How to Stop Getting Paralyzed and Start Making Better Decisions

Lately, I’ve been hearing from friends who are struggling to make the right decision.


“I have three books I’d like to write, but I don’t know which one to start first.”

“I’d love to quit my job, but what would I do? I have so many passions.”

“I’ve always wanted to live on the beach, but I can’t decide exactly where.”

Here’s the thing: Thirty years from now, you will not remember what cereal you chose at the grocery store. You won’t recall whether you saw this movie or that one. What will matter is that you acted, that you made a contribution. That you decided to do something.

Fact is, most decisions aren’t life-changers. The universe doesn’t care what you have for breakfast, but chances are you will eat something. And certainly, you’d be better off eating eggs than Pop Tarts. So it’s not to say that there aren’t such things as good decisions.

It’s just that most of the time, you just need to decide, to do something. To act. And this is the very thing that most people are afraid of: making a choice. They waste time writing up plans and setting goals that never get done.

What’s better than planning

I’m not anti-planning; I just know that for me (and plenty of people I talk to), a lot of that stuff is just stalling. Hiding. Another way to stay stuck. So what’s the solution? What’s the answer to this paralysis we sometimes feel?

Just start. Life is a journey, not a business plan. Quit trying to control things. Let go and live the story. [Tweet that]

What I’m trying to say is this: Where you’re going doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Just go. More often than not, you just need to move in a direction, any direction. As you build momentum, you can learn to steer.

Pick something

Your job is to take chances, not have all the answers. If this resonates with you — if it challenges the very fibers of your being — try any (or all) of the following today:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Take a run.
  • Sit outside without your smartphone or laptop.
  • Climb a tree.
  • Do something dangerous.
  • Fall down.
  • Scrape your knee.
  • Tell someone you love them.
  • Laugh even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Write the first paragraph of that book.
  • Deliver a speech to a stranger.
  • Fill out that application.
  • Ask that girl/guy out.

Sure, some of these things may seem silly, but the more you do them, the more alive you’ll feel. And that’s the secret of a fulfilled life.

It’s not about the destination, it’s about the direction.

If you don’t know what to do with your life — what book to write, what song to sing, what job to choose, which person you should ask out — try picking something. It’s not a fail-proof solution, but it ain’t a bad place to start.

Because the truth is once you start moving, you can always change direction.

How have you seen this to be true in your own life? Share in the comments.

81 thoughts on “How to Stop Getting Paralyzed and Start Making Better Decisions

  1. Thanks for this great reminder, Jeff. I have thought this for years, and it’s great to hear you express it this way. As a person of faith, I believe that God guides our lives by redirecting our initiatives. Thanks for your good work, Jeff.

  2. This is true in my life. I hate when people ask me what I want to do with my life because I could not come up with an answer to satisfy them. I was so worried about being a people-pleaser that I was taking the joy out of my own life. It is only later in my life that I realized I don’t have to please anyone but me. I used to be afraid to tell people I am a writer. Now, I would shout it out if I could.

  3. “Quit trying to control things. Let go and live the story.” These two lines in particular resonated with me. I was recently told that I haven’t truly experienced success or fulfillment because I won’t get out of my own way and allow God work. I’m working on that control issue… maybe I’ll go climb a tree today!?

    1. Chad, that line stuck out as in bold print for me as well. We get one story, so let’s climb trees and take chances and make mistakes and enjoy success, and feel like we’ve lived. : )

  4. Yes, very true in my own life. Too many directions or choices available to me will often paralyze me or overwhelm me. I’m moving next month and last week, I felt that way about packing up my house. I had no idea where to start. But, once you do start…you gain momentum and get into a rhythm. I even feel this way when I go to a restaurant with 10 pages of choices! Over the years, I’ve consciously tried not to get the same thing I always get when I put in this situation. It’s a small thing but it reminds me to try new things. And, you know what? I actually discover new things to like!

  5. This is very true “As you build momentum, you can learn to steer.”

    I find that small goals that build upon your ultimate goal are the best way to go… Less planning more successes and one day you wake up doing what you love.



