to do. I hmmed and hawed for five years before opening up a solo law practice because I was doing both of the disempowering things I’m about to discuss.
So why do women, even really smart, successful women, struggle with making decisions? There are two main reasons that we take ourselves out of our own center and own power and struggle to make decisions and say no.
One, FOMO or high stakes. This is when we place excessive importance on the consequences of the decision, which comes from a lack of self-trust. Even on seemingly less-consequential decisions, FOMO, fear of missing out, is the same dynamic.
Two, people pleasing, which is at play when we deep down actually do know what we want, but we aren’t affirmatively deciding it because we are afraid someone will be mad or leave us. I will cover people pleasing in greater detail in a future episode, but I mention it now because there is so much overlap and interplay in why we struggle to make decisions.
Both of these reasons come from our thoughts – thoughts that are causing us to go into some disempowered emotion like fear or overwhelm. And even if there is a strong energetic component that is causing you to feel paralyzed or sincerely believe you really, truly don’t know what you want to decide, such energetic patterns are influencing your thoughts about the subject of the decision. So in any approach to this, cognitive or somatic, I think we can’t escape the necessity of looking at our thoughts and uncovering the implicit or hidden ones.
So, let’s start with the first reason why smart women struggle with making decisions, what I’m calling FOMO and high stakes.
I have talked at length about good little student syndrome. That’s who many of us were as little girls, being very bright academically and making everyone really stoked about our bright future. Girls are often raised in a very fear-based way, with subtle (or not-so-subtle) messages that we need to be careful and that it’s possible to screw up the rest of your life before the lunch bell. Suddenly which college you go to, or what you major in, became a huge monumental life choice. And then for a lot of my listeners, the big deal was then what area of law do you practice, because people said you’d be stuck doing the first thing you learn for the rest of your life. Lots of well-meaning so called older wiser people were, and may still be, telling you that every decision you make is super important FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. And you might have internalized that.
President Obama, Zuckerberg and Jobs famously wore the same outfit every day for work, because it can be exhausting to the brain to have to make decisions. I’m going to take this concept of decision fatigue even further and state that if you learn to believe that decisions are all important, the primitive brain will start to regard them all as a saber-toothed tiger. So in part, you can blame evolution if it takes you 30 minutes to decide what lipstick and earrings are going to make the best impression over Zoom.
And naturally, it follows that if decisions are all super important, the thing you don’t choose is super important. And so as a result, a lot of women find themselves saying yes to everything out of FOMO, and never get to fully embrace the power of constraint.
Your ability to achieve what you want, have the freedom you desire, and deeply appreciate what you have comes down to how well you exercise constraint.
Constraint means freedom. In other words, less equals more. You’ve heard this for years, but do you really believe it?
Most people don’t. They fantasize about being really really good at one thing, but end up with five different hobbies that don’t bring them much satisfaction.
They imagine what it would be like to be the known expert in a certain field or practice area, but they think they need the money, so they keep taking more of those cases that they don’t like — or get distracted with a time-consuming case out of their area of expertise while the money-making cases pile up on their desk.
They clear out their closets, only to find it is a mess again a year later. Not to mention the calendar full of social, professional or civic “obligations” that they don’t really feel like doing.
And this is why many people, especially talented professional women, say they are “busy” and “overwhelmed.” Especially during the holidays, when FOMO reaches peak levels, along with people-pleasing and challenging family dynamics. So you can see how these reasons are quite intertwined for many people. A lot of us say yes to everything or don’t say yes to our deepest desires and dreams because we think someone is going to be sad or mad. So we keep ourselves busy chasing other people’s goals — or even too many of our own because we’re afraid the “wrong” decision will make ourselves sad or mad.
We know that “busy” is a thought, and “overwhelmed” and “obligated” are both feelings. But “busy” is a very pesky thought — when we are thinking it, we’re often SO convinced that it is our circumstance. And then we wonder why we can’t create anything different, and our efforts to push through the overwhelm, tackle the things we “have to” do, and meet our expectations in five different goals all at once just make us “busier,” more overextended and more overwhelmed.
