78% effort instead of 85%; dialing a number and disconnecting just before it rings at the other end; almost raising your hand to make a point or ask a query in a meeting or discussion; nearly expressing one’s true feelings, but holding back at the nth moment; feeling quite pumped up at the thought of going to the gym, but deciding against it after almost opening the main door of your home.
Most of us do these, don't we? Those little and not-so-little acts of hesitation, of holding back, of steps almost taken, actions left half-done, thoughts never expressed in the open, words that only got almost uttered!
Not that there’s anything unusual about it. It is perhaps a good idea at times, that not every word gets air-time, and not every action is taken to its supposed conclusion. The trouble is when hesitation is accompanied by regret, and a lot of it actually. That’s often the case, when too many opportunities get passed over. We’re waiting for the right moment, the right environment, and for the perfect feeling of readiness…
When allowed to become an entrenched habit, such patterns of hesitation can lead to stress, and a lot of anger. In fact anger can sometimes be a convenient cover for a deeply ingrained and gut-wrenching sense of frustration, guilt and even inadequacy. Intoxicant abuse, excessive vices and to a lesser extent even things like retail therapy may help you put a tight lid over some of these feelings, but at a huge cost.
Most of us want to experience authentic happiness and fulfillment in our lives. For that to happen, it is important that we at least get a better understanding of our patterns of hesitation. And then see if there’s something we want to do about it. Pretending that there’s nothing to bother about, or imagining nothing can be done about it, may not be a wise strategy in the long run.
In this article, let’s look at five ways to observe, decode and work with, and work around our hesitation.
Observe: Obvious & Hidden Hesitation Patterns
As you may have noticed, these are often habits that have been with us for a long time. They may have become part of our auto-programmed responses to situations. We may not even realize that!
Start by taking stock of these patterns at a high level, across different areas of life. Look at the last 6 months, then the last two years, last five years and so on… Look at the decisions and actions that you take in day-to-day life. It could be your interactions with family, decisions and actions related to your work-life, your interactions with friends, your spending habits, how you choose to relax and unwind… How do you make your decisions and choices in these areas? To what extent do you go after what you want.
How often do you hold yourself back? Are there instances when you set aside your likes, preferences and choices? Do you feel the need to compromise, and not “rock the boat”? Do you sometimes hesitate to take certain actions, or say something that’s on your mind? Do you experience unpleasant feelings, while doing this, or later? May be regret, fear, embarrassment, anger, or even guilt at not pushing for what you truly want.
Does it happen that some of these have become so common that you don't even notice them? Across all areas in your life put together, if you were to give a score out of 100 to the following question (in italics), what score will you give? 100 being complete agreement with the question.
To what extent are you able to do what you think is the right way?
Further, reflect on these questions too:
- What broad patterns do you see about yourself?
- What have been the consequences of this holding back, in different areas of life?
- What three changes would you like to see, going forward?
Jot down the points that come to your mind, and keep reading!
The Worst Case & Not Quite there, yet!
In the previous section, we did a general reflection on your hesitation patterns. Now, let’s get into specific areas. Pick any specific area in your life where you see this habit is pretty well entrenched. For example, you aren't asserting yourself enough in a close relationship. Or, there’s something at work that you are unhappy about. You’ve have raised the concerns, but haven’t articulated them strongly enough.
Maybe, you are unsure of the outcome and don't want things to backfire. Some of these fears may very well be valid. It is good to examine this in a clinically detached manner and define what exactly are these worst scenarios that you’d rather avoid. See if you can do this after practicing some relaxation methods that you like. So that you can gather the issues, facts and dependencies, and get a clear picture.
Note down your insights on paper. Write down the basis for your assumptions. State what is known, and explicitly write down what is not yet established as fact. There is a situation that’s waiting for a solution and outcome(s) that you actually want.
- Six months from now, when you look back at this situation, what outcome will you be most happy about?
- What resources can take you from the situation to the solution?
- If you don't know the answer, where can you look? Who can help?
