Plagued by Indecision: How to Make the Right Choices
Essays 2019 / Personal Growth
For many, decisions are hard to make. People shy away from making decisions, asking others to pitch in and chose for them. They leave it to fate. They don’t make changes, because it’s too difficult to decide which way to go. They overthink the options repetitively. Is this right or wrong? Good or bad? Anxiety and stress result, and the options are thought over so many times that people wind up getting stuck in a cycle of missed opportunity, unproductivity, and stagnation.
This essay is based on the premise that the Torah is a blueprint for life, and that by fulfilling its directives one lives their best life. The question is: How to know what is right or wrong when it comes to everyday choices?
Chassidus defines the very core of a person’s makeup, and offers a deeper understanding into where one’s doubts are coming from, and how to face them. Additionally, it provides the tools needed to assess one’s unique mission, which helps determine the correct place to invest one’s energies. This essay will address the above challenges, and provide a clear path to making good decisions. It will explore three main points, which will be referred to as steps, culled from multiple letters, talks, and the book of the Hayom Yom by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. See footnotes for the sources. A summary will be provided at the conclusion of this essay, together with practical and easy steps anyone can take today to apply this essay to their life and start making the right choices. The three steps are: 1) Differentiate between the G-dly and Animal Voices inside of oneself. 2) Determine one’s strengths and immediate opportunities. 3) Seek the guidance of a Mentor.
The first step to making the right decisions is to establish the source of the choice a person is facing. Every person has both an Animal and G-dly voice inside of them. The Animal voice is one’s selfish drive, the pull that takes them away from doing the right thing.(1) When a person knows that the action they are contemplating fulfills the calling of their G-dly voice, they know that it is the right action to take. The question is, how does one know from which voice the desire to do a particular thing is coming from?
Every person has his or her unique struggle, and this is due to the slyness of the Animal voice within them. The Animal voice is very clever, and doesn’t come disguised to a young and honest chassidic man in the form of a thief, enticing him to steel a pot of candy. Instead, it comes disguised in the form of a chossid, telling him: “Why pray now? This time can be better spent in study!”
Therefore, if one is involved in a positive action, or contemplating something good, and something distracts them, pulling them in a different direction, even something else that is positive, it is just a ploy of their Animal voice.(2)
There is a story told of a pauper, whom we’ll call Isaac, who came to the great Rabbi, Reb Nochum of Chernobyl, in need of money to marry off his daughter. Moments earlier, another man had brought Reb Nochum precisely the required amount. Originally upon receiving the money, he was relieved that he would now be able to pay all of his bills and ease his financial situation. Upon hearing Isaac’s tale, however, he immediately decided to give him the whole sum. After a moment, another thought entered Reb Nochum’s mind: If he would split the amount, he would be able to provide for the needs of 6 impoverished families!
Before Reb Nochum were two choices which seemed equally as good. How was he to resolve this dilemma, to know which choice was the right one?
Ultimately, the Rabbi decided to give the money to Isaac. Upon reflection, he realized that it was his Animal voice that was getting in the way of this pious deed making him doubt the value of this action. Otherwise, he reasoned, the idea to split the money, thus providing for more people, would have surfaced first in his mind. Because it only entered his mind once he’d committed to help Isaac, he realized that the right thing to do was to go with his original thought.
When faced with a good opportunity, doubt is always the result of the Animal voice trying to get in the way of a person fulfilling their G-dly, true purpose.(3)
If faced with only one choice, the result being a positive action, it is the right thing to do; it is the call of one’s G-dly voice. Often, people contemplate every angle with which they can possibly approach a given situation, they ponder every possible outcome and result. However, if the time spent contemplating these outcomes leads to nothing but a missed opportunity, it is merely a ploy of the Animal voice.(4)
Despite the importance of giving and teaching others, one must not lose focus of his or her own observance and fulfillment of G-d’s commandments. If one is faced with the opportunity to do good for someone else, to teach them or give to them in some way, it does not override his or her own obligations. If doing a kindness for another will pull one away from their own obligations as a Jew, it is merely another scheme of his or her Animal voice, disguised as a chossid, getting in the way of them doing the right thing.(5)
The second step to making decisions, once it’s been established that the choice is a G-dly one, is to determine one’s personal strengths and immediate opportunities.
Many are faced with the dilemma: Am I doing the right thing? I can be doing that, but here I am, doing this! Where should my focus be? Life is constantly changing, pulling people in various different directions, and one can often feel lost and alone. How does one determine where to invest their energies? To decide to keep or change a job? Commit to a new relationship? Take on additional responsibilities at home or at work?
