When I was a teenager, acutely aware of the life-altering impact of every choice I faced, I adopted a decision-making strategy which, though it has not lessened my anxiety, has nevertheless served me well.
I decided that, when I was paralyzed by indecision and needed to snap out of it, I would imagine myself on my death bed, then look my options squarely in the face and determine which would cause me the least regret from that future position.
This method has mostly caused me to do kind of crazy, out-of-the-box kinds of things: sell all my possessions and move to Ireland with two small children, quit a Master’s program to move across the country, homeschool my kids, sell my car and become a cyclist. And I regret almost none of them. As the old song goes, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”
But it occurs to me that I should have expanded this policy beyond the momentous decisions to include the small habitual choices I make everyday without even thinking about it. I realized this when I suddenly became aware of how much I regret and will regret all the worrying I’ve done in my life. I’m not entirely sure that this is a choice, or if I might choose to break the habit and live differently.
But these small acts of extreme stress and discomfort color my life’s journey just as much as a decision to marry or change jobs. Day after day accepting my tendency to panic and refusing to take on the project of learning a new approach to conflict and challenge is just as essential to forming who I am and what my life is about as moving house or cultivating a friendship.
I choose now to devote time and energy to this goal: of becoming more emotionally stable, of learning to relax and see how small most obstacles truly are in the Big Picture, of finding the fun in a challenge instead of going into fight or flight mode against an insurmountable enemy such as a bank error or burnt toast. I choose to remember that the attitude I choose to have throughout an average day is just as important a detail of my life as my address or my level of education.
I know that even if I don’t ever totally succeed, at least this is one decision I will never regret.