Is fear driving your decision-making?

“Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.”

Winston Churchill

Many of the decisions we face in our day-to-day endeavours either big or small are more than just a choice in the moment. They are opportunities that can change our life for better or worse. Most of our decisions are about what we focus on and what things mean to us and therefore determine the quality of our personal or professional life. But our ability to make good decisions is always vulnerable especially when we get influenced or taken over by negative emotions or reactions such as fear. For instance, sometimes we decide to stay in a bad relationship because we don’t want to be alone or we might pick a job we don’t like to be safe or because it is expected of us. We even choose to stick with it for fear of not being good enough or because we are afraid we might fail at what we really want to do.

We tend to rationalise our fears in certain situations because we are afraid of making wrong decisions. When you let your fear have it’s way, it can lead to blurred thinking, lack of clarity and increased dependence on others to choose for you. This not only impacts your ability to make good decisions but also leads to an overall lost sense of direction and control. Fear-based decisions are often about avoidance and will keep you stuck and make you feel powerless or create confusion, anxiety and stress.

In the present times of pandemic, where most of our choices have become fear-based, it’s easy to give into our doubts and insecurities. With an uncertain future, it’s understandable that fear would take hold on our decision-making. But it’s also important to make a conscious effort to work through our fears.

When we are afraid, be it fear of failure, fear of being wrong, change, unfamiliarity or uncertainty, it may sometimes seem easier to give into our fears and turn away from our goals rather than making a choice which would have the potential to change things for better. When we find ourselves in situations where we continuously hand over our power to our fears, it’s likely that we will end up missing opportunities and experience disappointment.

What causes the fear of making decisions.

We always come across certain situations where we let fear have control on our decisions-making. It takes control of us in many forms that we often get blindsided and give into it. For instance, if significant others will be affected by the choices or decisions we make or when we lack trust in the situation. Here are some more reasons why we let fear control our decision-making process.

• Fear of judgement or rejection makes us avoid opportunities or make poor choices.

• Fear of failure where we never challenge ourselves out of our comfort zone.

• Fear of not succeeding and not meeting whatever standards or expectations we or someone we value has set for us.

• Choosing things on fear-based assumptions to save ourselves from any potential risks or negative consequences

• Making choices driven by scarcity mindset. Our decisions are bound to the fear of there not being enough out there.

• Negative self-talk when we tell ourselves that we don’t deserve better or we are not good enough.

• Fear of unknown, unfamiliarity or uncertainty.

• Fear of losing things we value.

• Fear of going through change and possibility of making mistakes.

• Overthinking or over-emotionalising our past experiences.

How fear limits our decision-making process

Fear-based decisions always lead us to the same place we once were. They limit our potential and possibilities. When you are afraid, you let your fight-or-flight tendency take over and instead of confronting your fear head-on, you engage in self-sabotaging behaviour and make less than optimum decisions. Fear makes us rely on distorted perceptions rather than facts. You tend to ignore information and options outside your line of sight or consider more options or alternatives. It makes us overthink a decision where we put too much pressure on ourselves to avoid making a mistake. You even put off or avoid some decisions where you decide not to pursue an opportunity or delay a decision for a later time which not only makes your decision- making process unnecessarily hard but also makes it more complex later as you lose out on some of your possible options in the now.

Fear-based decisions can have lot of negative effects on your personal and professional relationships. When you avoid making decisions out of fear of annoying someone, it may lead to internalising feelings of anger and resentment. You begin having irrational thought patterns and need an outsider opinion as you may just wade in the middle of the choices letting more assertive people deciding for you. Because fear leads to less optimum decisions, you end up with less desirable outcomes.

Fear can lead you to act in self-sabotaging ways. Fear–based decisions does not allow you to make changes and when you can’t make changes, you can’t make progress in your personal or work life. But you can always choose to take positive steps to overcome it. The will to win or succeed or to take control can only be harnessed when you decide not to make fear-based choices.

How to avoid making fear-based decisions

With fear-based decisions, you go down the slow, comfortable road that stunts your progress and you can’t make changes for growth and improvement as you become more reactive rather than proactive. You cannot move forward in the pursuit of your goals unless you own up your choices and confidently make your decisions. Here are some strategies to include in your decision-making process to avoid fear-based decisions.

Lay out your worst-case scenarios.

List your fears to understand the risks of your decision. ‘What are all the potential risks of my decision?’ Go through all the worst-case scenarios so you can operate without your fear hiding in the shadows. It’s of course possible that worst-case scenarios will not eventuate. However, you can always be prepared with alternative course of action just in case things go wrong. What are the worst possible things that could happen? Even if your fears are a bit of stretch, acknowledging them can bring them into your awareness.

Try and assign tangible and intangible value to each of your fear. ‘What worse could happen if I make this decision?’ ‘What are the disadvantages of taking this decision?’ ‘How could this negatively impact me?’ ‘What manageable risks could be worth taking?’ ‘How can I handle if those scenarios occur?’ ‘Which risk I can potentially solve?‘ Quantify your risks and break down fear into manageable parts. As you work through these scenarios, be flexible to alter your course of action if certain decisions do not align with your goals. This way, you can release your fears and go with your decision more confidently.

Work through your fears

Some of us fear failure or being alone. Others may fear rejection or commitment. Don’t beat yourself up in such situations. Whatever your fear may be, you need to remind yourself that you are human and fear is a natural response to certain uncertainties or risks. By being aware of your fears, you can make your choices from a place of awareness and not from a place of fear.