  6. “Because the truth is once you start moving you can always change direction.” For me I needed to read that line. Too often I have gotten stuck because of NOT knowing which direction to move in first. Too afraid to make a mistake. Now I see things differently. Saying “yes,” to one direction doesn’t mean I am stuck on that path. There are always off ramps. Also, realizing I can do other things later when I’m done with the present project frees me up. It just means it’s a matter of time, instead of either or. Thanks for the great advice in this post, Jeff.

  7. I don’t know, Jeff. Denial comforts many of us. Do we have to actually admit that we’re stuck? My life would have been described as fits and starts, not starts and finishes, but I agree you’re spot on. I made it over the hump when I got a coach, now I am one. Thanks for your work and your d couragement!

  8. Man I love this post Jeff! Just start by starting. We sometimes get stuck in a rut and need to jerk the wheel and get out. Trying something new or doing something different today will put your mind into a new frame of reference.

    I did this last week. I having been thinking of an e-book I wanted to write for a while. So I decided to wake up every morning and write 200-500 words towards this book. So far, so good!

  9. For the record, I really hope I remember what movies I saw! That’s pretty important to me. 🙂 And it’s funny because last night my husband sat down and wrote out some goals, and I’m breaking them down into SMART goals.

    But the key in my research on it is not to feel guilty if we don’t accomplish all of them. We have been married 6 months, so I think a “to-do” list will help us stay disciplined. We are moving in a direction, though. I do believe it’s the right one. As always, amazing post.

  10. This is oh so true Jeff. As recovering procrastinator I can say with total conviction, that just taking that first step; that first baby step even, makes an enormous difference. It’s often fear that keeps us stuck. Fear that our choice is wrong…and I say so what…choose again. Fear that we’ll fail…another so what…fail your way to success. Fear that we’ll succeed…let it go and keep moving.

    Love Elle

  11. Thank you Jeff, you’re right on in regards to stepping up and taking risk. Our future is all based on our decisions we choose today.

  12. I’m working daily as many hours as I can, at least four to six on my book. It has been my dream to write my story for years but I was always worried about making sure I told the story in the right way with the right words. The starting and the perfectionism had me afraid to start. Now as I’ve been writing for two months, I find the direction of the story focusing the longer I write. I had an overview in mind but I had to write first. Just now I’m seeing the clear vision of how things are coming together. If I had never started in a direction, I would still be stuck. Thanks for the confirmation that these months of writing have not been in vain.

  13. This is so “on time” for me this morning, Jeff. Thanks! In the last week, I’ve discussed with my bosses that this job no longer fits me, but feels like an itchy sweater. And I am taking steps to launch out on my own (with God’s help) to do what I’ve always wanted and felt called / born / designed to do. I’m in the info gathering stage, meeting with people, but entirely believing that if I start moving the doors will open up and I will find that space was reserved for me. It will probably look different than I imagine, probably require more than I expect, but be the most fulfilling life I could have thought possible. Yeah. It’s time to take action. And with each step, I’m less afraid. Yay, God!

  14. I always try to remember what Michael Hyatt said a while back: Just do the next thing. I do get paralyzed thinking of the big picture, but when I break it down to just taking the next stop, it doesn’t seem nearly as overwhelming.

    Thanks for the timely reminder, Jeff.

  15. I’m with you, Jeff. I’m a just do it kind of guy myself. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put some thought into major decisions. As for writing, unlike many, I don’t write for long blocks of time, but keep a couple of projects going a little bit at a time. That way I don’t burn out and it gets done. I don;t worry about perfection, but I believe in quality and professionalism. As for the “beach house?” When I buy one I will consider things like location, price, size, and construction. A small, well-built house in the Port Townsend, WA area sounds pretty good.

  16. Just start. So simple yet so easy to bypass, to forget, to think that there has to be more complex things to do than just…start. I find this is a lesson I have to tell myself repeatedly. I have started (writing, creating, taking photos, etc.) and found that taking that first step is often just what it takes to move forward. It goes well, I get to where I wanted to be, and then settle back into the old routine.

