Monday, October 19, 2009

Decide Not to Decide

It is quite common for people to enter therapy in the midst of a crisis. They want answers.

Is my marriage over?

Cognitive therapy is all about replacement thinking. A cognitive therapist will listen for faulty or dysfunctional thinking patterns that are contributing toward a client's lowered mood, anxiety, anger, or indecision.

And sometimes those problematic thoughts are questions. Especially questions whose answers involve major life decisions. Upheaval.

My job is horrible! Should I quit now or find a new job first?

One calming thought replacement is decide not to decide. At this moment, anyway. Perhaps for an undetermined period of time, if the situation allows. Give yourself the time to make a more informed decision.

I'm not happy here. Should I move back to the West Coast?

First we must explore whether there is an urgency to decide now. Many, if not most, of life's crises do not require immediate action. They may, at some point, require a decision. But right now? Not usually. And hasty decisions are often the source of regret or self-doubt down the road.

My neighbors are so toxic. Is it time to move?

What crises typically do require is calm and thorough deliberation. Careful consideration of the options available. Analyzing the situation so that we know what we're dealing with. Generating a range of steps to take before making a drastic change.

By the time someone has entered the therapy room, however, they are often worked up into a frenzy or feeling overwhelmed to the point of depression. They are not thinking clearly. They cannot focus. They are unable to come up with creative solutions. They're engaged in black or white, all or none, thinking.

So rather than focus on making the decision, we want the client to slow down, calm down, reduce the stress, increase the self care, and decide not to decide.

Concentrate on self-soothing. Take care of yourself until you are in a position where you can carefully assess the available information, until it can be gathered in a calm, deliberate and accurate manner. And then reflected on without haste. Seek opinions from respected experts or someone who has been in your shoes.

Slow down.
Get some good sleep.
Think of my options.
List pros and cons.
Get some support.
Consult with friends, colleagues, loved ones, a professional.
Take a walk.
Take deep breaths.
And full exhales.
And again.
Give myself the time to decide.
In good time.

Decide not to decide.
Until I am ready.


  1. Loving the wisdom there, Sandy. Deep breath now (and five six seven eight). Sorry, not sure why I said that. But the decide not to decide is good advice. So often in the past I've wanted to make a decision on whether to end the relationship I was in when what I really needed to do was to calm down and take things one step at a time.

  2. This sounds like good advice. From someone who has a very hard time making decisions... thank you.

  3. liked, linked:

  4. Reluctant BloggerNovember 01, 2009

    Yes, it is good advice but very hard to follow when you are beset by a crisis.

    I remember someone saying to me, when I was going through a bit of a personal crisis and asking those sort of questions that you should always give yourself a year before making a decision if you find yourself in a crisis or bereaved or whatever. I did follow that advice but it was very difficult - I was desperate to fix things and I thought making changes might do that. It is so easy to leap about clutching at straws and making more of a mess of your life than it is already.

    I love your new blog - I just wish it had been around years ago when I could have done with this kind of advice.

  5. Hi, Dr. Andrews -

    Great suggestions . . . it is easy to get wound up about something that doesn't have to be addressed this moment. Your approach is calming . . .

    - Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)

  6. It is both an opportunity and challenge that we often see people at their lowest. Sometimes some mental triage is all we can do, but at least it is something.


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