When You Come To The Fork in The Road…

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 Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D


…. Take It!

Yes, Yogi Berra, if only it was that easy…. no difficult choices, no missed opportunities, no regrets.

In life, we all come to a fork in the road, a point at which we have to make a choice. Sometimes we are sure. But other times, we are filled with doubt.

With each path, there are upsides and downsides, certainties and uncertainties. We struggle. We make our decision.

Then comes the fallout. Did we make the right decision? Is there a right decision?

For those transitions imposed upon us such as the loss of a job or life partner, we may feel completely unmoored and uncertain about the future.

But transitions we choose to make, such as a house move, can also make us anxious: doubt can sink in, making us question our decision, adding to our stress, and making the move more difficult.

Since change is a fact of life, how can we learn to ride the inevitable emotional bumps along the way and not let our anxieties and doubt make these times more difficult than they need to be?

We are in the middle of such a transition right now. We sold and packed up our home in California to begin the drive back to central Mexico where we have lived part-time for the last five years. As we said goodbye to our home of 14 years and our wonderful friends, here are some of the things we learned:

  1. No matter how rational we try to be, change stirs up strong emotions.

Transitions can elicit a roller coaster of rapidly shifting emotions — excited to sad, confident to scared, trusting to skeptical — all within a very short period of time. Though such swings in emotions feel destabilizing, they are perfectly typical and to be expected. After all, conflicting or vacillating feelings do not mean we can’t trust ourselves or need to reconsider our decision.

Transitions also resurrect old feelings and issues even if they are currently resolved. When we recognize the origins of our negative or destabilizing emotions we can put them into perspective and refocus on the opportunities inherent in change. This allows us to also take better care of ourselves as we cross the high wire to solid ground.

Questions: What complex emotions have you experienced in important life transitions? What memories of other transitions or life events are they attached to? 

  1. It is only a bad decision if our mind tells us so.

It is quite common to question a decision to make a significant change in our lives and necessary too; it makes sense to think through everything carefully so that we make the best choice.

The fact is, though, that we cannot control the future, which can take us into a downward spiral of What if? thinking. “What if” thinking can be paralyzing. It can stifle our imagination, hope, and the faith we need to move forward with our lives. How many people do you know who are afraid of taking risks because of the bad outcomes they imagine may befall them?

With all the scary scenarios that our minds compose we need to remember that we author those stories. Our minds, not the world, are our biggest spooks. However, we can turn around this ruminating. Instead of letting our negative fantasies run amok, we can ask ourselves rationally based questions such as

What are the positive outcomes of making this change?

What opportunities might I miss if I did not make this move?

What did I do in similar situations in the past to make a successful move?

In sum: What rational, positive thought can replace my scary, irrational thought?

Decisions, transitions, and changes are the inevitable stuff of life. The good news is we don’t have to regress to a place of anxiety or fear in making them. In making a choice about which path to take, we also have a choice in how we are going to respond to the consequences of our decision.







About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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One Response to When You Come To The Fork in The Road…

  1. Kathryn Clark Silveira says:

    Your posts are so timely in my life. My son is moving off to college. That it’s at a young age isn’t helping. He will be 16 when he moves in July. When I first realized he was accomplishing his garganchuin goal of finishing high school early and going off to Utah for college I feel into a beep questioning. Questioning of all the parenting choices, all the times we argued, it took me almost a year to realizes as you have stated. Change, in almost any form, is going to bring up emotions and cause us to look back. I’m working to remember supporting him to reach his goals, which of course I’ve been doing, isn’t enough for me. I am choosing to be happy. Happy for him and happy for me. At least that’s what I’m working on.

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