Anxiety and decisions

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Anxiety and decisions

Post by thrifty++ »

I think I potentially have some issues with making big decisions.

I am wondering what sort of resources to draw upon on changing my thinking habits.

I find that when I am faced with a big decision in the early stages I become wildly idealistic and fantasise about how amazing things will be if I make a certain decision and then once it gets closer to the crunch I start predicting doomsday scenarios and get high anxiety and magnify all the potential risks in my mind, and this often leads to indecision. For example, I think in order to progress my finances I think I need to buy a very small apartment in my excessively expensive city. A couple of good deals have come up and then I panicked and backed right out. I felt instant relief, but in hindsight I missed opportunities. Similarly when opportunities have arisen to move to cheaper cities or job opportunities. So often I follow this pattern of wild idealism and then panic and anxiety. Then I often resort to changing nothing. I feel instant relief but then regret not seizing the opportunity later on.

I also think potentially I am an anxiety prone person. I get anxiety when going on plane flights. Slight turbulence and I start thinking we are going to crash. I have dental anxiety and have to be sedated before any dental work can be done. Get claustrophobia if its very small spaces - couldn't have an MRI scan and had to go to a special machine and also would never be capable of trying diving with that big contraption on. I don't have other common anxieties though. I don't get social anxiety and don't get anxiety about speaking to huge crowds. Or in dealing with conflict. But I think that possibly may be because I have low concern about embarrassing myself as I don't care much about social norms anymore.

I feel like this is causing me lost opportunities to better my financial situation and better my life. I feel like I have too much focus on loss aversion and not enough on opportunities creation.

Anybody have ideas on how to change this thinking? I think it would require substantial habit reformation on my part. Has anyone had a similar problem that they managed to overcome?

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by 7Wannabe5 » problem with decision making is more like I construct a gigantic branching map of all the possibilities Ne, but then often lack the Ti concentration to answer the question "Does this make sense?" or "Which makes best sense?", so I end up either doing nothing OR just rolling the dice and jumping (manifesting low risk (actually "uncertainty" here)aversion. In situations with known calculated risk, I tend towards stoic fatalism along the lines of "It is better to take very low risk of being mauled by a black bear or somewhat higher risk of being shot by inexperienced hunter than to never explore the woods. If that is how I am meant to die, so be it.")

Recently, since I finally came to understand that introverted thinking is not just the process of quiet exploration that involves reading piles of books and making endless lists, I have intermittently been doing a little better with decision making. Unfortunately, in this regard, I rather remind myself of this ADHD third-grader I once taught who could come up with the correct answers to the math problems, but only if allowed to pace back and forth along the back of the classroom. That said, I have found it to be somewhat calming when I perform the exercise of back-tracing and re-tracing my strewn- like-sugar-in-a-cloud-of-cotton-candy paths to logical conclusions. Maybe similar exercise (improving function of secondary cognitive ability AKA co-pilot) appropriate to your temperament would help?

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by oldbeyond »

I recognize some of this.

I think the extreme optimism and the anxiety are two sides of the same coin. The extreme attraction of the ideas lies in them being fictional - not in that you couldn't do them, but in that you know that you won't do them. There are no limits, because that thing you think about isn't real. I used to feel like this about making changes in a lot of areas of my life - health, finances, social life. I never have the same rush from I new idea now that I had back then. That's because now I try to assemble an actionable plan with concrete steps, and try to understand the potential downsides of the decision. Before it was always $IDEA --> ??? --> PROFIT! I spent a lot of time fantasizing about FIRE before doing my own numbers, probably a couple of years. I hadn't begun working then but I could still have done decent estimates. After a while I grew tired of having all these idea highs but never accomplishing anything.

So what I did was simply to sit myself down and do some concrete planning.

Getting a great body sounds awesome! Okay, which four days of the week will you be in the gym doing heavy lifts? How does that help you in your social goals? How will it change your life - you know that body won't come with a new personality, right? Will you enjoy all of that eating and sleeping? Do you like hanging out with gym rats?