    After I type this, I’m heading out the door for a walk, even if it’s raining. Just starting. Thanks, Jeff, for repeating this simple yet profound lesson.

  17. This write up was such a timely one for me Jeff. Thanks a ton for the wonderful one. Many a times it happens, we will be aware of the things, how it works, but we actually forget them and get stuck up in the middle of chaos. That’s where reminders like this pick you up and push you through!

    “Once you gain the momentum, you can always change your direction” – That was an eyeopener Jeff. I will start over right today..right now 🙂

  18. Jeff so true we must act. Reading your blog really brought back that I think I have stalled again. Back in 2006 I made a decision to act and to do things that I didn’t know the outcome. Some were scaring some seemed impossible. What is really cool is that all my actions taken that seemed scary or impossible made me grow as a person. I would not be who I am today without trusting in God and moving forward. But as mentioned I think I have stopped taking those action and continually think about all the bad that could happen. Today I’m going to start thinking about all the possibilities not the failures and step into things boldly again. Thanks for the post great spark that I needed.

  19. There is no such as thing as right or wrong decision, what is actually wrong is not making any decision or being indecisive.

  20. I remember one time having a discussion with our pastor’s wife about “how do you know if it’s God will to do XYZ?” Her reply, you don’t always know but just go for it, just do something – if God doesn’t want you to do X or Y or Z He will show you another way, turn you another direction. That was such wonderful advice for me…I still may be hesitant to try something new, unknown, scary but I still try, I take that first step and sometimes a second and even a third an sometimes after the first step I stop and evaluate and then take another step maybe not in the same way but it is still a step. Thanks for sharing from your heart.

  21. Sometimes I think the reason I get paralyzed is because the list of ‘things i must do’ is so darn long, not that that’s a valid excuse. It’s just another excuse. One thing I’ve found is that tackling just three of the things on the list can make a dent and make me feel less paralyzed, less helpless, because let’s face it, on every to-do list there are definitely things that MUST get done.

    Thanks for a great post.

  22. My wife and I recently did the certification training for CPR, and something they communicated over and over was — DO something. They said the worst thing you can do is nothing — any kind of CPR help, even if you forgot some of the steps or appropriate rhythm — was better than doing nothing. Obviously not advocating poor CPR training, but their insistence on being proactive really resonated. As Regi Campbell says, “You can’t steer a parked car.”

  23. I have a q

    great quote on the wall in front of my desk written by Dale Carnegie.

    “Inaction breeds doubt and fear.

    If you want to conquer fear,

    do not sit at home and think about it.

    Go out and get busy.”

    I read it every day and “go out and get busy”.

  24. What struck home with me in this post is: “Because the truth is once you start moving, you can always change direction.” I immediately flashed on to trying to turn the front wheels of my four-wheeler when it wasn’t in motion. Almost impossible! Once I ease the machine into movement, it was easy as jello (much easier than pie :)).

    This hopefully will help my paralysis and force me to stop looking to others (like my husband) to make my decisions for me.

  25. Have you been reading my diary? Seriously. This post could be an outline for the story of my life. And, just so you know, your words (these and others for the past however many months since I found your blog) have been giving me the necessary gumption to go do something. So I am. Baby steps of course, but at least I’m moving. Thank you, Jeff, for helping to push me in the right direction. 🙂

  26. I wish it were that easy. For some I’m sure it is, or would be if they’d get off their keesters. Me, I look back on *clears throats* years of making decisions, of just moving…and I find myself in a place those decisions have taken me, and I don’t like it. If I should have turned right, I turned left. If I should have have looked up, I looked down. And now, here I am. Paralyzed for fear of moving in the wrong direction. Again. If I could only hop on the Tardis with Dr. What’s His Face and go back in time…

  27. This is what I needed to read this morning. Coming off of an amazing month that motivated me to get to writing on my book, you post this. Thank you for not keeping what you know to yourself, for I have learned so much from you. I am a Goins student for sure. Thanks Jeff!

