For myself, family, friends, and many of my clients, February was a month of dilemmas where people struggled between two or more hard choices. These dilemmas can include things such as staying in a relationship, career or friendship or making the decision to leave and start something new. Life is continually presenting people with these types of dilemmas, and often there is no easy answer, because if there was it would not be a dilemma. The difficulty with this is that dilemmas weigh heavily on people. Our minds race with trying to sort out the pros and cons of both options. We sit and envision multiple scenarios, trying to predict reactions, consequences of our choices, and try to understand how it will impact our futures. Dilemmas are fraught with anxiety, doubt, confusion and possibly disappointment. When trying to make a decision, we often forget one important fact that I was reminded about through my ACT training with Dr. Russ Harris.
No matter the dilemma, there is no way to not make a decision.
Each day you choose to do the thing you are thinking about changing, you are making the decision to stay in it. Newton’s third law of motion comes to mind here, as he stated that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Similarly, for a dilemma where one is put in a scenario where they have a choice to perform an action, or not, even the choice to do nothing is still a choice that will ultimately have consequences to consider. This is not a bad thing, but we often forget that we are always making a choice, even if it’s an unhappy one. For example, a spouse wanting to leave a relationship because their partner was unfaithful is, by staying in the home, actively making the choice to stay as opposed to making the choice to leave.
In situations like this it then becomes important to check in with yourself and validate the choices you are making. This validation might help you to focus and gain a sense of control over the decisions you make in the next 24 hours. The important thing is to remove some of the stress of needing to make a choice today. Often dilemmas take a long time, a lot of ruminating, debating, discussing, in order to be resolved. Constant repetition of the dilemma and continued focus on it often robs a person of their personal power. We become victims to our mind, and often lose connection with the present moment and the things we find fulfilling in life (e.g., family, friends, work, a sense of accomplishment, love, laughter). To regain this sense of personal power, it is important to get in touch with what you value and make sure you act and live towards these values on a daily basis. The worry may still be in your mind, but through focusing on your present moment, on today, you free some space for flexible thinking, inspiration, connection and more.
There are many ways to become mindful, and often it is through counselling, exploration, trial and error that you find ones that work best for you. Some people find meditation difficult, silly or annoying while others become focused and centered through it. Reminding yourself that you have time to focus on the pros/cons later and not at school works for some, while others need to have their pro/con list on them at all times in case a new idea needs to be added to it. Seeing a psychologist may be a helpful route. Though they cannot (and probably should not) tell you which choice to choose, through discussion they may help identify what values are important to you, how to connect to them better on a day to day basis, and may provide an objective sounding board that could be helpful. A good starting point that I often suggest to my clients is validate your decision each day, choose something important to live toward for the day, and set aside time to reflect on your pro/con list later. You are not avoiding making a choice by doing this, but simply acknowledging that being in a dilemma doesn’t need to steal you away from your day-to-day living.