The problem comes from trying to increase our capacity before we exercise constraint. We try to take actions from that feeling of pressure that we need to get it all done or make it all “good enough.” Or we say yes to everything out of a feeling of fear that we will be sad if we make the wrong choice. But where does that pressure come from? It’s a feeling, so it comes from a thought — a belief that everything is equally important and pressing. And why might we think that?
Because we haven’t triaged. We haven’t actually been honest with ourselves (and usually also everyone else in our lives) about what is truly important. We haven’t sat down and made tough choices about what gets to be in our lives, on our calendar, on our plates, literal and figurative, and during our weekends and evenings. We haven’t applied constraint. We’re putting the cart before the horse if we haven’t first made decisions about what we really want to focus on this day, this week, this month, this quarter, and this season of life.
And then when we don’t like our results — that just confirm the belief that we have too much to do and not enough time — or that we have to be ah-ma-zing at all these different things — we weaken our resolve to make tough decisions. We weaken our belief that applying constraint, that saying no to things, is “safe” for us. We then don’t nurture our own true capacity.
And, it is part of the gift of your human life to desire improvement and growth. And sometimes, it is time to kick yourself in the ass a little to prep for trial or finish a 24-page brief. But our freedom to be able to do those things without drama, pain, self-loathing and spinning in confusion stems directly from how well we have exercised constraint on the front end and been honest with ourselves and others about what we ACTUALLY WANT for OURSELVES.
Our capacity to create the results we want in our life and have a whole lot more fun along the way stems from making the grown-up, sometimes tough choice to say no to five things, or even five people, so we can really, fully say yes to what is right for us.
Why is it freeing? Well, let me tell you! When you exercise constraint in your life, you get a variety of benefits. You free yourself from distraction, including the distraction of being someone you’re not. You strengthen your decision-making capacity. You make decisions faster, and feel better about them afterward. You increase the likelihood that you will develop elite skill or expertise (or a really satisfying level of proficiency) at just one or a couple chosen pursuits. You free up all the mental space you used to devote to having to make decisions about a multitude of different things, and then reallocate that energy to getting even better at the chosen thing.
First, you get rid of things. Objects. Obligations. Beliefs. Volunteer work you don’t want to do. Subscriptions you pay for that you don’t use. This will strengthen your emotional muscle.
Then, you decide to go all in on the things that are left. You know that the feeling of passion or commitment or motivation comes from your thoughts, so you deliberately choose, and then practice, the thoughts about what you have constrained yourself to so that you really appreciate them and make the most of them.
If you struggle with the fear of missing out, and that’s why you are overdoing it, realize that this is just a fear of scarcity. I’m not going to harp on the truth of the abundant universe here. That conversation is for another day. I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you that scarcity feelings are normal and you’re going to have them from time to time. But, it doesn’t need to be a driver of your personality. That you absolutely can change.
Brooke Castillo teaches us that “the worst thing that can happen is a feeling.” So, what you are afraid of is that you will choose to focus on A, and therefore you are “giving up” B, and that you will feel remorse, regret, or loss. But where do those feelings come from? Your thoughts about B, the thing you decided to quit, put on hold, back burner or release.
And those thoughts come from a belief in scarcity. A belief that your life is not as good, perhaps, as it could have been had you chosen the other thing. The grass is never greener on the other side of the fence. You will always have a mixture of thoughts and feelings about things, whether you are “here,” or “there.”
Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes this a step further, calling it the “tyranny of choice.” His article by the same title is required reading for you this month. In summary, “maximizers” are people who take longer to make decisions and report less satisfaction with their lives after they’ve decided. He postulates that because modern society is feeding all of us humans even more choice — “273 versions of cereal [you] have never tried” — humans, Americans in particular, are generally unhappier now than they were 30 years ago.