  28. Soooo good, Jeff 🙂 I procrastinated about writing for years and when I finally started I could have kicked myself for all that wasted time. Just doing something is the starting point to everything 🙂 Thanks for another great post!

  29. I am a procrastinator (the 1st step is admitting that you have a problem). I am going to live everyday, one day at a time. The novel will never just write itself. And while I hope for the desk elves to clear my desk, there is no amount of fairy dust that will do what I need to do. Only I can make it happen. This is step one.

  30. I love this article. I have always wanted to own my own business but until I had my new husband’s support I was too paralyzed to take a chance and now I wish I had taken this chance years ago

  31. This is very true. I’ve just recently made some decisions that are pretty big (at least for me, at 18). I’ve started actually writing all those books I never was able to before because of NaNoWriMo forcing me to just get started and go, even if some of them have been wrecks; I’ve chosen a job I want and am working to get it; and I’ve started getting out of the house and interacting with people more (I’ve been reclusive for a while).

    It’s scary, but it’s better than being stagnant.

  32. I had to laugh when I saw the title of this post, for this is exactly where I am right now. I’m stuck on what my next story is going to be about, on what are the best steps to take on my novel, on whether or not I should build a website/facebook author page/blog, on how best to organize my volunteer activities…..ACK!

    Thanks for the motivation…part of the paralysis comes from not wanting to spend a lot of time doing something that I don’t know will be the BEST thing, but this is a good reminder that we will never know what will be the BEST thing, so I just need to get going and do SOMETHING!

    Off now to do ….well….something….

  33. You are so right! For years I wanted to be a writer and pursue a writing career but always had a reason why I couldn’t start. Finally two years ago I decided that I was getting older and would eventually run out of time so I just jumped right in and started writing my first story. Now every day I wake up excited and ready to go, ever day is a new challenge and I love it. I just self-published my first ebook, The Sybilline Prophecy: Lavender’s Quest, and am working on book two of the series. My book is available on Amazon and others and I am so happy with my life.

  34. I totally agree Jeff, sometimes it just takes a leap of faith to move forward. It’s not always easy, but the rewards always outweigh the initial discomfort.

      1. Maybe your right, I tend to get over zealous sometimes, maybe I need to take a step back from the “Big Picture”, and break it up into smaller chunks.

  35. I really appreciate this article, Jeff. I launched my website last week and still feel overwhelming fear of failing. But, I am thankful for reminders from folks like you that each dream is full of steps. Launching was a big step with high hopes of reaching people beyond my reach with messages of encouragement founded in the truth of God’s word. I’m praying that God will continue to order my steps on the journey he has already prepared for my life. Thank you so much for the good word and for spurring others onto take steps…or even leaps of faith to fulfill the dreams that God has placed in their hearts for His glory.

  36. A few hours ago a friend and I wrote a list of things we plan to work on between May 1 and August 31. We sent our lists to each other to be accountable to each other. We did this to help break off fear in our lives concerning moving forward. I’m sure we will be successful because we are going to have to move forward in doing what we said.

  37. I really enjoyed this post Jeff. I find that the more I read your posts, the more excited I get (and less afraid), to take that leap of faith and start “doing” more of the things I’ve always wanted to, but lacked the courage to do so. I love the final sentence of your post: “Because the truth is once you start moving, you can always change direction.”

  38. So, I scraped my knee like you said. It wasn’t actually that helpful. ;o)

    JK!! :o) I love this advice very much, and it is so true for me, too. I absolutely have to go ahead and do certain things before my mind realizes what I’m doing and tries to talk me out of it.

  39. Love the list of actions to take. I’ll try some of those myself today. I’ve also been encouraging my youth group to take action with their faith recently. These would make some good ones to recommend!

  40. This post really resonates with who I am.

    I’ve wasted to much time planning to do things in my life and not acting on
    them. Paralyzing my actions with endless “what if this or that happens?
    Better research how to handle it first.”

