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I am touring musician and a perfectionist.
I feel the need to admit/proclaim my perfectionism as if I were in a group-help meeting because it creates challenges in many aspects of my life. (It’s also to thank for much of my success.)
For perfectionists, making decisions can be paralyzing. Our days are marked with food envy, long email drafts, and hours of clothing try-ons.
My travel life means an immeasurable number of decisions every day, with the added pressure of experiencing a new area and a lack of routine and structure. How should I schedule this day to see a new place and get work done? When will meals happen? Do I take an Uber, or walk for exercise? Sightsee or rest? Scheduling, restaurant menus, gyms, and so on are all breeding grounds for decision-making strife, and it can be exhausting. After some degree of agonizing, I eventually make a decision, but then spend varying amounts of time wondering about my declined options or wishing I’d decided differently.
It took quite a few therapy sessions to uncover that the stress I feel is rooted in my fear of making the wrong decision, and the fear of my future self-making me suffer through regret or guilt. I once said, “I’m just afraid Diana of 5 p.m. will make me feel like sh*t for this.”
My worrying mind convinces me that if I continue to weigh the odds of a decision and consider every variable, it will eventually become clear, and I will carry out the activity with clarity and ease. That is rarely the case, and this fantasy often leads to far more time spent deciding than being present for the decision made.
After years of frustration, I set out to relieve some of this stress in my life. Surely this was a breakable habit. Taking the time to recognize my tendencies and outside influences has been a powerful system for streamlining the decision-making process and quieting all the perfectionist voices getting in my way.
Here are a few tips that have helped me:
1. Asking myself: “What do I truly want?”
It’s harder to answer than it sounds. And more specifically: “What’s influencing my decision?” “Is this what sounds best to me, or is it just what I think I should do, what someone else wants, or what I ‘usually’ do?” “What would I choose if it didn’t affect a single other person?”
2. Asking myself: “What am I hoping to feel today, and what will make me feel that way?
Is today a day to feel relaxed? Healthy? Accomplished? Inspired? Social? Making this decision before the day starts can allow you to pass all the in-the-moment decisions through this filter.
3. The most revolutionary: trusting my ability to make the best of any outcome.
Decision paralysis comes from fear of making the “wrong” decision, but that fear overlooks the fact that it’s us who decides if it’s right or wrong. We have control over our feelings afterward. When the decision has been made, it’s made, and any time spent wishing for a different outcome will prevent us from enjoying the decision we did make. If we approach the situation trusting that we’ll be okay on the other side, we take the pressure off of ourselves to make the “perfect” decision at the outset.
You have the ability to walk proudly in the clothes you chose or enjoy the conversation that accompanies your not-so-great brunch order. Don’t worry about making the right decision; trust that you’ll make your decision the right one.
This trust in our own ability to adapt can set us free both before and after the big decision moment, however small.