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Essays 2019 / Personal Growth
The Decision-making Struggle
Back and forth, back and forth. Turning in circles, circles and more circles. My head is spinning at a dizzying pace, my temples are throbbing and I am completely drained.
When something comes up and you have two or more options. Big or small, clear or confusing, every moment of our lives are filled with decision-making. Often they are an unconscious part of our day, where we barely realize the instinctive action of deciding something in the flash of a split second. We have decisions that take a moment to decide and that we forget minutes later, such as whether to eat an apple or orange for breakfast. There are decisions that don’t change the course of our life, and decisions that do.
For those that struggle with decision-making, they know the familiar feeling of frustration at not being able to come to a conclusion. That feeling of insecurity and not being settled. That endless tunnel that seems to have no end in sight, the future unknown. The inner turmoil, stress, and struggle that impacts a person’s daily life when they are having difficulty coming to a conclusion.
There are many people who struggle with decision-making, and can get stuck for hours, days, weeks or even years trying to come to a conclusion. This can prevent people from moving forward in something critical in their lives.
I am one of those.
When one is making a decision, the process zips through a couple stages. There is the first instinctive gut reaction, followed by the “wait, think this through”, and finally the logical, or often, emotion based reasoning for that choice. When one is done making a decision there is the second doubt and the lack of confidence that you made the correct decision.
Chassidus teaches us how to get through every moment of our life, how to live a life that is fully enriched and how to follow what the Rebbe and Hashem would want from us.
This holds true for decision-making.
How can one go through the process of making a decision properly, followed by a feeling of calmness and surety of your decision after it was made?
A fundamental concept in Chassidus is the idea of Hashgacha Pratis, Divine Providence. The Baal Shem Tov taught us that every minute detail in this dynamic, phenomenal world is directed by G-d, with a master plan. A fallen leaf has a purpose, he taught his students. Under the leaf is a worm, whom is now being protected from the heat of the sun. There is purpose in a gust of wind, in a bird chirping, and in a puddle of water. Every nuance in the universe has an intrinsic value and hidden message. There is a master plan, and this plan is solely and only good in the truest form. G-d is only good! Therefore, the world and every speck and occurrence that happens in it is good. There is an not a thing in this world that is not perfect goodness.
A person once wrote to the Rebbe about their struggle with making decisions, their doubts, insecurity, and lack of trust.  The Rebbe explains that feelings such as those come from feeling that you are alone. You feel alone and responsible for your own judgement. You must rely on your own decisions and are completely responsible for their results. The Rebbe goes on to say that while this person has trust in Hashem, it is superficial. It is not permeating the person and it is not affecting him the way it should. When a person has a deep trust, a real and honest faith in G-d, he will be calmer and be filled with a confidence that he is not alone.
This is an important message for all of us. G-d is with him, me, you, holding our hands as we walk through life’s ins and outs. He is with us in every step we take and in every decision we make. Not only that, whatever decisions we do make, the results are good. Life gets fuzzy and there are grey edges that can seep into black holes. There is confusion and darkness, and although it is not always clear, it is all good. We feel like we failed, we did it wrong, we should have chosen another path. Yet at the end of the day, G-d guides the steps of man and everything that happens is with His ultimate goodness and mercy.
Yes, it is not easy. It is hard to bring this concept into practical daily life. In reality though, it is possible.
Think about it. Notice it. Look around the world and reflect on its beauty. Write down when you notice something small that happened, and you were able to see its splendor, beauty, and goodness.
This should change your mind set in every detail of your life. When this concept becomes part of you, it becomes you, and you do not feel alone or insecure. You do not feel it is up to solely you to make a decision. G-d is with you, and you feel secure and happy after; you know that it is all for the best and G-d know what’s He is doing. Make your decision, do what you must and then give it up and let go. Let Him run His world in His flawless and just way.
Keeping all of the above in mind, it is true that we were given free choice, the ability to choose. We have a part in the process, and we need to use all our capabilities to do our best to make the correct decisions.
Every person needs to take an active role in their life. One cannot stand back and avoid making decisions and changes. We cannot be onlookers, watching our day’s pass. “For man is a tree of the field.” A person is compared to a tree. A tree is always growing, and so must we. If we stand in one place, never moving forward, we cannot grow and reach our true potential. G-d has given us so many blessings and we need to use them and be an involved, full participant in our lives. Always choose something over a passive, non-decision.
For example, if one cannot decide between two places in the world they want to travel to, they are missing out on both experiences. Making a decision, with the risk that it will not be what you wanted, is better than no decision at all. Risks are a springboard for growth, and we are here to grow and become better people.