    I was afraid of making a mistake.

    Rather then building up solid life experiences, I’ve replaced it with theory.
    But theory can only help us if we have the experiences to connect it
    with. Theory is useless without something to apply it to.

    Now I know better. If I make a mistake, then so be it. Failure has taught me more than planning and research ever has.

  41. I think there is a fine line between planning and stalling – and just getting started is often the best route to go. I am a planner by nature, but can relate that some of the things I’ve tackled without a plan have had surprising results.

  42. Timely, Jeff. This kind of thinking is what we always try to instill in young pilots coming up through the ranks, especially with respect to weather. You can look at the current reports, forecast, and the radar summaries–i.e., you can have a plan–but when you actually get to the scene of the weather, you’re sometimes faced with having to make a decision you didn’t think you’d have to make.

    But it’s very important that you make one, especially when faced with a line of thunderstorms that weren’t there when you started. You can’t pull the plane over at the next cloud and think it through. Make the best decision you can with the information you have, then move in that direction. As you say, you can change directions if the one you chose isn’t working.

    So–here’s my decision: Earlier today I said to my wife, “I’m going to get up a couple of hours earlier tomorrow. I must get some writing done.”

    Gotta go to bed. See you in the morning.

  43. Very good and true Jeff. I had wanted to blog for a few years now and didn’t have “the perfect plan.” Just over a month ago, I decided to Start and now pieces of the puzzle just seem to be coming to me as I do it.

  44. This speaks to me on so many levels but I know I can’t fully convey what I’m feeling right now. All I can say is THANK YOU. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  45. Thank you again. I glance back at all the hard choices I have made; adopting, moving to Nigeria, moving back to CA after 6 years away, going back to school, continuing on with grad school, foster another teen, running a good marathon, running through the nearby vineyards, starting a flourishing home group plan, and now I think I should write…too. Together with your recent “one” post, I am going to continue to do for “one” or a few, I have 5 kids and a husband that deserves my respect and best. Writing a bit along the way. EnCOURAGEd by you and the clan here.

  46. “Your job is to take chances, not have all the answers.” This does resonate with me. Wonderful post, full of advice that’s not difficult to remember, but easily forgotten during the day-to-day.

  47. Recently I had a major break down because I had over-planned everything in my life. My time, my budget, my diet: everything was so tight that I felt prisonner of my own life. Now I’m steering more loosely and getting way much more done. Life is not a business plan; I’m trying to enjoy it more.

  48. Thanks, Jeff – great reminder. Those of us who are analytical, melancholy, detail-oriented people tend to plan our lives a little too much. 🙂

  49. I both agree and disagree on this one.

    I agree that people most definitely become paralysed by decisions and as a result find the closest decision on hand that is easy and familiar OR use planning as an excuse for saying they are doing something.

    I disagree with the notion that planning is stalling. Typically ideas/aspirations/intents/insights/brainwaves that make us warm and fuzzy inside initially appear in the brain in an abstract form. We get a sense of what the idea is about but its more the feeling associated with the idea that excites us rather than the idea. Planning is what makes it concrete and specific enough to get moving.

    What is more important IMO is the time gap between planning and acting; otherwise known as ‘speed of implementation’. A plan doesn’t have to be ‘war & peace’ just an outline and a clear first step, THEN get moving.


    Aaron Morton

  50. Yes. Exactly right. I always get stuck in planning, endless todo lists I never finish. Everyone tends to think that ideas are the hard part, when in reality there are millions ideas floating in our heads and around us waiting for us to grab them.

    Turning ideas, or plans, into real things is what is hard. People don’t notice this as often because they get hung up on the ideas part being hard. People dismiss hundreds of their own great ideas every day. It’s such a waste.

  51. thanks Jeff. every time i see or hear from you, you’re always on point. it just really shows that you are where you need to be doing what you’re suppose to be doing. thanks for sharing you. have a great week 😉

  52. Reminds me of START by Jon Acuff. You may have heard of it. 🙂

    I “started moving” last weekend when I gave my first ever speech to a group of strangers. It was a small crowd, but the topic was increasing influence and leveraging social media.

