Here’s one clue that I might be heading back into the black abyss of depression: deciding between Ranch or Italian salad dressing has taken me longer than the time it took for the table next to Eric and me to chow down their entire lunch, and I’m saying “um” after every two words (“What I…um…would like…um…is…well…um…I don’t…um…really know”). If that was painful to read, you can imagine what’s going on inside of the person who says it. And you can appreciate why grocery shopping is often torture to a depressive (considering that a typical cereal aisle in America holds at least 72 different boxes).
The ability to make decisions (even bad ones) is the first skill to go when I’m depressed, and the last to come back. Because each choice depends on self-confidence, which evaporates during that time.
Which is why I read with interest Talia Mana’s article, “The Art of Decision Making: Make Powerful Choices and Take Control of Your Life When You Act,” published in the second volume of “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life.”
Now, I have to confess that upon reading such promising titles (the name of Talia’s article and the title of the “101″ book), my inner skeptic shouted “Alert! Alert! Approaching a pile of animal waste!” That’s only because yours truly compiled books entitled “I Like Being Catholic,” “I Like Being Married,” and “I Love Being a Mom,” right before a complete breakdown.
But I’ve gotten to know Talia over the Internet (where it’s nice and safe), and from what I know so far, she’s a way cool person.
So I’m tempted to believe in her approach to decision making, which goes like this: ACT (accept, change, or terminate). It’s like the serenity prayer, which I often use to help me with my tougher choices.
Talia believes that any decision has to start with an acceptance of yourself and the situation. Only then can the next step become clear. Not that you have to agree with it. You just have to honestly assess the circumstances, and see what has to go, and what can stay.
If you’ve arrived at some unacceptable conditions, you need to now consider your options. Pull out a sheet of paper and start listing all your possibilities, every creative thought that ever landed in your brain on improving, challenging, or changing the negative factors of your situation. Talia suggests that left-brainers list 20 different solutions, and right-brainers write a story (preferably nonfiction) for 20 minutes that solves the problem.
Don’t think Arnold Schwarzenegger. That will frighten you. Think YouTube, where breakups provide entertainment, like the Valentine’s Day split of the couple from Charlotte, North Carolina that played out before 160,000 online viewers. The purpose of the “terminate” stage is to separate yourself from the decision you’ve just made, resisting the temptation to stew in what might have been had you chosen differently.
Now, granted, I don’t have time to ACT while ordering my side dishes at Boston Market (you only get two, and there are so many to chose from!). But Talia’s approach–and of course the serenity prayer–works on quite a few important “um” moments.