Uncertainty can be paralysing. The fear of making the wrong decision can take over, meaning that no decision is made, or else a fudgy decision that doesn’t actually tackle the issue at hand.
We live much of our lives this way, postponing decisions while we test the waters.
Sometimes it is helpful to live this way. But sometimes a definite decision or two, in the sense of active resolve, can take us into new territory in a way that procrastination can’t.
CERTAINTY AND DECISION ARE NOT THE SAME THING
When I was training as an acountant, and later in my training as a psychologist, statistics were quite important. One of the uses of statistics was in decision-making.
For instance, oil companies looking for oil will sometimes make ‘decision trees’, examining the probability of discovering oil in different places. The aim is to make a decision, and take action, in the face of uncertainty. If the drillers do nothing, then there is one certainty: no oil will be found. The territory is, by nature, uncertain. Nevertheless, decisions are made.
In psychological research, a similar approach was taken. For example, when establishing models of behaviour, experimental and psychometric results were never certain, but always expressed in terms of degrees of probability. If an organisation does nothing, then there is one certainty: no one will be helped. Nevertheless, someone makes a call as to the model to be used, and things progress.
The learning is that if you are always looking to be certain before you act, then you will never act, and the world will overtake you with its own priorities.
IN OUR PERSONAL LIVES
Through your day, you will notice that you face decisions all the time.
If you are particularly anxious, then you may find yourself questioning your own thinking. You may stop yourself acting. Then the world swamps you with its own priorities before you have come to a decision to act.
Imagine Jane. She is trying to decide whether the best use of her me-time is to go swimming, or to meditate. While she is agonising on the subject, someone calls her up with an urgent problem, and she tends to that instead. Her me-time is now gone, given away to someone else’s priorities.
In our personal lives, there seems to be a rule at play, which goes something like this: if you do not decide for yourself what you are doing, then someone else will decide it for you.
THE CARING ETHIC
In the short term, it looks more caring to answer your neighbour’s priorities. Certainly, I am not going to argue with the goodness of caring for other people. If this is you, then good on you.
However, if your problem is that you never quite get life balance, and often get exhausted, then this caring ethic can be a problem.
For you, I suggest you review and amend your caring ethic.
DIVIDE YOUR TIME INTO SELF-MAINTENANCE TIME AND CARE-OF-OTHERS TIME
Let’s imagine you are an extremely caring, but anxious person, who regularly exhausts yourself with your indecision, ending up helping others when you should be restoring yourself to health.
Other people’s requests can function like emotional blackmail. While you are being indecisive, their pleas for help at least give you something to do that is good, a mission, an answer to your own uncertainty. If you do not help them, then how will you live with the guilt?
A good tip is to divide your time into two parts:
Care of others
What would you think of a car mechanic who insisted on mending cars while they career down a motorway at 70 miles per hour? An idiot. Well, that’s you, if you insist on trying to restore yourself while remaining busy. You have not divided your time into self-maintenance time and care-of-others time.
COMPULSIVE VOLUNTEERING SYNDROME
If you are anxious and caring, the chances are you share another trait with similar people: you find it hard to assert your own needs.
What this means, is that, faced with anyone with greater need than yours, you will always sacrifice your own needs to other peoples’ needs, whatever the time or place.
If you have not decided which time is your time, then you may become a compulsive volunteer. After all, you haven’t quite decided what you are doing. Who are you to argue with someone else’s needs?
We can make a quasi-scientific equation out of all this. In a healthy life:
(self-maintenance time) x (decisiveness with which self-maintenance is defended) = (other-caring time) x (force with which others’ needs are felt)
As long as you allocate time to your restoration, and are decisive in its implementation, then you have balance.
However, the difficulty facing you is this:
Panic and exhaustion = (other-force) / (self-forces)
In plain English, if the outside world is always winning, then your self will always be collapsing.
THE TWO FACTORS TO WORK ON
If this is relevant to you, then, to reduce your ‘panic factor’, you need to do two things:
allocate self-maintenance time
defend your self-maintenance time with positive decisions
TEN PHRASES TO HELP YOU
As a kind person, of course, you may end up speechless when it comes to defending your own time.
Here are ten sample phrases to use when protecting your me-time from others in need. Let’s imagine you are protecting Monday.
I have put the lightest, open assertions first, and the heaviest, closed assertions later. You choose what is most appropriate for your audience.
Monday is my me-time. How about Tuesday? (Some people understand and respect me-time by default.)
I’ll be recovering on Monday. How about Tuesday? (Some people understand we all need to recover regularly.)
I’m not available on Monday. How about Tuesday? (Some people respond well to less detail and more assertiveness.
I’m busy on Monday. How about Tuesday? (Some people are not invasive, and will accept your word that you are busy.)
I’m on holiday on Monday. How about Tuesday. (Most people understand holiday.)
I am doing a walking/meditation/writing session on Monday. How about Tuesday? (Most people understand the idea of an official ‘session’)
I have to sort out a health problem on Monday. How about Tuesday? (Most people understand illness and privacy.)
I’m away on Monday. How about Tuesday? (Most people understand being away. NB You don’t actually have to go away. Away can be your garden, or away with the fairies… wherever you decide!)
I absolutely can’t do Monday. How about Tuesday? (Some people respond well to very definite expressions.)
I can’t help you on Monday. I can’t go into it right now. How about Tuesday? (Some people need firm assertion, and a clear limit re information.)
THE NEED TO BE DECISIVE
Of course, all this is futile if you have not decided to be decisive about Monday. If you are going to give it away anyway, then good luck to you. But I am hoping that you are sincere in your wish to protect your recovery time, and I am trying to help you balance your ‘exhaustion equation’.
You may well be uncertain about it. But, as I mentioned above, uncertainty doesn’t need to make you indecisive. And anyway, perhaps you know you need me-time, and are therefore certain about the need to change. I offer the above to you as a starting point.
We are often uncertain. But we can still try to be decisive when necessary.
If you are anxious and uncertain by habit, then you may find that others’ priorities win out over your own need for self-restoration.
While caring for others is great, if you do not balance this with self-restoration, you will exhaust yourself.
Therefore, you need to (a) allocate self-restoration time, and (b) protect it decisively.
Keep in your memory banks several stock phrases that you are willing to use to defend your me-time.
You can use gentler phrases with more understanding people, and more assertive phrases with invasive people.