Have you ever sat down to book something, to buy something or been just about ready to do something new and then hesitated?
Hesitation can strike when you are about to do something as day-to-day as getting out of bed or starting your workout. It could happen when you are making a small decision, about which film to watch or much bigger decisions about whether to change your job, sign up for a course or start a family.
So why do we hesitate?
I think there are a few main reasons why we hesitate:
1. To feel more certain
For example, when we ask ourselves: “Am I sure about this?”
2. To feel safe
When we hesitate we are avoiding taking an action that is outside our comfort zone.
3. To keep our options open
We are avoiding making a commitment because it feels overwhelming, frightening or too ‘final’.
What are the consequences of hesitation?
1. Increased doubt
Rather than feeling more certain, taking time to think and second guess yourself may actually leave you feeling more doubtful. Once you have allowed more thinking time and increased your feeling of doubt, it is easy to come up with a whole bunch of reasons or excuses not to act or to procrastinate.
2. The fight or flight response kicks in
When we take that pause before we step outside our comfort zone, the body’s fight and flight system kicks in because we have perceived a threat. This is going to cause anxiety, rather than a feeling of safety. Even though you are not yet out of your comfort zone, you feel just as scared anyway! When we feel scared, our natural behaviour is to avoid the scary thing, so this is also going to feed further avoidance or procrastination.
3. Our options do stay open: too open.
There is something nice about feeling like you have more than one option but without a commitment to one, it is difficult to make changes or move forward. In addition, with many potential options on the table, it is easy for a perfectionist voice to creep in and say ‘but which option is the right one?’
The truth is that there is more than one ‘right’ option in most situations.
There is more than one film you would enjoy watching.
There is more than one job you would be good at.
There is more than one interesting course.
There is more than one good time to start a family.
What is the Alternative?
Well, the opposite of hesitation would be action:
Just doing it! Go for it! Just pick one! Don’t stop to think!
That may work fine if you are hesitating about something like getting out of bed, starting your workout, or choosing which film to watch. But when it comes to making important decisions that all sounds a little impulsive.
If we applied that ethos to everything it has the scope for some negative long term consequences of its own.
Realistically, it can serve us to stop and think before we take an action but how we stop and how we think may be what is important.
Hesitation vs. consideration
When we hesitate through fear of leaving our comfort zone, our thinking will become biased and our actions are going to be less helpful.
If we pause to consider from a calmer starting point, it will be easier to come to a helpful conclusion and more helpful actions.
How to consider rather than hesitate
If you have hesitated and can feel the fear rising in your stomach and chest and you think you are on the path to avoidance:
- Acknowledge the feeling: notice it, notice where you feel it and label it. Is it dread? Is it apprehension? Is it doubt?
- Ground yourself: what can you see, hear, feel, smell or taste right now?
- Breathe: breathing from the diaphragm calms the fight and flight response and makes it easier to think in a more helpful way
- Weigh it up: what are the pros and cons of taking action? What are the pros and cons of taking no action?
The consequences of consideration
1. More certainty
Actually weighing up the pros and cons in this way may help you to gain clarity and although we can never be 100% certain, it may help you to feel more confident in your decision.
2. Feeling more secure
Don’t get me wrong, committing to action is still going to be scary! It may not feel safe, but hopefully you will feel more secure in your decision.
3. You still have options
When you acknowledge the option to take no action, it becomes a choice rather than a default reaction to fear. Your options are still open but it may feel easier to commit to action (or to a strategic lack of action) having weighed it up in this way.
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