Part of your life isn’t working. The part of your life I’m talking about is wherever dissatisfaction and doubt are making you spin in circles, feeling dissatisfied with whatever you have, or stuck in doubt about what you should do. Where in your life do you feel that way? Is it your career, your relationship, where you live, or some other decision you’re struggling with?
You’ve probably tried to fix this part of your life, to grow and reach for something bigger or more meaningful, or that fits you better. The problem is that when you’re stepping out of your comfort zone, reaching for the identity, the work, the relationship or the life that you truly want for yourself and feel in your heart is where you should be, you are particularly vulnerable to doubt. The more important it is to you, the more exposed and fragile you feel.
In those moments doubt can be a very destructive feeling. Doubt can be a big bucket of cold water that gets poured over whatever fire you’re trying to ignite. It makes you feel small, weak, vulnerable and afraid. It can kill your dreams, steal your hope, and destroy your relationships.
I’m not saying that all doubt is bad. A little doubt can be a good thing if it keeps you humble and careful. Sometimes a little doubt will whisper in the back of your mind just in time to keep you from buying those too-skinny jeans, and later you will thank your doubt. But too much doubt can paralyze you. When doubt starts to become part of more and more of your decisions, or takes hold in your important life choices, you can end up feeling dissatisfied and unhappy with whatever you choose. And when you feel bad about your life choices, you feel bad about yourself.
When you learn where your doubt is coming from and get rid of it, it’s like taking the chains off of your dreams. It makes space for things to grow. And because you’re not always questioning the choices you make, it gives you a new perspective of gratitude for the life you have now.
The more doubt you purge from your life, the more you can begin to feel in flow. I think of flow as the effortless, synchronistic unfolding of your life in a way that moves you toward the life you were meant to live.
When you’re in flow, it feels like success is inevitable, like the thing you are trying to build or make is already accomplished, a foregone conclusion, and you are just connecting the dots between you and your awesome future. It feels like you are aligned with the universe, everything you need is flowing toward you and all you have to do is stand in the river and catch it as it floats by. Who wouldn’t want more of that?
I’ve been in flow for the last few months. I’m finally working on the things that I feel called to do, and the universe seems to be lining up to pave my way forward. I see it in small ways every day. For example, I keep a list of the people I need to call in a day in order to keep different projects rolling, and now those people are surprising me by calling me first, or even stopping by my house because they were in the neighborhood. People with the skills I need are showing up in my life and offering to help me. I’ve felt peaceful, joyful and more effective.
You want to free yourself from doubt so you can get back into flow. To do that, you have to begin by looking where doubt starts – in your decisions.
Often, doubt starts because your decisions get overwhelmed with ambiguity. When you make a decision, you rely on your decision process to reduce any ambiguity you have about which choice to make. Your decision process is specific to you and, when it works well, it gives you just the right balance of input from the outside world such as data or recommendations, and your own, internal guidance which helps you see which option or path feels best to you.
When you’re trying really hard to make the best decision, sometime that personalized balance between information and internal guidance can get thrown out of whack and you can find yourself stuck in ambiguity and doubt. The harder you strain to find the right choice, the more stuck you can get.
Sometimes you get stuck before you’ve chosen something, and you can’t get clear on what to pick. Sometimes the uncertainty and doubt stick around after you’ve chosen, so the decision stays open and unresolved in your mind and you’re filled with dissatisfaction and regret. Either way, you’re stuck, and in your bigger, life decisions, you can stay that way for years.
I felt this way about my work for few years until, just a few months ago, I finally made the decision to start my company, Wisdom Soup. Up until then, I’d built a career as a very successful executive coach. I had fantastic clients at the top of some of the largest companies in the world. But a couple years ago, I began to feel like my work was heading in a different direction. I wanted to do work that felt less corporate and more personal. I was drawn to personal transformation and spirituality, which wouldn’t really fly with my existing clients.
I gradually developed a pretty good idea of what I wanted my career to become, but I was really dragging my feet on the decision to walk away from the kind of executive coaching I’d been doing. What made this decision particularly hard was that, everywhere I went, it seemed like I ran into people who wanted, more than anything, to be executive coaches. Every plane ride, every event, every party I went to, I would end up talking to or sitting next to someone who was trying to build the career I wanted to step away from. It made me feel guilty and ungrateful.
