Why we struggle with personal choice — and what to do about it


Change is a constant part of our lives, so why do many of us fear it so much?

Part of the reason is that our brains don’t like uncertainty as it alerts us that there are possible dangers ahead. To help us deal with that, we take the facts presented to us and interpret them based on our prior experiences and beliefs. We then map out some scenarios based on the previous outcomes and convince ourselves that the patterns will repeat. By doing so, we close our minds to the possibility of other outcomes.

JoAnna Ferrari is ‘The Transition Specialist’. Joanna has transitioned or reinvented herself over 21 times during her life — none as big a change or challenge as she encountered at 53 in her gender transition from male to female. She has helped thousands of businesses, teams and individuals successfully transition in various ways as well.

In her presentation ‘Dare to Embrace Change’, part of Florence Guild’s speaker series ‘Change’, Ferrari discussed how the fear of change affects our ability to make decisions and to trust ourselves.


Conversation Notes

  • Do human beings change? What is the difference between human development and change? Change is a change of state, not just an adaptation.
  • When everything seems to be going too fast, slow down and ask yourself what is really changing. What do you really “need’ to do to actually create some change in your world?
  • We all have three things that make up our world; control over the choices we make, the relationships we have with the world and our experiences.
  • We won’t do the things in between “I want the best” and “This is where I am at now”. Not everyone is willing to adapt.
  • Change can be influenced; either externally or within yourself.
  • Our primary motivations are fear and love. These are the things that drive our decisions.


“One of the things we are horrible at is making decisions … We want to make a decision and another part of our brain lights up and says, ‘Are you really going to do that?’ …. Once you get over that conflict internally, then you end up facing the world, and the world has a tremendous amount of conflict that tries to motivate you … When we are not listening internally and are making every decision based on the external, that’s not a choice.”


Our fear of failure also contributes to our fear of change. We either put pressure on ourselves to be perfect or we get stuck and become unable to try anything new at all (which is a choice in itself). When we strive for perfection, we often end up making more mistakes, which increases our fear of trying again.


Our beliefs influence the choices we make

Many of us see change as something that happens “to” us rather than something we can control through our beliefs. We often subconsciously say negative things to ourselves every day, such as “I’m not good with computers” or “I couldn’t do that”. The more we say them, the more we reinforce them. However, as Ferrari said:


“If that’s true and we are motivated by the beliefs we have, why don’t we actually reverse it and use it to the positive? Why don’t we affirm what can happen?”


Try it out for yourself. Pick a statement that you often repeat to yourself, such as the computer example above. Rephrase it to something like, “I haven’t learned to do that yet, but I am a smart person and I am sure I can learn.”

Every time you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself, turn it around in a way that accepts where you are at right now and states how you can do something positive about it. Keep doing this daily until the new thought pattern becomes automatic.


Tips for creating change in your life

Once you acknowledge that you really can influence your personal outcomes by changing your beliefs you can start to use that knowledge to guide your decisions. But, changing your beliefs is not something that you can do instantly. Take the time to reflect on your own beliefs about yourself and try to work out how factual they are. What shaped them and why? Look for examples to support whether your beliefs are true or untrue for you. Are they still valid? There will likely be some that you want to hold onto and that’s ok.

Prioritise the beliefs and things that are important to you so that, when faced with a decision, you already have a good sense of the choice you will likely make. For example, if your family is the most important part of your life and you receive a job opportunity that involves a lot of time away from them, you may decide not to take up that offer.

Try to see change and your decisions around it as a learning experience. You may not always get it right, but if you reflect on the situation, you can learn things that may help you next time.

If you really struggle to make big decisions, start building your confidence by making little ones. They might be as simple as picking a movie to watch with your friends or taking a different route to work. In her article Difficulty Making Decisions? How you make small, daily choices can make all the difference for Psychology Today, Tina Gilbertson spoke of decision-making as something that becomes easier with practice.


“If you can’t or won’t make these little choices, how will you fare with bigger, more significant decisions? It takes effort to figure out what you want, especially when your “choosing muscle” hasn’t been used much. Use it or lose it.”


Part of this learning process is also learning to accept the things we can’t change. We can’t change other people, for example, no matter how much we may want to. As the Serenity Prayer goes:


“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”



JoAnna’s Linkedin: JoAnna Ferrari  |  JoAnna’s Website: joannaferrari.com

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This episode forms part of our 2019 series narrative, ‘Change’ which is based on the premise that change is not inherently good or bad, but it is inevitable. The series’ speakers will explore such questions as “How do we keep up with change?”, “How do we face it?”, “Is it possible to manage it?” and “How are these changes affecting the future?”.

If you’d like to hear more thought leaders speak on ‘Change’, subscribe to our podcast series on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.


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