by Ammie Brooks
Making decisions is kind of scary, and can be an intense amount of pressure to have to bear. We may fear the consequences of what may happen if we make the wrong decision, or even have imposter syndrome about our ability to make appropriate decisions for our own lives.
When we make decisions, we consider many different things before coming to a conclusion on exactly what we’re going to do. For many of us, we consider our morals, ethics, spirituality or religion, recommendations from others, our own past experiences, and more to make informed choices.
In order to make appropriate and safe choices, it is important for us to feel as though we have control over our lives. Our locus of control, or the extent to which we feel in control in our ability to make things happen or influence events, develops as we grow. The goal is that we trust in our decision making power, and believe in our ability to see our choices and desires through.
When control is not cultivated in children or in instances where someone’s control is relinquished, their ability to make choices for themselves in the future can be affected. For example, a child who has never had control of his or her food choices may binge on food to experience the feeling of being out of control, or they may restrict and measure food in order to maintain control over it. In another example, a child who feels over controlled by rules, especially those that suppress creativity or curiosity, may grow up afraid to take risks or discover new opportunities, for fear of failing, getting into trouble, or something going wrong.
As adults, our locus of control may be affected during traumatic experiences. For example in abusive relationships, when sexual assault occurs, in car accidents, natural disasters, and other crisis’. When our decision making abilities have been suppressed, we may obsess and seek control in all things, relinquish control and become apathetic to our circumstances, or look to others for opinions causing uncertainty about our own wants and desires.
To increase our locus of control, and begin developing a healthy relationship with control in one’s life, try these three practices:
Create a thought map. It’s a good idea to get outside of your head with this one, and do it physically by journaling or drawing illustrations. Ask yourself what may happen if you make a certain decision. Follow your responses to what may happen next, and next, so on and so forth. So often, we believe that making a decision will lead to something catastrophic, but simply getting out of our head can quickly dispel this idea. We will often find that our biggest fears are unrealistic and unlikely.
Create a pros and cons list! When you are struggling to make a decision about something, consider making a list of the pros and cons of your decision. If you have multiple options for a certain decision, don’t be afraid to make as many pros and cons lists as you find necessary. When reviewing your list, remember that the quantity on each side isn’t the most important thing, but rather the impact of the item. Use different color pens or markers to determine whether items are high or low impact as pros or cons.
Change your mind about something small. Sometimes we feel like the way we are is the way that it has to be. We may dream about changing our careers, leaving a relationship, or making other drastic decisions. This can be daunting if we become anxious by simply changing our route to work or our food order. Make small changes throughout the week and take note of how these changes feel. Remember you may change your mind at any moment and decide to go back to what you were doing, or you may love it. With this practice, you will develop skills for best calculating risks, and have confidence deciding which risks are worth taking.
Learning to make choices for ourselves takes a lifetime to achieve, and can never truly be mastered. Your dignity and worth as a person remains true no matter the choices made or the outcome. Cling to this truth for a gentle approach to cultivating control.