The Rebbe writes: “There may be one who can drill pearls or polish gems but works at baking bread. Though baking bread is a most necessary craft and occupation, this person is considered to have commited a sin.”(6)
A position that utilizes one’s innate abilities to their maximum is the right choice for them. To work in a profession that does not employ one’s unique abilities, is investing oneself in a direction which may not result in the completion of their mission, because it is not living up to one’s potential. Therefore, when faced with a choice for a career switch, a promotion, a move to a new location, or any such decision, a person should ask themself: Will this move highlight my strengths more? Utilize my talents and capabilities? If the answer is yes, it is the right choice to make. Every person has a unique purpose in this world, to fulfill a specific mission that no one else can fulfill. A person’s natural character helps to determine where they should be investing themselves, and how they will accomplish their mission in this world. By using one’s natural character traits to serve G-d, they are on track to fulfilling their purpose.(7)
[It is important to note that growth happens when one pushes their limits, and steps out of their “comfort zone.” Taking stock of one’s abilities and gifts to ascertain which direction to take in life is in order to ensure that a person is serving G-d to their maximum capacity. When faced with a positive opportunity, this should not be used as an excuse to shy away from taking action, by reasoning that it doesn’t suit ones precise desires, likes, dislikes or specific talents. See step 3 for the best way to determine if the choices one makes in this regard are being guided by the G-dly voice and not just a ploy of the Animal voice inside of him or her.]
In addition to using one’s own talents, and pursuing opportunities that utilize one’s strengths, one must also take into consideration his or her current circumstances and location. Everything that happens is by Divine Providence. There are hundreds of good deeds waiting to happen, all over the world. Sparks that are waiting for elevation and purification in order to bring the world to its ultimate completion, with the coming of Moshiach. Every person has their sparks, that are waiting for only them to elevate. How does one know where their sparks are?
Where a person finds themselves – that is where their spark is. Their community. Their family. Where a person is, right now, at this moment. There’s a reason they are there – in order to utilize any and all opportunities to serve G-d in that place. One need only to tap into their surroundings, get in touch with themselves and their strengths, and they will fulfill their life’s purpose.(8)
A person should also pay close attention to the opportunities that they were given, even from a young age. Every person finds themselves where they are meant to be, raised in the proper family, etc. Where and how a person was raised, their education, upbringing and experiences, should lend itself to help determine the life decisions that they make. A student in a university who studied medicine and later discovered their Jewish roots should utilize his or her education in medicine for the benefit of those around them, whether through being an example of an observant Jew in the medical world or through other means determined with the help of guidance from friends and a trusted mentor (see step 3). A skilled musician or artist should find a way to use their talent in the service of G-d, to benefit society at large in a Kosher manner. Someone who was raised in a Chassidic family and given a proper Jewish education has the obligation to spread the teachings of Chassidus to those who didn’t have the same opportunities.(9)
A person should ask themselves: Where can I be the most effective in spreading Torah true Judaism? Where lie my talents? That is where they should invest their time and energy.(10)
An individual once asked the Rebbe whether or not he should continue his involvement in spreading Chassidus in a particular place. The Rebbe replied [paraphrased]: You are in this place, you are being asked to do this thing. You are capable of it, it’s a good thing. Do it!(11)
By recognizing that by utilizing one’s unique talents and abilities in one’s current surroundings they will fulfill their life’s purpose, one is well equipped to proceed with making minor, larger, as well as life altering or life determining decisions.
The third step in making decisions and alleviating doubt, [and perhaps, if the author may suggest, the most important step,] is to seek counsel from an appropriate mentor. Our wise sages have instructed: “Make for yourself a mentor..”(12)
The Rebbe spoke at length, on numerous occasions, about the concept of having a mentor, a Rav, often referred to [and will be referred to as such in the rest of this essay], as a Mashpia. A person whom one can approach for advice and guidance in all areas of life, both material and spiritual. (As it is written: “Know Him in all your ways..”(13) Even the physical aspects of a person’s life should be used to serve G-d.)
When making a decision, there are multiple factors that have to be taken into account. A person will judge a given situation using their own vision and perspective, and cannot accurately assess the details of the circumstance. Because a person is bias unto themselves, they also cannot differentiate between their emotions and the intellectual reasoning and or outcomes of the changes they’re considering making. A third person will see the scenario without any emotional involvement, and will provide a crucial perspective to help one make the right choices. For example, a student considering a transfer of schools may really be shying away from a challenge that will present itself equally in another location. A Mashpia will help determine whether a transfer will solve the problem or is merely an emotional decision to escape from something uncomfortable. An employee who is considering a job switch due to pressures at work which are overwhelming them, should speak to a Mashpia to ascertain whether this is merely an emotional escape, and wouldn’t be better solved by having an open conversation with a boss, or making some small personal changes in perspective and attitude at work.
