Making decisions: Confronting your “yes, but” Procrastination
By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Some years ago, in an empowerment and brainstorming group, one member asked for ideas but shot them all down with replies that began with, “Yes, but . . .” No matter how many ideas were tossed her way, she had an excuse why nothing wouldn’t work. Behind her back, some began calling her a “yes, but” person. They were frustrated with her lack of momentum, especially in an empowerment group formed with the intent to brainstorm ideas, find solutions, and act. The experience has stayed with me, and if I catch myself in “yes, but” thinking, I’ve learned to take a closer look.
Making Decisions: What’s behind the inaction?
Most of us have stalled on an important decision at some point. But decisions need action—even if it’s a decision not to act. Otherwise, the uncertainty of unfinished business hangs like dead weight, and becomes an energy drain that drags us down. It’s better to deal with the inertia. Drawing from the inaction of the one member in that long-ago group, here’s my way to deal with tough decisions.
First, identify what’s so difficult. Sixty-year-old Patty, one of my life coaching clients, needed to decide what to do about the house where she and her husband raised their daughter and son. Their children are now adults, and only their son remains in contact. Patty and her husband have moved their business to a neighboring state. They purchased a residence there where they live most of the time but return for long visits to see extended family and their son.
It’s tough to say goodbye to a home where you raised your children. An adult child’s estrangement compounds the emotional upheaval of making decisions. But that was just one among a maelstrom of feelings and worries.
Patty no longer felt comfortable leaving the home empty for weeks at a time while she and her husband worked in their other location. She thought she’d found a solution in offering to rent the house to her son and his wife, but they declined. Should Patty sell? Rent to strangers? Despite being an astute businessperson with a decisive personality, Patty got a stomachache every time she thought about her options. But stalling didn’t resolve anything. As the calendar year rolled to its end, and she was busy making quick, effective decisions for her business and other areas of her life, the paralysis about her home felt like cement boots. But Patty’s persistent procrastination was a challenge.
Making decisions: How motivated are you?
Before shifting to decision making, determine how motivated you are to solve the problem. Sometimes, continuing to procrastinate becomes the decision. Determining your commitment level helps you figure out how much action you’re willing to take right now.
Ask yourself, Am I:
• absolutely not wanting to even think about this, let alone work on it?
• having mixed feelings but know I should do something about this?
• uncertain but committed to at least thinking this all through?
• committed to doing at least one step toward a decision?
• certain that moving forward is the right move, and committed to taking concrete action?
In making decisions, measuring your level of desire and commitment to work toward an unresolved situation helps you determine your level of motivation or urgency. This can also help you come up with interim goals or transitional-point decisions toward a larger goal.
You may decide your timeline isn’t urgent. With other pressing matters on their plates, Patty and her husband postponed making a permanent decision immediately. They will reevaluate in three months. In the meantime, they will research the cost of house sitters and analyze the projected state of the housing market. Depending on your decision or goal, you may realize your decision is important now.
The “yes, but” pivot for making decisions
Rather than “yes, but” serving as a frustrating stall to any action, use the phrase to identify obstacles. Digging down to the specifics puts everything into perspective and helps you find a way forward. Start with what you want, your goal, and then tell why you can’t/won’t/aren’t ready. Also, identify any fears. For Patty, that meant identifying her needs as well as confronting her internal or emotional blocks.
Patty’s goal: “I want to be free of the worry of the house.”
Identify your own goal, and then add the thoughts that come to mind about why you can’t or don’t want to take action right now. The “but” statements. Using Patty’s goal, here are some examples:
- I want to be free of the worry of the house, but then there’s nowhere to go when we come back to town.
- I want to be free of the worry of the house, but selling it means I might miss out on being close to my son’s future family/grandkids, etc.
These thoughts identify fears, the internal (and sometimes even external) obstacles.
Think about a decision you need to make. What are your thoughts and fears when you think of the goal? Write them down in “but” statements like the examples.
Once Patty considered her goal more closely, she was able to identify several options to qualify her goal. She could sell the house, rent it out, keep it as is, or hire a house sitter.
Don’t forget your feelings
What emotions come up when you think about acting toward this goal? Write down your thoughts. Are you exhausted, angry, disgusted, frustrated, sad, stressed, fearful. . . . Use these words and your own that fit.
Write down your emotions. Then, ask yourself specifics about what makes you sad, angry, or whatever. Patty’s emotional statements included these:
- I’m sad because leaving the house means closing the door on who I have always been.
- I’m afraid we will no longer be easily found, even by my estranged daughter.
Asking yourself specifics about the emotions will help you better understand your feelings. Write out additional thoughts about each emotional statement.
Turning the “yes, but” around
With more information about what’s bothering you, it’s easier to find solutions, widen your expectations, identify limiting beliefs, and deal with the feelings. For example, Patty’s statement about closing the door on who she has always been was part of something much bigger: her transition from her pursuits as a loving mother and successful businessperson toward decisions about growing older and retiring. Those can also be tough challenges, but it helped Patty to think about those things more clearly and begin to resolve them.
- I’m sad because leaving the house means closing the door on who I have always been. Yes, that’s true but these feelings are a part of life. People experience shifts in meaning and purpose, adapting as they age.
- I’m afraid we will no longer be easily found, even by my estranged daughter. Yes, that’s true, but I can repeatedly renew my change of address with the postal service, make a simple website with my name, and send out announcements with my new address. I’m still on social media, too. People can find me if they want. Even my estranged daughter.
Making decisions: Do your research
Finally, ask yourself what information could help you deal with your fears, worries, and stumbling blocks and move toward the goal. In Patty’s case, one issue was items that still came to the home address for her 29-year-old son. She set out to make a list, and discovered that the only important thing he received at her house was his driver’s license renewal. By researching how to go about changing his address with the Department of Motor Vehicles, she could provide that information—and then trust her adult son to take the necessary action.
Are there some things that you can’t know or even find an answer about? If so, acknowledge anything that fits that category, and consider how that feels. Ask yourself if that should that be a stumbling block, and how you will feel if you let it become one.
For Patty, that meant thinking through her fears about her son and his wife having children—and her not having her home still nearby. She recognized that she doesn’t truly know whether her son and his wife will even have children, let alone whether they will remain where they are. She reasoned that many young people, with or without children, relocate for better housing prices, a lower cost of living, and other reasons. So, even if she hung onto her home, there were no guarantees she’d be visiting grandchildren there. Realizing these uncertainties helped her to acknowledge that the only life she’s truly in charge of is her own. That freed her to think more clearly about what she and her husband want for their remaining years.
Pivot toward solutions
We all face challenging decisions, and sometimes the ones we find the toughest are wrought with emotional landmines. Don’t get stuck. Identify obstacles, measure your commitment level, clarify your feelings, and do the “yes, but” pivot toward solutions so you’ll be better equipped to decide well—and act.