Being an executive coach is objectively a great choice, but I needed to make room in my life to start something new, and the conflict I felt about that kept me in doubt much longer than I needed to be. It overwhelmed my own natural decision process and left me with too much ambiguity. Because I was struggling with doubt, I hung on to the safety of that professional, corporate identity in a way that really slowed me down.
What slowed me down was the ambiguity caused by how other people felt about my decision, but you can experience the same kind of ambiguity any time your decision process gets out of balance. Any time you are listening to too many opinions or reviews, paying too much or too little attention to information, searching for more external confirmation or validation, comparing what you have to other options, or burying yourself in statistics and data, you risk overwhelming your own internal, emotional guidance system with ambiguity.
Once you get out of balance and overwhelmed, you start spinning in that circle of doubt, searching for something to make you feel the way you want to feel so that you can make a choice, but the more you look outside yourself, the more ambiguity you have and the more confusing it becomes.
This kind of doubt serves no productive purpose. It’s not helping you learn, or grow, or get closer to a solution. If you’ve ever listened to a vinyl record that’s been scratched, you know that the needle will get stuck in that one scratched groove, so the same few words in a song will repeat themselves over and over again without stopping. There’s no magic moment where the record spontaneously learns from going in circles and unsticks itself.
In the same way, when you’re suffering from doubt, spinning in circles, you aren’t getting closer to an answer. It’s only when you pick up the record player needle and move it that you can finally make progress again. That’s why it’s so important to identify where your doubt is coming from, so that you can pick up the needle and move on.
Most of the time, your doubt starts in your decisions, when you’re trying to make the best choice you possibly can. It’s often that idea of finding the best choice that gets people in trouble.
Most people think about decision making as an effort to figure out which choice is the best one. We focus on the features or attributes of the different options, thinking that there is some quality, or mix of qualities, that one of the options possesses that will make it objectively better than the other options. However, most of the options you consider in any choice you make will have both good and bad things about them. The choice that feels best to you might be different from the choice that feels best to someone else.
The feeling of “best” is subjective. The option that you think is flawed and undesirable may seem perfect to someone else. So, if every option has good and bad things about it, how does something become the best choice in your mind? How do you quiet any doubts so that you can fall in love with your choices?
Here’s what’s really interesting; a choice often becomes the best choice not because it’s inherently best, but because of how you choose it. When it comes to freeing yourself from doubt, the process that you use to make decisions is as important as, and sometimes more important than, the quality of what you choose.
One of the biggest factors that determines how you feel about your choices is the process that you use to make decisions. Your own personal decision process is the key. One of the most important functions of your decision process is to remove ambiguity from your decisions so that you can feel good about the choices you make.
Your decision process is the series of steps you go through to take you from being undecided to being decided. To help make that transition possible, your decision process should help you by removing enough ambiguity that you can feel confident that you have made the best choice you possibly could.
What this means is that, when you are torturing yourself with doubt, cycling in and out of your choices and feeling bad, you may be subconsciously doing something during your decision process that is causing you to feel that way. If you are the one causing your doubt, then that means that you have the power to fix it and get back into flow.
Copyright 2016 by Anne Tucker. All Rights Reserved.
Undoubtedly Awesome: Your own personal roadmap from doubt to flow
by Anne Tucker
Don’t let doubt rule your life. Many people are so paralyzed by the fears of tomorrow that they forget to focus on the wonders of today. But with the help of Undoubtedly Awesome, you can conquer your fears and better understand your goals, dreams, and unique decision-making processes—and thereby achieve the personal success your uncertainty and indecision have held you back from.
Anne Tucker, a speaker on decision making, leadership, personal transformation, and self-doubt, has developed a unique test to identify an individual’s “soul type” and illuminate the mental processes behind every decision. She is the cofounder of Grey Matter Partners, a leadership-development firm based in Seattle, Washington, whose executive-coaching services have helped senior executives become better leaders and more effective decision makers. She also founded Wisdom Soup, a closely-curated learning community designed to help its members achieve breakthrough spiritual growth and insight in order to achieve practical real-life goals. Visit her website at http://www.undoubtedlyawesome.com/