    The experience was invigorating and I can’t wait to try again. Thank you for the encouragement and leading by example. Keep up the good work.

  53. Hey Jeff! I am about to publish my third blog post. This post is awesome! My first two post have been about procrastination. I want to use this post you did and relate it to planning for retirement. I am new to this. I am in MH’s Platform University, so I have created a link on my blog post to this blog post. When it gets published and you do not feel I did is correctly, please let me know.
    (I also would appreciate any other feedback!)
    TX! Chip

  54. WOW. This post really resonates with me. You described me to a T up there! Thanks for the push.

  55. This is the basis for my blog. We cannot sit around waiting for God to tell us what to do with our lives. If you’re not already headed toward something “Pick A Direction and Go!” God does not – usually – put up any billboards.

    Thanks for the reminder Jeff.

  56. When it comes to making choices, I realize the decisions I make not only affect my life, but they will affect the people I live with. In addition to being a writer, blogger, and published author, I’m also a caregiver for my 93 1/2 year old grandmother. My aunt and uncle are co-caregivers with me. The three of us work together as a team to take care of her. So, I’m thinking I should take advantage of the copyrighting apprenticeship. However, I like to do things in orderly fashion. I do intend to take AWAI up on their offer to mentor me. This was an accidental apprenticeship. I’ve been getting emails from the folks over there for a little over a year now. I’ve been putting it off, because I’ve been working on some fiction and non-fiction. Since participating in the My 500 words Writing challenge from back in January of this year thru now, I’ve completed a 10 chapter, 30 page novella. Right now, I’m working on getting this work published in book form, in addition to being an active student in your Art of Work Course. I submitted the story out to a few publishers. I’m waiting to hear what they have to say first, before I decide to go out on my own and publish in the form of an ebook Kindle format through Amazon. Before I officially accept the apprenticeship to do copyrighting work with AWAI, I’d like to fully complete the Art Of Work Course first, because I feel the fundmentals you teach will come in handy with the copyrighting work I plan to get involved with in the future. Plus, I actively working on a collection of short fiction, in addition to working on a collection of nonfiction all at the same time. I’ve been writing several chapters a week for both works, in addition to indulging myself in the workbook excercises and other exercises at the end of each module unit. When doing the Modules, I work out the questions finding the solutions through thinking the questions thoroughly. I do this either by writing several pages in my journal, typing out my responses to the questions in the form of 500+ word compositions; thus, posting my responses on line on the Art of Work FB page, and the Art of Work Course FB page. I’d like to make a book of these particular compositions in the form of a collective work, and eventually publish them in the form of an ebook thru Amazon. As I’ve said, I’m writing everyday. I’m also making time for my family, and my caregiver responsibilities regarding my elderly grandmother. I go for a drive with my aunt and grandmother to get some fresh air and to go to a store to walk around, and do some shopping. I also set some time aside during the day to have a meainingful conversation with my uncle. When I’m not doing any of the activities mentioned above, I exercise, take some personal time out during the day to take a nap when I need it, and of course I take time out to eat, doing so by making healthy food choices. Late at night, when the rest of my family members are asleep, I like to read. In addition to reading your book The Art of Work every night, I also read some good fiction. I do plan on getting involved with the copyrighting apprenticeship once I complete the Art of Work Course. The delay is not due to procrastination or fear, but it is because I have a lot on my plate at the moment. Ever since Module 6 with pertains to portfolio, I’ve been making daily schedules of my activities, to make sure everything is balanced out. What I’m trying to say is through making a schedule, I can spend time on all of my activities throughout each day; thus, I can do things as I should be doing them. I’m enjoying the journey involving The Art of Work Course, in addition to the journey I begun back in January with the My 500 Words Daily writing challenge. I’m also on a weightloss journey. I’ve been on it for quite a while.

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