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Quick Tips from the Couch: Letting Go of Anxiety-Based Decision Making

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Many of us, myself included, can find ourselves in a pattern where we make choices about our life based on fear, rather than what it is we want or what we value.

For example, one client of mine deeply values his connections to others and wants to further nurture them. But he avoids asking others to do things and even leaves parties early, afraid that he might not be liked or might be seen as uncool or needy. He lets his decision making be driven by his fear, rather than his values. The results are a social life that can feel at times empty and disconnected–the complete opposite of what he wants.

Living a value-driven life requires us to tolerate discomfort, which is scary, but do you know what I think is scarier– feeling unfulfilled and never living the life you imagined for yourself because you let anxiety be in the driver’s seat of your life.

While discussing value-driven behavior, another client asked me a very good question: “How do I motivate myself to do boring or mundane tasks at work if not through anxiety?” In the past, she always motivated myself through fear. She told herself, “If I don’t get this done everyone will be mad at me, or if I don’t finish this on time everyone will think I suck at my job, or I better do this otherwise I’ll get fired.” I think many of us can relate to this.

When I was in college, for example, I was motivated by the fear of bad grades or not getting into the right grad school, rather than the goal of deepening my learning and personal development. While the fear did push me to work very hard, it came at a high cost to my emotional and physical well being. But I digress. Back to my client….

We focused our conversation on what her values were and how we might motivate her to complete mundane tasks at work based on those values. Here’s what she came up with “I value contribution and being a part of a team. I care about working on systems that make things more efficient and help people. While I may not enjoy these task, they do contribute to the larger things that really are meaningful to me.”

In the end, she arrived at the same goal of getting the tasks done but did so in a manner that was much less damaging to herself, created far less procrastination, and improved her focus.

So I encourage you to take a moment to scan your life and look at some areas where you might be letting fear, rather than your values, navigate. Then ask yourself, if I was living a more value-driven life, what would I be doing differently? How would I think, talk, and behave differently? What kind of choices would I be making? Then set a small goal to take one valued action step this week.

Commit to tolerating the discomfort that arises in the service of moving towards the life you desire.

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