I was curled up in the chair by the window of my childhood bedroom, my head resting on my knees. It had been a week of decision-making, and there was nothing I hated more in my life than making decisions. My notebook was lying on the table on the other side of the room, with pro and con lists taking up the last five pages. I wondered if my parents had reached the point where they just wanted me to leave so I would stop talking about my inability to make a choice. I felt like everyone was tired of my indecision by now, including me.
The choice was this: going back to London or Berlin. With Brexit, if I didn’t go back, I wouldn’t be eligible for settlement status later down the line, effectively losing my chance to build a life in the UK. But if I didn’t go back to Berlin, I was losing another thing: the chance to focus on music and stop obsessing about making a living and surviving, the way that London forces people to. Berlin meant more freedom, more music and creativity in my life, and probably sanity. But it wasn’t as easy as choosing the fun thing. What if I wanted to stay in London? Or go back in the long run?
I messaged my best friend in London with the words: “I feel so fucking confused. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.” Two minutes later, she called back. Her voice sounded like an anchor pulling me back down to earth, from the hectic mental space I had been floating in that week. “Talk me through it,” she said. “Why are you afraid of going to Berlin?”
“It’s like that Sylvia Plath quote,” I said. “The one about the fig tree – she’s staring at the tree, trying to pick the ripest, best fig and while she’s staring at the figs, unable to make a choice, they all rot in front of her. That’s me. I’m Sylvia Plath, bar the head in the oven.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I don’t know what I want.”
“You do know.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
“I really don’t.”
“Stop convincing yourself that you don’t,” she said. “You’re starting to believe it, but it’s really just you that has convinced yourself of this. It’s a belief that you can’t make decisions, that you can’t trust yourself. But you can. You have that inner voice that already knows. What scares you the most? What will make you grow the most? That’s what you need to do.” I wondered when my friend had become a life guru.
“Maybe you’re right. I feel like I should go to Berlin, and do this creative thing…” I said, feeling stupid as I was saying it, so I added for good measure: “Though I don’t think it’s gonna work out. I should probably do a master’s instead.”
“What do you mean? Why would you do a master’s?”
“You know… To get a job.”
“Why do you think you won’t be able to get a job without a master’s?”
“As what? A musician?”
“Why not? That’s what you want to do, right?”
“Of course, in an ideal world!” I exclaimed. “But I also want a family and kids and a normal life. Maybe a house and a dog, that kind of stuff. Not now, but I want to at least have the option.”
“Who says you won’t have that as a musician?”
“Because that’s just not how it works. I’ll never make that kind of money as a musician if I make any kind of money as a musician.”
“But that’s a belief. That’s just what you’re telling yourself. Who says you can’t have it all? If you’re gonna believe that and not even try, then, yeah, you won’t. But ultimately, you can craft your own narrative. You can decide that you can have it all and work towards it. There is no set outcome attached to anything, but by believing certain myths about life, we start manifesting them.”
“Maybe I do want to be a musician.”
“Honestly, it’s clear to anyone but you, Erika. You’re being ridiculous.”
“And I do want to go to Berlin.”
“Yup,” she said in the least surprised tone I’ve ever heard in my life.
I’m in Berlin now, and I’m fine. The world didn’t come crumbling down when I didn’t go to London. I’m not in a financial pit of despair (yet). I have started writing music reviews for a music blog, and I’m gearing up for a song release in a month or so, and I’m looking into other ways of making money as a musician that hopefully won’t involve babysitting, but honestly, who cares if I get to make music. The point I was trying to make here is… If I hadn’t noticed how I was talking myself into believing I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have had the courage to come back here. And I would have started down a path that wasn’t meant for me at all. This is why it’s so important to identify the limiting beliefs you might hold, so that you know what you’re choosing to do and what you’re talking yourself into doing out of fear.
Apart from talking to wise, loving friends, there are other small tricks for identifying and battling limiting beliefs in decision-making that I’ve been using for the last few months. Here are some of them, and I hope they’ll help you, too:
1. List your reasons for doing something, and notice when fear is a driving factor
Lists aren’t the be-all and end-all in decision-making because I found that rationalising things often only complicates the process, getting in the way of that part of you that already knows the answer to what you really want. But seeing your reasons written down can help you understand whether you’re making a decision from a place of love, acceptance, and support, or if you’re making a decision from a place of fear. Fear and doubt are the worst motivators. If you recognise that they are the main driving factors behind a decision, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the beliefs that led you there.
2. You can’t “keep your options open”
I have trouble committing to decisions, to a certain life path, to a partner, to a place. Not because I don’t think that something or someone wouldn’t be good for me, but because I fear that there might be something somewhere that might be better. Or that down the line, I’ll realise that it hadn’t been the right decision all along, and I’ll want to try something else. Or that I’ll change and my priorities will shift. But that’s life. People do change, priorities do shift, but if you never commit to anything, and always go for the thing that gives you the most freedom to back out, you will never pursue anything wholeheartedly. And half-assing life is not something that anyone wants, really.
3. Decisions that you can go back on are not decisions
I’ve been living in limbo for a while now. I’ve never signed a lease on a flat without checking what the breaking clause in the contract is, and so far, I’ve always used it. I’ve walked away from jobs I didn’t like, I’ve broken a lot of promises to a lot of different people. I’ve made a lot of decisions that I then went back on, which means they weren’t decisions at all. I came to Berlin with the thought that if I hated it, I could still return to London. It left me just as stressed as if I hadn’t made a decision at all – I was constantly evaluating whether to go or to stay. I’ve decided I’m staying because there’s no satisfaction in making a decision that gives you an out. Sometimes, it actually is easier to commit.
4. Discussions and affirmations
When I started unpacking the reasons and beliefs that were keeping me from committing to what I really wanted to do, I started wondering how to battle them. According to Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, you have to dispute and energise. When you encounter a limiting belief, ask yourself what the effect of that belief will be on the rest of your life. Are the consequences of that thought destructive? Then explain to yourself why you’re catastrophising, and why your belief has no basis. Finally, energise by changing the limiting belief for one that motivates you. Here’s a short example of how I go about it:
Limiting belief: I can’t make decisions at all. I’m always going back and forth on stuff. I’m a flaky person.
Consequence: If I keep believing this, I will always distrust my gut, which will make decision-making even harder. Believing I’m flaky also makes it into a self-fulfilling prophecy, perpetuating the cycle of indecision.
Why it’s not true: I have actually made a lot of commitments in my life. I’m finishing my bachelor’s degree, I have spent three years living in London, I’ve stuck with a long-term relationship before, and I have worked through problems in friendships to keep the people I love in my life.
Affirmation: I can make hard decisions and commit to things that are important to me.
These are the little tricks that work for me, but I’m sure that different stuff works for different people. Let me know if you’re struggling with this, too, and what works for you. I’m still very much in the process of figuring this out, so I’d love to hear more tips!