How? When we approach a decision, whether it seems significant (every decision we make has an effect in our lives big or small, although often it does not seem that way) or an insurmountable challenge to figure out, what are ways, according to Chassidus to help us through? Let’s explore different ideas, perspectives and practical directives to making a decision.
- For those who spend a lot of time on decisions, by the time they have arrived to school or work in the morning, they are spent. They have already wasted all their energy on deciding what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, and which bag to take with them. Now they will no longer have to strength to deal with the more serious decisions that come up.
First step is to prioritize: Is this something worth spending more than a moment on? Will it really make a difference to my day which brand I choose, or what color sweater I put on? If it will not make enough of a difference for the amount of energy it takes to decide, pick something quick and move on. 
- The basis of Chabad: Chochma, Bina, Daas. Chochma is that first flash of inspiration, Bina is the development of the idea, Daas is the connection, bringing it down to reality. Chabad-Sechel, intellect.  Chabad teaches us to use our mind over our emotions, mind rules the heart “מוח שליט על הלב.”  We are human beings who have a heart that jumps to do, act, feel, within seconds notice. When there are options in front of you and you need to pick one, stop. Take it easy, take a deep breath, and think. Instant gut reaction, that first instinctive voice that is telling you what to do, may not be the best for you. A person must use their brain, not let their life dominated by their emotions.
This is a challenge, something I work on daily to overcome. I do this by giving my brain a chance to think, not always immediately turning to my feelings. Give yourself time and space to see the situation from a logical perspective.
-You can do this by writing pros and cons lists
-Think about which choice will result in something positive in the long run VS. the instant gratification
- The Rebbe had a Bakasha Nafshis, a request, “עשה לך רב” Every person should have for himself a Rav, Mashpia, a mentor. Someone to turn to when in doubt and for spiritual guidance. There is no person who is objective to himself. The Mishna states that “one cannot examine his own defects.” A person is unable to properly look at himself from an outside point of view. In addition, our childhood, nature, background, nurture, and education are all aspects that affect our opinions and way of thinking. It is imperative for each person to find someone they respect, someone they are comfortable with whom they can speak to, as a mentor. When you speak to your Mashpia, he/she is able to help you clarify for yourself what you need to do. They guide you in the correct direction, and help you come to a resolution. There is so much more to say on this topic, and it is one of the most important steps a person can take to help himself through doubts and questions on which direction to take in any issue in a person’s life!
(Teenagers often have a hard time opening up and fulfilling this request of the Rebbe. As a fellow teen who knows the challenges and confusions at this stage in life, I am telling you: this is one of the most worthwhile gifts you can ever give yourself! You can do it!)
- The Rebbe explains  that a Jew is like the student of Hashem. After we have spent time learning Torah, our perception, senses, tendency, and way we think, become like Hashem. The same applies with learning Chassidus and the Rebbe’s teachings. Before coming to a conclusion in regard to any concept, learn about the idea. See what Yiddishkeit and Chassidus have to say about it. When we learn the Rebbe’s point of view, it becomes our perspective as well, and we can make decisions through that.
(I was very hesitant to write about decision-making for this essay. I did not think I would be able to find enough in Chassidus about this topic. However, once I began researching and writing, the information and concepts poured out. Chassidus has the answers! If you are determined enough you will find what you are looking for).
- Continuing the thread from the previous point; think, what would the Rebbe want? In Parshas Vayeshev the Torah tells us about the dramatic story with Yosef Hatzadik and his master Potiphar’s wife. Yosef was slipping in his resolve to defy her attempts at luring him to sin with her, when suddenly he saw the face of his father Yaakov. His image strengthened Yosef and he did not succumb to the temptation to sin. When one is at crossroads, unsure of which way is the correct turn, it is a good idea to imagine the face of the Rebbe. I often close my eyes, imagine myself literally standing in front of the Rebbe and ask myself: What would the Rebbe want of me now? What would make the Rebbe most proud of me?
(Thinking what your mother would say is also a great decision-making trigger. Warning, it does not work for everyone ;)).
-Ask yourself these questions: Which choice will help me in my spiritual and emotional growth? Which decision will help me become a better person? Which direction I choose will lead me to a more fulfilling, joyful life?
- A person naturally creates an environment around them. “א חסיד מאכט א סביבה”
We can affect any situation and place in either a positive, or G-d forbid a negative way. Our decisions affect those around us, whether directly or indirectly. Think: How is what you are about to do going to influence the lives of those around you? Will it help them or bring them down? Will this bring growth or downfall to others? One must think how their choices will impact their fellow man.