I want to buy an apartment! Okay, what is a reasonable price? What amount of risk will you be taking on - can you handle it? Where would you buy it? Would fixing up X really save you money versus getting something in decent condition, and if it would, how much time would it take? Would it be a reasonable return on your time and is that a skill you want to develop?

And so on. This took some time and has made me more conservative and less excitable. But when I do decide to get started on something, I make stuff happen. Not that I always reach a high level quickly in everything I attempt, but I do make changes and decisions, and then some improvements are made over time. When you have reasonable estimates on time and money required, an awareness of the typical risks and pitfalls and a sense of why you're doing it, a lot of the anxiety disappears because you've taken command of the situation. And my predictions on how something will change my life are reasonably close to the outcome. That compounds and serves to make me more and more confident i my decisions and priorities. Before I lacked this sense of agency and it all felt a bit random. As you run this script, you'll begin to internalize it, which is really the whole point of it.

So perhaps your anxiety has it roots in you not being prepared and taking the consequences of the decision seriously. There will always be anxiety in making a big investment or changing jobs, but it will be manageable if you have a solid plan, which your gut believes in.

Not to come off as someone with extreme agency, because I'm still very much a work in progress, but I am a bit along the way now.

EDIT: accidentally posted in the middle of typing

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by daylen »

Anxiety can have complex origins. If your mind is a tree, then anxiety could be a recurring stress in one of the limbs. This stress may appear to be caused by the wind though nearby trees may handle the same wind fine. Perhaps it is more of a structural problem with how the tree was forced to orient north by crowding trees to the south. Maybe it is a developmental issue going back to how the sapling grew from a less nutritious pocket in the forest.

Decisions also have complex origins...

Hence, I have no clue how to help, but your body could know something 'you' do not.

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by chenda »

@daylen +1. I've had anxiety for years and didn't recognise it as anxiety, as it doesn't feel like anxiety in the vernacular sense of the term. It's more of a sickening feeling of dread and despair triggered by weird things of uncertain origin.

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by horsewoman »

As a practical thing you could start a "desicion journal" . Just jot down a desicion, the date and maybe some bullet points about why you made exactly this decision. If you leave some room you can also note effects of this decision later. I think this might be very effective to reflect on the soundness of your reasoning and increase your confidence in your decision making. Since one cannot really trust ones memories I suppose something like this would be very useful.

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by FBeyer »


If I don't return to this topic in three weeks, send me a PM and poke me.
I'm on holiday right now so NO WORK FOR ME!!!

I am working building a coaching program currently; dealing with anxiety and decision making.
I help engineers who are overwhelmed or second guessing their decisions. I build a tailor-made mental training program to help them find space to find calm, skills to make good decisions, and systems to keep good decisions on autopilot.

If this sounds remotely interesting, get back to me later.
You'll be doing both of us a favor.

Of course it's up to you whether you want to or not, choice is entirely yours :D
Last edited by FBeyer on Sat Oct 19, 2019 7:06 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by Florian »

Thank's for your advice! I stumbled on this thread by accident, but what you wrote rang a note in my own experience with big decisions and low accomplishments. I will try to apply your ideas asap.

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by anesde »

From a physiological point of view I would suggest exercising hard. I find that regular hard exercise clears my mind of the “noise” that can result in anxiety. For me it’s not so much anxiety as constantly assessing future scenarios (both good and bad) in day dreaming states. I just have a clearer head with constant exercise which is a good thing in that scenario.

Beyond that +1 to @oldbeyond. Actionable tasks help to focus on details and eliminate the anxiety on the bigger picture.

I’ve also found that general life experience is good to call on. Realising that you’ve done things in the past that were scary or unknown at the time and that things turned out just fine is a helpful reminder. Or tell myself the general perspective that I’m in (probably) a better position than >90% of the rest of the world so whatever I’m worried about doesn’t matter that much.

For bad turbulence on airplanes I just tell myself I’ve lived a good life and if it ends today at least it’ll be a quick death :D

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by fiby41 »

We have three ways of decision making ranked according to speed
Anxiety is the nagging doubt that the decision we are making is sub optimal.
Exposure to making lots of smaller bad decisions when the costs are low is the way to overcome anxiety.

