I was lying on my stomach face down on a slightly cushioned table.
My face was in a little hole and I was taking deep, slow breaths, trying to relax in anticipation of the dozen needles that were about to be inserted into my back.
What I learned from my first acupuncture appointment is that acupuncture’s not supposed to hurt. You’re supposed to feel a little prick when the needle is inserted, but then you’re not supposed to feel any more pain.
Well, the thing is, that’s only true if you remain completely relaxed throughout the entire duration of the treatment. If you tense up at all, it can be really painful.
I learned that lesson the hard way from my first acupuncture treatment, so this second time, I was trying my best to remain completely relaxed. I did a pretty good job. Until the very end…
In the last few minutes of my treatment, my arm started to hurt really bad. I tried to ignore it at first, but the pain kept getting worse and worse. So I finally decided to adjust the position that I was in…
When I tried to shift my weight to move my arm, all the muscles in my back tensed up. All of a sudden I felt like I was being stabbed in my back in a dozen different places simultaneously.
I’ve never been stabbed before, but I imagine that’s exactly what it would feel like.
Moral of the story: if you ever get acupuncture, don’t tense up.
You might not be in the most comfortable position ever, but don’t focus on that. It’s kind of like when you have an itch–if you don’t scratch it, it will pass.
Life is kind of like acupuncture in that sense. It’s a whole lot better—and way less painful—when you’re relaxed.
One could argue that people who are too relaxed don’t ever get anything done, and that some stress might actually be a good thing.
But, for the most part, I think we can all agree that life is more enjoyable when you’re relaxed.
That might seem obvious, but it’s hard to put into practice.
On my ride back home after my acupuncture treatment, I came to the conclusion that I stress out waaayyy too much.
I think that stems from the fact that I think too much. My inability to relax during the acupuncture treatment is a perfect example.
It started with the anticipation of the needles… Then, once the needles were in, I kept trying to remind myself to relax, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how uncomfortable I was. And then I started analyzing all of these thoughts and wondering what the hell was wrong with me… Why couldn’t I just relax?!
I used to struggle a lot with social anxiety. Which makes a lot of sense now that I think of it, because any sort of anxiety really is nothing more than a by-product of overthinking.
I’ve improved my social skills tremendously over the last few years, but I still feel anxious in many other situations.
I try to come off as a chill, laid-back dude, but the truth is, I’m almost always a little uneasy.
Right now, for example, I just started this great job, and I know that I’m very fortunate to have it, but I’m always thinking about what’s going to come next. I plan on working here for at least the foreseeable future, but because I know that it’s not something I want to do long-term for the rest of my life, it creates an uneasiness.
Digging a little deeper, I think one of the main reasons I overthink things is that I put so much pressure on every single decision that I make.
And then, I end up stressing out even more because I’ve spent so much damn time thinking about making the right decision instead actually making a decision and getting on with it.
For instance, one of my goals this year was to read more. I was doing pretty good, up until this summer. I finished my last book over a month ago, but I haven’t started my next book because I can’t decide which book I want to read.
I have a giant list of 30+ books I want to read, but I was torn between two different books, and I’ve been thinking about starting one of them for the last month.
I could have finished one of them by now and been starting the other one already. But, because I was overthinking it, I ended up not reading any.
It’s the classic case of analysis paralysis.
Now that I’ve thought so much about this, I’ve finally decided, today, that I’m going to read Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Work Week— a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a very long time.
So, how do you stop overthinking every decision you make?
It starts with realizing that the stakes aren’t as high as we think they are.
The reality is, almost every single decision we make in our day-to-day lives are extremely low-stake decisions.
Even the decisions that might seem like a big deal to us today are relatively insignificant compared to the sort of life-or-death decisions that our caveman ancestors had to deal with. Most of us are not making decisions that require an immediate fight-or-flight response, which means that, yes, we can take more time to think our decisions through. But, it also means that we have no reason to allow any single decision to cause us so much stress.