- In a Sicha, a talk the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave, the Rebbe talks about how after a person does an Aveira, a bad deed, they feel badly, and do not want to do it again. After a person does a Mitzva, something good, they want to repeat that action. The Rebbe says that when you are about to do something (this can apply to making a decision as well), think how you will feel after it is done. If you are not happy with what you feel, it is clearly not the right choice.
-This is very practical and can be applied in any decision-making situation. Imagine yourself after you have decided what to do, and see which decision you will be more confident and happy with.
- When a person has decided to do something good and another thought comes to do something else, also good, which to choose? Stick with the first option, because the second one is from the Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination, to distract you from doing the right thing.
- A person has three dimensions that express their inner self. Thought, speech, action. Speech is a very powerful tool and comes prior to action. When we say something out loud we are creating a sense of reality. The words we say have a tremendous influence. Talk about it with a trusted friend or two. Saying the words out loud will help you clarify and realize what it is you should do. It will solidify your feelings, make it more real for you, and you will be able to come to a conclusion just through speaking about it. (Tip: Do not talk to too many people, as is well known; two Jews, three opinions. You will be overwhelmed with everyone’s completely opposite suggestions).
- Writing it down; The Rebbe Rashab said how writing to the Rebbe reveals one’s Sechel, intellect.  (The benefits to writing to the Rebbe are numerous, and we were promised that the Rebbe would find a way to answer us).
Writing is an extremely useful resource. A teacher of mine once told me that writing something down once is like memorizing it seven times! Writing releases your thoughts onto paper and you see it before you.
-Doodle it, write lists, write it as a story, whatever works best for you.
- Last but not least: Take away that stress! Go do something fun. Buy yourself chocolate (really!), go out with friends, relax a little. A person is in no position to make a proper decision when in a negative, uptight mood. There was a girl who wrote to the Rebbe that she was having trouble committing to a Shidduch and was crying all the time. The Rebbe told her that it’s understood that there is pressure and it’s something that will change her whole life. Crying however, is not the way to go about making a decision. 
It is self-understood that when a person is in a happy, calm state of being, they can accomplish more and think with a clear mind. “עבדו את ה’ בשמחה,” Serve G-d with joy. Two people who are wrestling, although one may be stronger, it is the one who is more positive and free of worry who will be victorious. This is in a physical sense, so how much more so in a circumstance where one needs to win an emotional, or spiritual conflict. 
Decision Is Made, Now What?
Now that you have made your decision, it is time to tackle the doubts and second thoughts that come after.
- We have discussed above how to make the idea of Hashgacha Pratis real in your life. It is a slow process that can be worked on every moment of your day, yet when that mindset is alive and tangible, you will have no more doubts. You will see that what you have chosen is only good and is what is meant to be.
- Once you have made your decision and you feel it was the wrong decision, you should not say, “If I had chosen differently, it could have have been better.”
- In a letter written to a woman by the Rebbe, the Rebbe writes not to think everything over once you have already decided. Just do it!
- If something did not work out the way you wanted it to, use it as a springboard for growth. Everything that happens in our lives must be used as a lesson, and a way to grow into a stronger, better person. You have now grown wiser and will know better for next time. A person who does not bend down, cannot jump higher.
Next time you are making a decision, keep all the above mentioned points in mind. Remember the mindset swap, that you are not alone and G-d is with you. Speak to a mentor, and write down lists and points to help clarify your thoughts. Remember what is your priority, and what is the correct decision to make according to Torah and Chassidus. Consider the effect on those around you, and how this will influence them. Think calmly and remember: Hashem is the One in charge and EVERYTHING that happens is from Him. We do our best, and Hashem does His part.
You can do it!
 Shaar Yichud Vehemuna, Chapter One
 Letters from the Rebbe Volume 2 Pg 166 (#76)
 Tehillim, Chapter 37
 Devarim 20:19
 Inspired by Chabad.Org article Deciding to Decide by Rivka Caroline
 Tanya, Chapter 3
 Tanya, Chapter 12
 Pirkei Avos
 Mishna, Negoim 2:5
 For more information; Sichos- Devarim 5746, Succos 5747, Purim 5747, Farbrengen 5745 ח”ד Pg 173
 Sicha Tu Bshvat, 5748
 Parshas Vayeshev, Midrash Rabba
 Hayom Yom
 Sicha Miketz, 5731 Shabbos Chanuka
 Toras Menachem Volume 29 Pg 141
 Sicha, Parshas Shemos 5726
 Maamer of Rebbe Rashab תרנ”ט
 I Will Write It In Their Hearts Volume 5 Letter No. 579
 Sefer Shaar Hashiduchim
 Tanya, Chapter 26
 Otzer Pisgamei Chabad, Part 1, pg 200 Rebbe Maharash