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by Campitor »

Anybody have ideas on how to change this thinking? I think it would require substantial habit reformation on my part. Has anyone had a similar problem that they managed to overcome?
Anxiety and fear are runaway thoughts. There are 2 means to alleviate fear/anxiety: you either completely ignore it by thinking of something else, or via meditation and focus divorce yourself from the emotion by intensely focusing on it and why your feeling it - you detach into an observer of your emotional state and not an active participate. It's a hard concept to describe but it's similar to when your doing something and you suddenly pause and say "what the hell am I doing?" - in that instant you have divorced yourself from the action/emotion you were experiencing and you allowed logic to take control. Do more of that but with intention.

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by daylen »

Campitor wrote:
Sat Oct 19, 2019 12:46 am
.. meditation and focus divorce yourself from the emotion by intensely focusing on it and why your feeling it - you detach into an observer of your emotional state and not an active participate. It's a hard concept to describe but it's similar to when your doing something and you suddenly pause and say "what the hell am I doing?" - in that instant you have divorced yourself from the action/emotion you were experiencing and you allowed logic to take control.
This is Ti. Welcome to my reality. 8-)

Ti is a deliberation function (along with Fi). I call it generation since the observer can associate abstract representations to what it is observing. Te interfaces with these representations to reference objective reality and Fi selects what objects to attract or repel.

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by Nuuka »

My way of making big decisions is going through the alternatives one by one in my mind and reducing alternatives until there are two alternatives left. Then I test commit to the decision alternative A and then waiting for the feelings that come during next hour or even over the night with A. Then I switch my test commitment to B, and wait for one hour or over night and wait for the feelings that come. By comparing the memories of feelings it is usually possible to make the decision. If I cannot accept either A or B I take further delay to think is there a still better option, or If I can just ignore the whole issue and make no decision.

The above technique allows your subconscious mind (Subc) to process through your decision and its implications. Because you have allowed your Subc participate in the decision, it will leave you in peace and will not nag about it (unless Subc finds some new evidence and creates a new threath scenario which manifests itself as anxiety). Subc is continuously scanning your senses and recent memories to find a threat scenario against your safety, and warn about it. So if you are anxious it is because you are in perceived danger. Your Subc is warning you on some threat. You should listen to your Subc to find out what it is and take actions to eliminate or mitigate it. Listen to your Subc. Don’t supress it with alcohol or drugs or meditation. Sleep well, when you wake up, the messages from Subc are first in your mind.

To reduce alternatives I make a hand written table with a list of quality criteria as columns and alternatives as rows and fill the table with ++, +, 0, -, —. You can compute pluses and subtract minuses to gain scores for alternatives.

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by bostonimproper »

Your OP frames this as a need for "habit reformation." I think that's an appropriate way to look at the situation, i.e. retraining your default behavior to stay the course instead of bail out in periods of high anxiety.

Are there less risky but still anxiety-inducing decisions that you can tackle to build up your tolerance? This sort of graded exposure therapy is pretty common advice for anxiety disorders. For instance, maybe don't jump straightaway into moving cities, but consider committing yourself to jumping on the next good job opportunity that comes your way. You'll want to choose something with a high likelihood of success (which you should assess rationally before your anxiety-brain kicks in), so that, assuming the venture goes well, that success can give you a frame of reference to assess the validity of your anxiety as it crops up in the future. You should also establish an accountability mechanism, whether it be recruiting a friend as an accountability partner or quitting your job to force yourself into a new one (actually, no, that one is probably too drastic), so that you can force yourself over the hump.

Others have outlined a lot of good coping techniques for ameliorating your piqued anxiety in real time, e.g. referring back to written documents outlining why you made the decision, vigorous exercise. I'll add to that sticking to a strict sleep regimen and avoiding stimulants like sugar or caffeine. I like floating in sensory deprivation tanks, but to someone with claustrophobia, those are probably a living hell. Also, I personally find that eating more carbs and red meat exacerbates my anxiety, but obviously with all things dietary YMMV.

