It was a rainy summer Sunday morning when we got the phone call. It wasn’t good news. A loved one had just found out they have a terrible illness, and I wanted to drop everything to go and be by their side in a faraway country. At the same time, I realised that I have commitments here at home and promises I had made to others that I would have to break. I feel torn. I’m facing a dilemma, and I don’t yet know what to do.
We all encounter difficult dilemmas in life at one point or another. These are our decision points and they are tricky territory.
“Do I stay in this job or leave?”
“Do I have this difficult conversation or not?”
“Should I move or stay?”
“Do I break up or stay together?”
“Do I buy or save?”
When we are faced with a dilemma, we often respond by ruminating and worrying about it over and over again, making ourselves stressed and mentally cluttered in the process.
We may think that ruminating and overthinking about a problem will help us solve it, but research shows that overthinking about our dilemmas makes us less effective at solving them because it blocks creativity, causes us stress and limits our capacity to think clearly and rationally.
So here’s a three-step process that can help us find a more empowering way through any dilemma we may face.
Step 1: Practice Compassionate Acceptance
If you are facing a big dilemma, it’s important to know that these situations are a normal part of life. Sometimes we just don’t know that answer yet.
Can you make room for the reality that, right now, you simply don’t know all the answers?
Can you bring gentle acceptance to the fact that this is how it is for you right now, rather than struggling with not knowing?
Your compassionate acceptance of the situation will allow you to soften a lot of the inner turmoil and struggle and make room for clarity, wisdom and peace of mind to emerge.
Step 2: Practice Constructive Problem-Solving
Overthinking = dwelling on a problem again and again throughout the day, without a deliberate intention to solve it in the moment.
Constructive problem-solving = taking deliberate time out to think about the problem in a focussed, calm and clear way, considering the various paths and options. After that deliberate problem-solving time is over, you let it go.
Here’s a metaphor to help understand how you can practice constructive problem-solving in your life.
Professors at university hold office hours once or twice a week. They don’t give their students 24/7 access to them because, if they did, it would become overwhelming and debilitating.
Likewise, if we give our worries and ruminations 24/7 access to our attention, it will be just as debilitating and destructive. We can’t focus properly, and we start drowning in stress, anxiety and negativity.
So, what if, like those professors, we set up office hours for problem-solving? What if we make a deal with ourselves to set aside a brief time every day or every week to do some focused and deliberate thinking about what the pros and cons of various choices might be and explore our possible paths ahead? That’s constructive problem-solving.
Step 3: Name the Story and Let it Go
Even when we’re practicing office hours, the mind may try to pull us back into the rumination about the dilemma, over and over again.
Knowing that this is not helpful and only creates inner turmoil, you can practice naming the story each time it arises and then letting it go.
For instance, when you catch yourself ruminating about the dilemma, you can say to yourself, “Ahh, here it is again. The old ‘should I, shouldn’t I’ story”. Then you simply bring your focus back to what ever you are doing in the present moment.
You can name your story whatever you want but, once you name the story, you simply let it go, just remind yourself that you have time to think about it during your “office hours”. Then you can become present to what you truly want to be focusing on in that moment, whether that’s typing on your computer, chatting with another person or enjoying a sunset.
By practising these steps you’ll navigate through your dilemmas with less stress, more mental strength and you’ll be able to meet your challenges with more wisdom, efficiency and clarity.
I hope this is helpful for you. Thank you for reading, take care and stay strong.
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