To overcome fear of losing things, focus on what you can do to improve. ‘What am I uncertain about? What new resources I need? What am I overlooking? What alternatives or new possibilities I am not considering?’ Focus on new things to learn, new skills and experiences. To overcome fear of making wrong decisions, take everything that’s necessary into consideration. Also, it’s important to accept that mistakes sometimes will be made and as long as you learn from them and ensure that you don’t make those mistakes again, you can always overcome fear of making wrong decisions.

List your best-case scenarios

What are the best-case scenarios? What are all the potential gains? How likely is it that they can be possible? Write all the desirable outcomes that could happen if you take the decision. What values can you associate with your gains? Be specific in assigning the tangible and intangible value to your potential gains as well. Be willing to consider the opportunity cost of your decision that is if you don’t want to go with the decision you are considering. This way you can figure out possible regrets. What would it look like if you take a safer way? What could it look like if you don’t? Will this decision make me feel content and fulfilled? Will this decision contribute to my success or happiness?Prior to decision-making, we often overrate the negative impact that decision will have on us. Once the pros and cons both are listed, you will be able to better adjust your corse if action to changing conditions and circumstances.

Make actionable and strong decisions

Think bank to a time when you had to make a tough decision and you really struggled to commit to a particular action, what held you back? Chances are it was fear. It’s okay to acknowledge the fear present, but in order to break away from it, you have to take the first step of taking a strong or decisive decision. Ask yourself – ‘How must I prioritise my efforts?’ “What’s the best action step I can take to get the desired outcome?” ‘What is the likelihood of my decisions?’ “What do I need more information about?’Making strong and actionable decisions a conscious choice helps you overcome the fear that stops you from making a choice in the first place. Make decisions based on growth, improvement and change makes you more empowered.

Shift to an empowering perspective I

Try and step outside of your story by facing the choice as someone else other than yourself. Now since you already laid out worst and best-case scenarios, you can empower yourself to handle the negative outcomes by shifting your mindset to a positive perspective. Remind yourself that fear is an emotion that stems from a perceived threat. Accepting your negative emotion and reminding yourself that there’s no clear wrong or right way to go can help you to make peace with your decisions.

Ask yourself – ‘What am I really afraid of? What’s keeping me from making this choice? Why am I opting the safer option rather than going for the option of my choice? What happens if I decide the other way? What does that look like? What if I succeed?’ Allow yourself to see other empowering perspectives to make decisions that align with your purpose. Shifting to an empowered perspective allows you to take an assertive action.

Learn from your decisions

Sometimes, we tend to make fear-based decisions because of our past experiences. Negative past experiences can hold us back from taking decisions or take action because we tend to loop back to a previous event in our life that didn’t go to a plan. This can be a decision that could have led you to past failures or rejection where your inner-critic whispering fear-based messages warning of impending failure. Choose to break the chains by questioning how true they really are. What’s good about those decisions? ‘What have I learned from my experiences?’ ‘What have I learned about how I make decisions?’ ‘What can I do differently to avoid making wrong decisions?’ ‘ Have I expanded my opportunities and perspectives?’ ‘Which outcomes do I fear most and why?’ When making a decision, look at it as a learning experience, no matter what it is to help you make better decisions in the future.

Think solutions to bridge the gap

Why you need decisions? Probably we make decisions to solve certain problems or the gap that exists between our desired state we want to get to and the current state where we are. Or it may be the case that you want to create better conditions to work towards your goals. Focusing on your goals can help you to determine whether you’re making growth-based or fear-based choices.

Your decision-making process should include choices to remove the causes of your problem or the gap. Define your problem and clearly list the potential options. Write down the possible outcomes of each choice and the likelihood it will occur. Consider both short and long-term impact. Ask yourself – What is the problem here? How close are you to your desired state? What is creating the problem or gap? Which choice is most closely aligned with achieving your goals? To determine if you can actually achieve and follow through your choices.

To conclude,

Reflect back on some major decisions you made in your life, How often Did you make decisions based on fear? Did you ever limit your opportunities because you were afraid of making wrong decisions?

What do you focus more on while making decisions – what you don’t want or what you do?

Do you prefer procrastinating rather than risking a failure?

Do you make decisions to move closer to your desired goals or to just avoid some sort of fear?

How often do you make decisions that contribute to your success and happiness?

Next time you are making a big decision, ask yourself – ‘Am I choosing growth or change over fear?’ ‘ Am I doing what is right or am I trying to please others?’ ‘ Am I doing what I truly want or taking an easier option because I am scared of the harder one?’ ‘How could this decision positively impact my goals?’ ‘What will making this decision mean to me in short-term and long-term?’

We get fear-stuck when big changes come our way. Fear is a natural response to our circumstances and situations at times, useful to make us cautious and protect ourselves. However, if we let it drive our decision-making then it makes us take a passive role in our personal or professional life. We can either surrender to it and let it determine who we are or we can overcome it by tapping into your inner resourcefulness like awareness, courage and persistence to make decisions from an empowered mindset.

Realise that the hardest step in achieving anything is making a true decision. You know you’ve truly made a decision when action flows from it. Own up your choices, make more decisions on a consistent basis and take achievable action steps. Remember that the minute you make a new empowered decision and not fear-based, you set in motion a new cause, effect, and direction for your life.

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