Good luck!

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by ertyu »

Nuuka wrote:
Tue Oct 22, 2019 9:32 am
if you are anxious it is because you are in perceived danger. Your Subc is warning you on some threat. You should listen to your Subc to find out what it is and take actions to eliminate or mitigate it. Listen to your Subc.
Late to the thread, but this. I tend to freak out about things too, and have noticed in myself the following cycle:

(subconsciously perceived threat) -> (anxiety) -> (rational mind wants to argue and push the anxiety away: rationally, there is nothing to worry about. the anxiety should not exist, it only messes with my life) -> in wanting to push the anxiety away, i fail to unearth what the subconsciously perceived threat is -> subconscious: ABORT!! ABORT!! YOU DUMB IDIOT YOU'RE TRYING TO PUT US IN DANGER AND LEAVE US UNDEFENDED1!!1! -. anxiety worse, decision not taken -> opportunity missed -> subconscious: "phew that was a close call this fucking idiot is trying to push us into all sorts of harebrained shit thank fuck there's someone to make sure we survive around here" -> relief -> the anxiety-sabotage is reinforced by the relief: the danger is now removed, we're safe again. so how do we get safe? allow anxiety to rule our life.

Nuuka nailed it, and so did the people who said "meditate and see why you're experiencing the anxiety". This short-circuits the above process. Often once the threat is recognized the anxiety dissipates, but I have not been able to actually cause this to happen deliberately. I have read of a number of techniques: emdr yourself, do EFT, meditate, journal, etc. each of these has worked some of the time but none work predictably and all of the time. i don't really have control over whether it'll actually work. i think it's that stage where you're meditating, whatever, with the desire to resolve the anxiety so it's hard to not slide into trying to effort the anxiety away - and once you try to effort it away the release process stops. It's weird. If anyone meditates, please come confirm or deny whether this is on the right track.

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by ertyu »

I found myself thinking about my father a couple of hours after writing this. To the best of my memory, I have never ever heard that guy say, "oh, you're thinking of doing x thing? that sounds smart. and there's also this other benefit to doing x that ties in nicely with y good goal. i think you'd do a good job x-ing, good luck!" It was always, "dad i'm thinking of doing x" dad: "have you considered this here possible risk?" / "there was a person who (insert story here) and z bad thing happened" / "you should do w not x" / "if you end up doing x, make sure i don't see you!" and so on and so forth assorted disapproval.

I think this positive mirror to people deciding to pursue goals is essential. I'd never thought about it, but I think one reason why I am anxious and doubt my decisions so much is that I have been taught that if I make a decision, it's never a good one, there's only degrees of associated badness. The old man might have tried to teach me not to be impulsive and to consider my choices carefully or something, but what ended up happening is, he taught me if I get an idea it's always wrong and flawed - and conveniently, he is the guy with the right ideas. Half of it might've been well-meant but half of it was definitely about control and not being challenged by his son. In either case, the end result is that I am now an anxious fuck who also doubts his decisions and experiences a lot of anxiety about whether he's doing the right thing when deciding on stuff like, should i quit my job / should i buy this property etc.

tl;dr: might want to poke around into how important others have reacted to you sharing your choices - or how they have discussed others' choices. I bet being surrounded by people who always go, "well that was dumb of X, he'll end up screwing himself over" and almost never go, "X is doing Y thing! that's kinda neat!" would do the trick, too.

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Re: Anxiety and decisions

Post by Alphaville »

I highly, but highly, I mean very highly recommend Dan and Chip Heath’s “Decisive,” which is a book that consolidates research and case studies and theories of decision making in a single, accessible volume.

It would be useless for me to summarize it here, because so many reviews have been written about it over the years, but just trust me and look for it in your local library as a paper/ebook/audiobook volume and have a go at it.

I’d be willing to discuss/hash out with everyone here once you’ve bitten into it and are able to work out specific situations and applicable methods/techniques.

An anxiety problem and a decision-making problem often appear together, but are not the same thing.

You can work on your emotional health and you can work on your decision-making methodology on parallel tracks.

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