You might think that the answer to this question is obvious: in the first case, you make a decision, in the second, you don’t. But how about decisions that aren’t really decisions and are actually avoidance strategies; how about when not making a decision becomes a decision? Could you tell the difference then?
Decision-making is often compared to the economy, and it indeed has similarities. When we weigh pros and cons, we compare the “cost” between different options. Not financial costs, although this can be a factor, but what the psychological, emotional “price” is. So we consider facts, circumstances, and come to a conclusion based on reasoned arguments – although research has shown that the process is much more intuitive and rash than we like to think.
If you one of the millions suffering from social anxiety disorder, this mechanism is however fraught with difficulties, as there is now the added challenge of having to battle with your fear of being judged and stress at the thought of social interactions. You may be finding that making a decision isn’t about the facts only but more often about negotiating with your anxiety. Right?
More concretely, imagine that you long for a career change, but you decide not to apply for your dream job because you dread going to the job interview; or that you are thinking about applying to a course but you ponder over it because you are worried about meeting new people, days go by, until it is too late. In both cases, you have missed opportunities.
If you suffer from social phobia and avoidence behavior but want to improve your quality of life, you need to be willing to step out of your comfort zone once in a while to expose yourself to those situations that cause you stress. So give yourself some challenging goals, but make sure they are realistic so as not to set yourself up for failure; and specific so that you can check that you have achieved them and can give yourself a pat in the back. Don’t dare yourself to speak to “a few people” at a party, or to “everybody”, but to X number of people.
However, it is essential that you do it very gradually, and saying no to a social occasion which would be too demanding at the stage you are at is actually wise, as too much too early would only increase your anxiety and reinforce your avoidance behavior.
Avoidance and anxiety go hand in hand, and the guidance of a qualified therapist or online social anxiety program could benefit you hugely, by helping you to manage your symptoms, understand the root of your problems, develop coping strategies, and assess how much you can push yourself, to teach you the core skills which will make social interactions easier over time.
How do you help yourself make decisions in the face of your own fear of being judged? I’d love to hear from you.
All the best, Kyle