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Fear of making decisions

Fear of making decisions

A series of talks on the many aspects of of our lives that we may have fear towards–death, identity, the future, health, the economy, loss, separation, and more; touching also on the wisdom of fear and the different antidotes to ease our fears.

  • Fear of making a decision leads to a lot of anxiety
  • Not making a commitment is also a decision
  • We can make a decision accepting that if it turns out wrong, we can learn from it
  • We should also make decisions based on what will be best in the long run

Fear 06: Fear of making decisions (download)

Okay so, I was thinking of another kind of fear that we have sometimes which is fear of making a decision, or fear of making a commitment. And this manifests in a lot of anxiety and it’s very related to doubt. Because the mind doubts “If I choose this it might not be the right thing, but if I choose that, that might also not be the right thing. If I stay here and do nothing, then that’s okay.” But actually that’s a decision too. And so, but the mind becomes very kind of anxious and fearful about making a decision, because, what happens if it’s wrong? And so, what we’d like to do is have the option to make a decision, live it out for a while, rewind, go back to the initial point, make the other decision and live that for a while and then rewind again to the original point and then make our decision, after we know what’s going to happen. Unfortunately life does not work like that.

Using proper criteria in decision making

So, I think when we make decisions we have to make them as clearly as we can, with the intention that even afterwards if we figure out that it wasn’t what we need to be doing, that we will learn from it. In which case it will never be a bad decision, because as long as we learn something from something it’s always very productive. But if we stand in the middle of nowhere and not make a decision because of fear, then everything really gets kind of messed up in our life, doesn’t it? Yes? Because we’re just sitting there. You make a decision and you jump off! But if we just sit there full of fear, full of anxiety, then we actually waste a lot of time. So I find, before making a decision, it’s good to really think clearly and see the consequences of different decisions, but to use the proper criteria for evaluating those consequences. Because usually our criteria is; how will I experience pleasure? How will I be happy? Will this decision make me happy? Happiness being a pleasant feeling in this life, as soon as possible. And from a Buddhist viewpoint, using the happiness in this life as the criteria for making major decisions is not necessarily wise because you could wind up with a lot of happiness in this life and in order to get it create a great deal of negative karma. Or you could wind up with a lot of happiness in this life and then it turns out to be not as good as you thought it was going to be. Or you wind up with it and then you are separated from it, in which case you wind up in a big problem. Whereas if we make decisions based on the criteria of what is going to be best in the long run; taking my future lives into consideration, taking creating the causes for liberation and enlightenment into consideration, and make decisions based on that, then the decision is going to be wiser and whether we run into some bumps along the way, we won’t worry about them so much. Because our aim wasn’t our pleasurable feelings in this life; it was something that goes beyond that. Okay? You getting what I mean? So like if you say “What’s helpful for next life, for liberation, for enlightenment?” Which, by the way, are the factors under the meditation about the purpose of a precious human life. Then you say “Well, ethical conduct is important, so which decision is going to enable me to keep the better ethical conduct? And developing bodhicitta is important, so which decision will aid the development of bodhicitta?” Or, which decision will hinder the development of bodhicitta? And if you want to have a regular practice, which decision will foster me having a regular daily practice and which decision could possibly hinder that? So you use those kinds of criteria for helping you make a decision and then you don’t have to feel fear and anxiety about making a bad decision because you thought things out well using good criteria. And even if down the line you find out “Oh, well, it winds up that this decision… it’s still hard to have a regular daily practice,” then still you don’t have regret in your life. You just see “From the point I was at, I made the best decision I could, and now I have to rearrange things somewhat.” Okay?

So we have to think about things and make clear decisions, because if out of fear we just stand there on the fence, then… remember the end of last year’s retreat that we did the skit about the turkeys? Was that last year’s retreat? EML. Okay, the turkeys, yes? And so if you get to see that skit maybe you’ll be fortunate and have a rerun. It’s a great skit, but you’ll wind up like the turkeys on the fence, you know, until Thanksgiving. Okay? But what I’m getting at is, rather than staying in anxiety and fear think about things clearly and decide and then move forward. And then, learn from whatever decisions we make because then we don’t face regret.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.