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How I Stopped Making Decisions Out of Fear

When we make decisions out of fear, we are being reactive instead of proactive. As I write this, I am looking at the photo of a wonderful friend of mine who died from cancer. She was one of the kindest, most adventurous humans on the planet, and she was loved by so many. *And* she made a lot of decisions — particularly about her relationships — out of fear. She was afraid to let people get close to her, so she shut them out, right up until the very end. 

She didn’t consciously know that she was making decisions out of fear at the time. But she was really focused on controlling her outcome. When we make decisions from a desire to control things, we often end up making decisions out of fear. And at the end of the day, as awful as this is, it didn’t change her outcome. It only changed her experience while she was alive.

We’ve all heard the cliche “the only thing that’s constant is change.” my entire cancer treatment was spent wrestling with my hatred of uncertainty. It felt like a black hole that would suck me in and  eat me alive — that is how bad my anxiety was. 

Now, at the time I was facing the possibility that I might die. So you can understand why I’d have a fair amount of anxiety about that.

But the truth is, I had *always* struggled with uncertainty and thought of myself as a “recovering control freak.” Looking back I would not say that I was anywhere close to recovery. I made almost all of my decisions out of fear and anxiety. I spent decades ignoring my intuition. It’s how I ended up in bad relationships and toxic friendships. It’s why I stayed in jobs that were bad for me and why my business never thrived. 

I was very detached from my own emotions, and because of that detachment, I didn’t realize I was making decisions straight out of those emotions.

The turning point came for me when met a woman who suggested I get more in tough with my feelings by evaluating whether I was feeling mad, bad, sad, or glad at any given time.

This was so hard for me that I couldn’t even figure out the difference between bad and sad.

Realizing that made me understand how disconnected from my own emotions I was, how much they scared me, and how I looked to other people to tell me what to do because I wanted to be saved from myself and the overwhelming experience that was trying to figure out what the heck I was even feeling.

Part of how I identified how I was feeling at any given time was by focusing on my body and the sensations that the emotions had on me. When I found myself overwhelmed  — and for the record I still do this — I sat quietly and tried to experience where the feeling was in my body and what the sensations felt like. This is called somatic processing, and sometimes it straight-up leads me to tears. 

The helpful part of this, and what eventually made me less afraid of my emotions, is that those feelings passed once I acknowledged them. I’d been really afraid that if I actually confronted my sadness, I would drown in it, or it would never go away. But the reality was, once I acknowledged them and felt them for awhile, they went away. They were no longer holding me hostage, and I could go on with my life.

As I became more in touch with my feelings — which trust me, takes a lot of practice — I was able to recognize when I was feeling a strong reaction, and take the time to deal with it. My decisions were made from a place of calm. I was able to listen to my intuition and make the choice that was in my best interest, rather than a reactive decision. Once I started doing that, I found myself making better decisions that ended up  making me happier more often.