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Published:March 4th, 2013 12:59 EST

Too Many Choices? Four Steps To End Indecision And Get On With Your Life

By Jay Forte


I was coaching a senior in college this week who had nearly completed a degree he has no interest in. In fact, he has no idea what he wants from either school or life. The answer to most of my questions was, I don`t know. 

After some additional questions I found the real reason for the lack of progress on any work or life goals, was this student was paralyzed by the number of options he had " and how fear of choosing the wrong one stopped him from doing anything. He was waiting for his parents to make his decisions, and every time they did, he moved further and further from who he was and closer and closer to living like his parents. Mind you, living like your parents is fine if that is who you are. But DNA tells us that even though we come from our parents, our particular combination of DNA likely guarantees that we will be happiest and most successful when we determine our particular road in work and life. 

So many of us at every stage of life are paralyzed by too many choices. It would seem that in today`s technological life, choice is a great thing. We have the ability to connect to so many things and each thing has so many more options. Ask your friends where they want to go for dinner and the list is nearly endless. Go online to select a book from Amazon and you can find thousands in any area that interests you.  Go to a department store and look at the racks of clothes for sale " again, no limit. Instead of feeling empowered, we feel overwhelmed. And bring this level of choice to life decisions and we can shut ourselves down " too afraid to make any decisions for fear that it might be the wrong decision.

And as a coach of people in transition and those trying to find their fit, this is a frequent obstacle. So how do you make progress when the amount of choices send you into a tailspin and make you want to give up? Consider these four steps to end the paralysis of indecision: 

  1. Narrow down the vision. Many times we see too many things because we don`t limit our scope. Start by asking yourself this question: What really matters to me? List your answers. Use this to start to narrow down your choices around the things that really matter. For example, if you are considering buying a new car, you don`t need to see every car on the market; instead you can select domestic or import, or by price range (what attributes matter and which have more of what you want?). If you are considering careers or jobs, you don`t need to see the list of every job available, just select working in an office or remote, or city location or suburbs " again, what matters to you and rule out anything that doesn`t matter. If you are selecting new kitchen cabinets, narrow the field down to several " choose colored or wood finish to start. You can always expand the number of options when you are ready. First knowing what matters to you can narrow down options to only those that are meaningful. Narrowing down the field helps you feel more in control and less overwhelmed so you can move on to step 2 " do something. 

  1. Do something; take action. Start small. One small step. One small action. This helps us see that we have the ability to decide, act and make decisions. Lao-tzu said, A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It is critical to take that step. Movement, even small, is movement. It can empower us to dig deeper, try harder and be more committed to our process. As we move in a forward direction, we see results. This encourages the next step and then the next. One small step can end the feeling of paralysis. Divide the large issue into smaller components, then take small steps. 
  1. Review and rethink. After the first step, stop and review. If things went well, then define the next small step and keep moving. If it was not a good choice, assess what didn`t work. Rethink it. Go back to #1 and narrow down the choices and start again. So even if the first action " or any action " didn`t succeed, rethink it and prepare to take another small step.

At this point we have to talk about failure. Because fearing failure is one of the primary reasons we lack action or eventually quit. The danger is not when you try and fail " that is just a lesson. The danger is when we stop or don`t try. So what if you try and fail? We all do " it is part of being human. Failure and challenge are life`s way of reminding us to try something new, dig deeper or rethink it.

As Winston Churchill said, Success is not final and failure isn`t fatal. The amazingly successful marketer and wise man Seth Godin shared in a recent interview that he ran a business for 10 years that was always on the edge of bankruptcy. It was through the disappointments and tough times that he was guided in how to proceed " and ultimately how to be successful. Learn from the failures and take the next step in a new direction. Not that we love failure, but it is part of the process of achieving success. Author and executive coach Robin Sharma shares that failure and success are business partners. All successful people will share that their best progress and greatest learning happened at the time of some type of failure. Review what happened, then rethink it and get ready to try again. 

  1. Continue or try again. Another great Winston Churchill quote is the one I have on my desk, Never, never, never give up. Not for any reason. This is my personal commitment to life and one I coach others to make. No matter what, we don`t give up. We think it through and find another way. And in the process we find out how powerful and capable we are. So when you have selected one of the choices and it didn`t work out, try again. When you were in a relationship that failed, review, rethink and try again. When you were in a job or company that didn`t work out, review, rethink and try again. When you took that one step but it didn`t work, review, rethink and try again. Consider what Mary Anne Radmacher said, Courage doesn`t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow. Make a personal commitment to try again. 

Too many choices can scare us " they can paralyze us. Couple that with the wish or need to make only good decisions and many of us go into shutdown mode. We stop making all decisions. We stop taking responsibility for our work, relationships, health and life. Life doesn`t wait for us to pull ourselves together. It keeps marching on with or without us. So that we don`t waste any of the days of this great gift of life, consider these four steps to keep you moving in decisions that at first glance overwhelm you. Break them into smaller components. Make small but forward actions. Take time to review and rethink if needed. And commit to keeping it moving " or to try something new. Never, never, never give up or give in. 

At any age we can be hit with decision paralysis. Regardless of the size of the decision, choice or challenge, these four steps can help move you past indecisions and into living your most amazing life. Choices are great things to have. Never give away your ability to choose for yourself. Though it takes effort, it is the only way to live a life of purpose, passion and power.