What Barry Schwartz calls “Satisficers,” on the other hand, are those people who just make a choice and roll with it, and decide to be happy with their choice.
In terms of Brooke Castillo’s Self-Coaching Model, CTFAR, society offers us a thought — “you can have it all!” or, here’s a good one I think a lot of people are picking up — “thou shalt be amazing at all the things” — and then we accept that thought and feel something like pressure, jealousy, or overwhelm.
Think about it. When some of us were kids, there might have been one after-school activity, and then we spent long hours in the summer just going around on our bicycles (possibly also without helmets, egads!) being bored and having to solve for our own boredom and entertain ourselves.
But a lot of kids these days — and maybe this was you too — have violin at 4am, French at 6am, a full semester of AP classes, and then sports, followed by some volunteer work to build their college resume. Almost every waking hour can be devoted to self-development. It’s an artificial environment, really. And while that has value that just doing nothing doesn’t have, being amazing at everything is not what the adult world is about. Even famous polymaths like Donald Glover or J. Lo have exercised constraint and focus in order to achieve greatness in multiple disciplines. They’re not also doing brain surgery.
Adulting involves enough actual work — delivering value to others for which we are compensated — to keep us busy. When we are adults, it is a challenge to enjoy our lives if we are spreading ourselves too thin, or expecting to have the same amount of time during the day purely for self-development, self-expression or personal exploration that we had when we were younger. It’s less satisfying as an adult to be everywhere at once and all things to all people because we have matured. That impulse to be great, to achieve things, and really create fulfillment in our lives is steering us to focus on just the most important, lovingly chosen pursuits, if we are honestly listening to our authentic desires.
And I think that is a really nice way to look at the shortest day of the year, which at the time of this recording, is just around the corner. It’s a season where we naturally should not overextend ourselves. Where it is natural to look within and reflect. A lot of the other mammals hibernate! Some humans do in their own way. Only the marketers have turned the holidays into a time where we are supposed to be “on” all the time.
What would it be like to own just one suit that you really loved? One pair of perfect jeans? Pursue just one hobby? One lipstick? Decide on one type of exercise to stay fit? Pick one practice area and become the best in your region at it?
In summary, we’ve all heard of decision fatigue. That’s part of it, but there’s more. When we don’t build our constraint “muscle,” our ability to triage, make cuts, say no and eliminate excess, even if that excess is a thing we think we will miss, we dull the blade of our creative output. We then suffer from overwhelm, and tell ourselves that we “can’t decide,” that we “don’t know,” that we are “so busy,” and it is “too much.” Of course it does seem that way. Our constraint muscle is weakened from under-use.
So. I give you permission to say no during this holiday season.
You can break the cycle of overwhelm, catstrophizing, over-committing, indecision and maximizing. Being a “maximizer” or having any of the problems described above is not a fixed aspect of your personality. You can become decisive and a satisficer, even if you’ve had decades of bad habits and learned/trained helplessness/overwhelm.
A sculpture is beautiful because of what you are willing to chisel away, to reveal your vision from the heart of just a plain old block of stone. You can sculpt your life the way you want, one honest decision at a time.
Do you struggle with daily decisions, and major life decisions? It’s time for you to get the tools to use your own power, which is actually quite astounding, it’s just been trained out of you through living on this planet as a woman.
I’m teaching a class that will help you put what I teach on this podcast into practice, and it’s called the Power Bootcamp.
It starts in mid-January and runs for four weeks. The Power Bootcamp teaches you new communication, emotional and energetic skills to counteract generations of patriarchal conditioning so you can get what you want. And, the class is one of the most affordable things I have ever offered, because I want all of you to be able to do it.
Go to https://lawyergoddess.com/power-bootcamp/
to learn more.
Thanks for listening to Feminine Energy Feminist. If you want more information or the resources from the podcast, visit lawyergoddess.com/podcast. See you next week.