Spend as much time as possible on these questions. Sometimes, the best choice is to bring these demons out into the open. These worst case scenarios may seem very scary in the dark. Examine them in broad daylight, and see what happens!
What you’re after: The Motivation thing
So, you have started taming the demons alright! But, even after reasonably figuring out the way forward, sometimes, we still chicken out at that most critical time! When you notice this happening, ask yourself what is the underlying motivation that is driving you vis-a-vis this outcome. How badly do you want that outcome? If you don't get it, will you experience disappointment? If yes, to what extent? On a scale of 1 to 10, will it be 8+ level of disappointment, or below? Maybe around 4-6? Or even lesser?
Have you given yourself a score below 7? It is time to examine and define the outcome you're working towards, with more clarity.
- What more can go into it that can raise the stakes?
- More importantly, are you deliberately setting the bar lower, to avoid greater disappointment?
- If you raise the bar, what will need to change?
The Holding Operation: Holding on to?
You have raised your stakes, even confronted some of your fears and nightmares. Logically, all of this makes perfect sense. You’re almost there, but not quite there when it comes to persisting with the actions needed. What could be going wrong now?
This is the time to ask:
- What am I holding on to, in spite of the unpleasant outcomes?
- What am I scared of letting go?
A hint: Sometimes, we still want to stick to the zone of fake comfort and fake security. Maybe, someone won’t like you if you change the status quo drastically. Perhaps you’ll be labeled self-centered, or even reckless. But that alone isn't the point. Go one layer below, or even further. What thoughts do you notice? Write them down, in great detail.
Soon, you may realize that the problem is not with them, actually! Somewhere, it is your own make-believe world of calm and order that is being threatened. You know pretty well that this order is as fake as fake can be. But, it is “safer” to continue with the pretense. Even if that entails discomfort and worse…
As you keep moving forward, what would you like to take along?
Breaking the Pattern & Moving forward
The previous section can be particularly hard when you’re trying to break patterns that have become too hard-wired. It is important that you put in careful thought into the process. Some pain is inevitable. You can of course stick to a policy of no-change. In that case also, it is important to cushion the impact. Because, now you are aware! Till now, maybe retail therapy and intoxicants may have helped. They may not be that effective from hereon. Whatever you choose, you’ll need to actively work with some pattern or the other, so that you can move forward.
Three tips are given below.
Routines to Re-Wire your Brain
Some of these changes will need time, and a proper plan too. When you’re working against hard-wired patterns, there will be moments of self-doubt and fear. Taking small and consistent steps can be helpful. If needed, enlist the support of a friend for that extra pep talk. Plan these consistent steps to be done over and over again till they become the new normal for your brain. I’d also recommend processes like mindfulness, visualization and deep relaxation. They will help to keep you fully anchored in the process.
Compassion to self and others!
Don’t be in a hurry to get it all sorted at one go. It is important to have compassion towards yourself. Not everyone is going to be supportive with this change. People may resist some of your changes. Don't label them as your enemies. At least in your mind, look at them with some understanding. Maybe you’re pushing them out of their comfort zone. Perhaps, that “tough” exterior they’ve been displaying all along is just a facade. Is there some way to assuage a few of their concerns at least? Some actions that can even indirectly reduce their “threat perception”?
Celebrate each movement & Learn
You’ve shown remarkable grit by taking this hesitation bull by its horns. Tick Celebrate! You were open enough to examine your patterns good and bad, and even those underlying fears and discomfort. Tick Celebrate! You didn’t flinch when the time came to ask yourself how motivated you really were. Tick Celebrate! And then, to bravely look in the mirror and acknowledge that maybe you weren't letting the change happen, and were strangely holding on to some things that made no sense. And not just that, you were ready to install routines that make it possible to break the hesitation one habit at a time, and to rewire your brain in the process. Tick Celebrate! Every move forward is worth cherishing. Every setback is an opportunity to learn and improve.
Don’t hesitate to celebrate!