The Stress in Deciding Left or Right
Virtually all the decisions we take involve some form of stress. Even small, everyday decisions at home, work or in the grocery store. The huge long term decisions, such as buying a house, accepting a new job, getting married, or starting a new business are, of course, much more stressful.
We often experience stress for days on end about some choices and we sometimes just simply cannot get ourselves to make some decisions. We often lie awake at night, sleepless about the worries related to the choice.
Our decisions could indeed differ immensely in type and seriousness. On top of the choice itself, we could also be concerned about how to communicate our choices to those affected by it.
Perhaps the news could be bad to those who are affected. How do I tell my partner that I do not want to go ahead with the marriage? How do I announce a life changing decision to people who will be shocked by it? How do I tell the family that someone close to them has just suffered a terminal setback?
The Positive-Negative Dilemma
In a simplified form, virtually all decisions have two elements (or a combination of the two). The elements are things that attract you and things that push you away. Psychologists call these ‘approach’ (+) and ‘avoidance’ (-) elements and they lie at the foundation of our discomfort and stress.
- The most common internal conflict or stress at the point of decision-making is most often of the approach (+)-avoidance (-) type. In other words, these are decisions where you want something but simultaneously are scared of the consequences. It’s the ‘rags’ or ‘riches’ For example; I want the new car but do not fancy the burden of five years of monthly instalments and insurance. I want to get married but I am scared of the long term responsibilities and commitment. I want to tell the company that I am leaving but am concerned about the boss’s reaction. I want to become an engineer but am scared of failure at college.
- The second type is also stressful but often not as bad as number one. When we experience the approach (+) – approach (+) conflict we have to make a decision between two attractive alternatives, but we cannot have both. We have to choose one only. A Buick or a Lexus. The job close to home that pays less or the one in Alaska that pays a fortune. Two equally attractive people to date. Choosing one will ultimately eliminate the other.
- The third involves an avoidance (-)-avoidance (-) decision. Both alternatives are bad. I hate my work but without it I cannot survive. My friend owes me money but how do I approach him? Asking him is bad and not asking him is also bad. I’m still out of pocket. Telling my neighbour that his dog is keeping me awake at night has bad consequences for our relationship while not telling him devoids me of sleep. Exercising is strenuous; not exercising means that I will carry this extra weight forever and possibly never marry.
In fact, there are books written about the topic! Just go to any real or online bookstore and you will come across multiple titles like: ‘Just do it!’ and ‘Don’t let stress get you down’ and ‘’How to make decisions without stress’, ‘How to handle your stress’, etc.
There are even examples of this in history and in the Christian Bible, where a rich man asked Jesus how to get into Heaven. His answer was to sell all his stuff and give it to the poor. Then it describes how the man left in distress, not being able to make the choice. In history there are plenty of examples. You will find examples on page one. Do I declare war or not? Do I cross the Rubicon or not?
What further complicates this internal strife for ourselves is that the closer we get to deciding, the more the stress gets! In fact, you could indeed get all sorts of medical symptoms when it is ongoing and you live with it for too long.
Remedies and Recipes
So, what is the remedy and how can all of this help me persuading (negotiating) someone who is hesitant to take ‘the leap’?
In all the above cases it is certain that the moment after the decision is taken, most stress disappears, whether the decision was good or bad. Then our brain kicks in and justifies our decision anyway. Once you decide to take the new job the stress is less. Then it is reduced only to: ‘How do I tell my boss’. Even the stress with that decision will disappear once it is taken.
So the remedy for bringing bad news is clear: Do it quickly. Bad news is bad, regardless whether you tell it with a texting, email, over the phone or directly to someone’s face. It is still bad. Just do it. Tell the salesman quickly that you will not buy the house anymore. Tell the person you don’t love him/her as soon as you realize it. Text him/her, email or call. Your stress is over. Don’t delay, because if you do, it could drive you to the hospital!
If you try to convince or negotiate with someone who seems reluctant; first try and imagine the conflict he/she is in: If he/she is in a +/+ conflict you just have to load the ‘better’ choice with nice stuff and better prices.
If he/she is in a +/- conflict you have to take the fear away! They don’t want to commit! “You can bring it back any time”, “try it out first”.
If he/she is in a -/- you have to get him/her to cross the Rubicon. Once he/she is across he/she cannot turn back. Go and talk to your neighbor, your ex-husband, your angry client and it will take the stress away (o at least until next time).