I find myself asking this question a lot: At what point are you going to stop gathering evidence?
What this means: it seems like you already know what you need to do, but you aren't doing it. What's stopping you?
I find that many people come to counseling simply because they are stuck. I have certainly felt this way many times myself, so I have a great deal of empathy for people spinning in this cycle. We feel paralyzed or overwhelmed by some life circumstance that is leading us reluctantly down a path towards some difficult decision we need to make. While we are stuck there, it seems impossible that things will ever get better or that we will ever be able to move past whatever situation is holding us hostage. And so because it's easier (we think) than taking definitive action, we pretend we aren't quite sure yet how to respond. We continue to stall the decision-making by gathering endless information, ostensibly because we hope that at some point we will get a different answer and will be off the hook. Like: SEE! IT'S FINE! I JUST NEEDED TO WAIT IT OUT.*
*this rarely happens
We talk for hours about how unhappy we are, how difficult this is, how much we wish things would change. People are willing to pay me a lot of money to traverse the same landscape over and over with them, combing through for some new alternative, but as many of you already know, that's not really my style.
Because some vast majority of the time, we already know what needs to happen. We have done the work already. We have gathered all of the evidence we could possibly need, and we are faced with a mound of data pointing us in the direction of our truth.
…And yet we don't move.
My consistent response is: I can't tell you what to do, of course, but I can help you navigate this process. It seems to me that you have all the information you need. You know exactly what you want or need to do next. You can see the possible positive outcome on the other side. You are yearning for change. You have expressed consistent desire for things to be different. You are unhappy here.
Okay, so what is stopping you? The fear that comes with difficult decisions is that there will be some horrible fallout, some collateral damage that will make the relief not worth the suffering that will accompany it.
So what is the worst that is going to happen here?
Depending on the circumstances, it may be any of these: You will be uncomfortable? Someone will be hurt? You will feel like a failure? Someone you care about will get angry? You will be alone? Your children will be upset? Your parents will be disappointed in you? You will lose a source of support?
And if any of those were true, then what? For example, if someone is upset with you, can you imagine a scenario where they would forgive you? Can you imagine a scenario where things are actually better once you have moved forward on this? How do you imagine you'll feel once you finally make x decision or take y action? If you envision feeling a tremendous sense of relief and peace, then is that worth going through the process to get there?
Not everyone has the constitution to fearlessly tackle major life upheavals. Again, it sometimes takes me a very long time to take action myself. So I try to be patient and meet people where they are with things, while gently challenging them to take a good, honest look at their current level of satisfaction.
But ultimately, there is another thing I am fond of saying: Life is too short to be miserable. There is very little value in agreeing to remain unhappy, and ultimately by not taking action you are, in fact, agreeing to your current circumstances. Obviously there are exceptions where things are truly beyond our control, but I'm talking about all the times we do have complete control.
I say this with all love and empathy, but at the end of the day, you are your biggest advocate, your truest source of knowledge, and the only person who is responsible for where you end up. And sometimes when we languish in these negative job situations or toxic relationships (or whatever the thing is) we are failing to hold ourselves up as worthy recipients of joy and happiness. I know that many of us fear we don't deserve happiness, or are convinced deep down that we are fundamentally damaged in some way that rightfully blocks us from having the true love or whatever that we desire, but that's not true. We are all worthy of living our best lives. So I gently suggest that we all routinely take inventory and examine the places in our lives we have gathered the necessary evidence and are just spinning our wheels in fear of moving forward with the necessary changes.
We discussed the worst case scenarios. But how about this: what is the best that can happen? You'll be significantly happier than you are now? You will feel relieved and joyful? You will be able to find a (situation/job/relationship) more aligned with your heart's desires? You'll have space to move around and breathe freely? You will honor yourself and set a positive example for the people in your life by courageously facing your truth?
In my estimation, that's worth a lot.