I am working with a client who came in complaining about difficulty deciding things. Whether choosing a career path or just buying a pair of shoes, unless she was 100% certain she was making the right decision, she delayed, conducting endless research, revisiting her pros and cons list, seeking reassurance from others, and changing her mind repeatedly. I recognized these behaviors right away as safety strategies. As long as she employed them, she was safe from the threat of deciding something she was uncertain about.
Using safety strategies to avoid uncertainty fuels a cycle of anxiety that tends to get worse over time. Whenever a decision is delayed due to uncertainty we reinforce the mindset that certainty is indeed possible, training the brain to categorize future decision-making situations as threats to our safety. Over time, we have less and less tolerance for uncertainty, and higher levels of anxiety when the need to make a decision arises. That’s why I call these strategies feeding the monkey mind.
In order to interrupt this cycle my client would have to begin to think more expansively around decisions, accepting the inherent uncertainty of life. Together we brainstormed for an alternative belief to counter her need-to-be-certain mindset. Here is what we came up with:
|Monkey Mind-set||Expansive Mind-set|
|I must be certain that I am making the right decision or else I will be miserable forever.
|It is more important to practice flexibility and learn to cope with whatever decision I make than to be certain of my decision.
Of course, her new belief wouldn’t last long if she kept up her safety behaviors. Together we made a list of new behaviors that would give her the opportunity to practice tolerating uncertainty.
|Safety Strategies||Expansive Strategies|
|Research options endlessly
Constantly seek reassurance
Repeatedly change my mind
|Restrict time weighing pros/cons
Refrain from asking others’ opinions
Make a decision and stick with it
Over time, using expansive behaviors will increase our tolerance of uncertainty and create less anxiety when making choices. And as a bonus, expansive strategies give us more resilience when a decision doesn’t work out well.
To help you identify your own intolerance of uncertainty you can download this quiz. To help you recognize your beliefs—and develop new healthier ones—you can download the Intolerance of Uncertainty Mind-set Chart from Don’t Feed The Monkey Mind.
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