You know the right move, but you're stuck. Here's why and what to do about it

I had lunch with a good friend last week and he asked a question that comes up for nearly all of my coaching clients, so I'd venture to guess, you've asked yourself this question too. First, let me tell you more about my friend. He's handsome and successful by anyone's definition. His wife is too. Both are smart and opinionated, with passionate personalities. They fell in love and got married quicker than most. When their relationship started to struggle, the once exciting fireworks turned into devastating grenades. Quick tempers and jealousy fueled angry words and mistrust. They've been living separately for over a year.

In that time, they have not gotten any closer to getting a divorce or repairing the relationship. They are stuck in limbo.

We sat at a picnic table outside Whole Foods eating cherries and enjoying the California sun.  

"Are you ready to give up?" I asked, spitting a cherry seed into a napkin.

"No. I'd have to be sure to give up, and I'm not," he said, sitting in a posture that hinted he was sure about needing to be sure.

"Ok, how would you know if you're ready to walk away?"

"I don't know. I guess if we tried everything and it still didn't work out." Now he was looking not quite so sure about being sure.

"Ok, so given what you said, what would it look like to really give this a shot and commit to trying to make it work?" 

By this point, he was shifting on the bench, squirming. He didn't answer. In a coaching session, I might ask more questions, but since he's my friend, I told him what I thought.

"What about hiring a marriage counselor and committing to doing whatever it takes for a certain amount of time? Maybe like two months?"

"Yeah. That would be one way to go." His face twisted like that idea was causing him actual physical pain.

He went deep in thought for a few moments, and then he asked the question...

"How come even though I know the right answer, it's still so hard?"

Bring to mind a time in your life when you knew what to do but couldn't bring yourself to go through with it. Maybe you knew you should speak up at a meeting because it was the only way your idea would be heard, but you froze. You want to have a life partner and you know that to make that a reality, you need to go on a date... but you don't. 

Sometimes, making the next move feels impossible. It's scary and uncomfortable. Then we ask, WHY IS IT LIKE THIS EVEN THOUGH I KNOW WHAT I NEED TO DO? 

Here's the answer:

You stop yourself from taking risks for what you want because you think the unknown is scarier than the known, even though the known isn't what you want. 

In my friend's case, the problem is that he's unsure of what the outcome will be if he stays or leaves. If he moves on, will he regret it? Will seeing his wife with someone else be painful? Will he find someone else? These are BIG questions. And if he stays and fights for his marriage, will it work? Will his wife reject him? Or will she fall back in love with him?

He's letting the anxiety around these questions paralyze him. When the opportunities come to make a choice, he stays with indecision because in the moment, being in limbo is less scary than the unknown possibilities. 

There are two long-term factors our brains have trouble considering: 

  1. Indecision is a decision. Eventually, you will lose.

  2. When you don't make a committed choice, you leave it up to the world and other people to decide your life for you.

So whatever it is for you, choose and learn to embrace the uncertainty. That's where all the magic is.

In the most recent episode of the RISK EVERYDAY podcast, I talk more about what's actually happening in our brain when we feel frozen. I also talk about the exact steps you can take to get unstuck and share an exercise that will help you have courage in the face of uncertainty. 

Check it out and let me know what you think. 

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