I recently received an email from a reader asking how I chose my career path.
I also had another reader ask for advice on choosing a major.
Here’s my advice to both of these readers: just pick something.
Sooner or later, you have to just make a decision. Obviously, you want to do your research and try to make an informed decision. Try to get as much exposure to the fields you are interested in–talk to people already in those fields, get internships, take classes related to those fields, etc.
But, at a certain point more information doesn’t help. Actually, more information often makes things worse. That’s the problem with our society today. We have too much information and too many options. It has led to an insatiable generation that believes that “the grass is always greener on the other side.”
What you need to realize is that your major does not decide your fate, and your first job out of college doesn’t have to be your dream job.
So don’t put too much pressure on the decision.
Don’t worry about finding your “dream job” or your “one true passion.” I’m not even sure I believe that everyone has a single passion that they were born to pursue.
I definitely wouldn’t say that I have the “career of my dreams.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great job. It really is. The company is great, the people are great, and I’m very, very happy to be starting my career here.
However, like I said before, I don’t see myself doing consulting for the rest of my life. I want to do other things too.
But, you have to start somewhere.
If there’s something that you’re moderately interested in, that calls your attention for whatever reason, it’s probably worth pursuing.
Once you make a decision, you have to commit to it.
It doesn’t mean that you can never back out, but you’ve got to give it a trial period to determine if it was the right decision or not.
And during that trial period, you have to give it your everything.
You can’t be thinking, “oh my god, did I do the right thing? What if I had done the other thing? The other thing would’ve been so much better…”
You have to give it some time to let it play out. Don’t give up on something after a couple weeks. That’s not enough time.
The difficult part, of course, is determining where you draw the line. When is it okay to call it quits, and try something else?
When Elon Musk was asked about quitting, he said “I will have to be dead or completely incapacitated.”
But, it’s completely up to you. I’d say a good rule of thumb is to give any sort of new venture at least a 2-3 month trial period.
Just to give you an example, it took me 6 months before people started reading anything I wrote on this blog. Most people that start a blog quit within the first 3 months.
But, back to my point–when you make a decision, you have to commit to it.
Because really, you can’t truly make a wrong decision anyway.
I mean, even if you end up changing your mind, sure, it may lead you down a longer path, but as long as you keep taking action, eventually you will get to where you want to be. Have some confidence that wherever you’re at in your life right now is exactly where you’re meant to be.
The key to taking action is to keep making decisions. If you make a bad decision, it’s not the end of the world.
Seek progress, not perfection.” – Tweet This
For example, let’s say you pick a major and you end up not liking it. You can always change your major (on average, college students change their major at least three times) or you can stick with it and make the most of it.
And this applies to any decision that you make. You can always either correct the decision, or, stick to it and make it work.
Either way, you’ll be better off than if you never made a decision at all.
The biggest anxiety catalyst is the inability to make a decision. It’s overthinking everything and not doing anything. The best way to alleviate that, is to do something. Anything.
Oliver Emberton explains this concept incredibly well in what’s possibly the best career advice I’ve ever read.
He says that the key is to “Stop making big decisions and focus on closing the gap with where you want to be. A successful life is not made of easy, clean cut choices…Stop making this a big scary decision and start taking lots of continuous small steps. Take something you love doing – or if you’re not sure what that is, something you’d like to try. And move towards it now.”
The worst thing you can do is be paralyzed and afraid to try new things.
If you’re currently facing some big decision, do your research, maybe make a list of pro’s and cons or something, but then just make a damn decision already.
Don’t let decisions keep you from making progress.
I’m going to make this easy.
Pick ONE decision that you’ve been putting off for some time now. Something that’s been stressing you out and/or preventing you from taking action. Give yourself 5 minutes, no more, to make a decision right now and leave a comment below letting me know what it is.
Don’t put this off for later. Do it now.