Even once a person has determined on their own that it is the calling of the G-dly voice pushing them to make a given change, and that it will utilize their strengths and capabilities more, it is still possible to have been blinded by emotions and or personal bias (Also a scheme of the Animal voice). By honestly discussing one’s challenges and choices with a Mashpia, one can ensure that they have honestly taken all relevant factors into account and come to the best decision given the circumstances.(14)
The instruction to appoint a mentor for oneself is a gift. It is the answer to one’s doubts: Do I take this job or that? Go here or there? Am I being an accurate judge of the situation? Have I considered this option from every angle? Am I being selfish or bias? By asking advice from someone who embodies one’s goals, who will be able to help him or her view the situation from an unbiased perspective, one can be confident that they’ve honestly considered all of the factors and have made the right decision, doubt free. [The subject of whom to choose as a Mashpia is vast, and the topic of a different essay, but in brief: Someone who is kind and compassionate, giving and modest. G-d fearing and exemplifies the behavior of a Jew and a Chossid, and someone you respect. A male should have a male Mashpia and a female should have a female Mashpia.](15)
Summary of the 3 steps:
1) Differentiate between the G-dly and Animal voices. By determining whether a choice is from the G-dly or Animal voice, the bad options are eliminated. One can go ahead with any action when they know it’s the G-dly voice talking. How to determine where it’s coming from? For the most part, when the opportunity arises to do something good, go for it! If something else is holding a person back, even something good, the first option is the best bet.
2) Determine one’s strengths and immediate opportunities. A person is where they are, at this moment, for a purpose. Because everything happens for a reason. Every individual has a unique mission, which can only be accomplished through utilizing one’s unique talents and abilities. When given the chance to do something good that one is capable of and enjoys, and which doesn’t take them too far, they should go for it!
3) Seek the guidance of a Mentor. Everyone faces crossroads in life. As much as a person knows themselves, they really love themselves too much to view things from an unbiased perspective, and make an intellectually honest choice. Choosing a mentor whom one respects, and following their guidance and advice, assures that they will make the right choices.
Practical ways to overcome doubt and make the right choices:
– The next time you are faced with a decision about what position to take, ask yourself: What do I do best? A position that utilizes your strengths is the right position for you. Get in touch with yourself!
– Can’t decide about taking the next step? Take 30 minutes and write a list of your personal strengths, and the strengths needed to fulfill the task you are considering. Now compare the two lists, do they add up? If the answer is yes, go for it! If not, better invest your energy elsewhere.
– The next time you are unsure of where to invest your energy, if you feel yourself being pulled in multiple directions, tap into your surroundings. Community and family are not a mistake, it is where you’re needed! Give first to those closest to you, and find opportunities to benefit the community you are already a part of.
– Were you give a Chassidic upbringing and education? It is your duty to share it.
– The next time you are faced with a doubt, ask for advice from a person who is G-d fearing and kind, whom you respect, and who embodies your goals. Commit to follow through on it!
– Ask this person (above) to be your Mashpia. Invest in a relationship with them. This way the next time you have a question, they can better understand where you’re coming from to be able to guide you on the proper path.
– Doubt and distraction that pull you away from positive action are the result of your Animal voice getting in the way. Stay focused and do good!
– Did another opportunity to give to someone in need just crop up on one of your busiest days? Stop and ask yourself: Will this stop me from fulfilling my personal obligations as a Jew? Better skip it.
– Have the opportunity to do a Mitzvah? Do it now!
Life is made up of the small choices that we make everyday. The Torah tells us: “And chose life.”(16) But how are we to know what is life and what is death in all the details of our lives, when there are so many areas muddied with gray, making it difficult to decide?(17) Chassidus provides us with the tools that allow us to chose wisely when faced with any decision, large or small. The more one studies, the more they see this to be true. In the three steps suggested and explored in this essay, you can change the way you approach the decisions you make in your life. Once you’ve determined that an action is a positive one, motivated by the calling of your G-dly voice, and that it is something you are capable of doing, utilizing the talents and abilities that you were gifted with to their maximum, take the leap and move forward. Take positive action now. Just make sure to first seek guidance from a Mashpia to ensure that you’ve accurately assessed the situation, and come to the proper conclusion and decision.
However, don’t let it stop here. Study more and explore the thousand’s of writings and teachings of the Torah and Chassidus that were gifted to us, and challenge yourself to come up with additional ways to better solve your everyday doubts and dilemmas. The key to life is in the pages of these teachings, and it is giving a gift to yourself and the world if you allow yourself to open the door. Good luck.
תניא, לקוטי אמרים א 1
2 היום יום כג סיון
שיחה פרשת בא ח שבט 5747 3
לקוטי שיחות חלק כ“ג 473 4
5 אגרות קודש י“ג: אגרת ד’תשכז
6 היום יום כה ניסן
7 היום יום ח ניסן
8 היום יום א חשון
9 אגרות קודש כרך יב ג‘תתצו
היום יום כג טבת 10
אגרות קודש כרך י“ז ו‘תמג 11
פרקי אבות א:ו 12
משלי ג:ה 13
תורת מנחם 5747 חלק ב 32-631 14
לקוטי שיחות כ“ט 15 page 248
דברים ל:ט“ו 16
17 See footnote 14