Here’s how I eliminated stress from my life.

You’re sitting in a classroom, silent except for the frantic scribbling of pencils and the insistent tick, tock of the clock on the wall. You try to swallow, despite your mouth feeling bone-dry, as you move onto the next question. It’s okay. Deep breaths. You can do this.

A person bubbles in answers on a standardized test.
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You read option A and think, Oh, that’s definitely it. You’re flooded with relief, safe for a moment. But then you get to option C, and it all falls apart; option A, so solid and tempting when you began reading, is suddenly flimsy. You read option C again and it also seems weak.

You flag the question and come back for later, but you’re still stuck. A or C? You’d circled A; now you’re paralyzed in a moment of indecision. Which one, which one? The clock is ticking.

You erase your original answer and put in option C. You’re still not sure. Can it really be A? You swallow again; you finished your water, but your mouth is still dry. The clock is ticking insistently, cutting through the silence with each moment. Your breathing is quickening; sweat beads down your neck. Your teacher stands and calls, “Time’s up!” You look down and see that you filled in option C. Doubt fills you. It was probably A.

You get your test back the next day. The answer was A. You inwardly kick yourself. I knew it.

The key here is not the test questions, which are irrelevant. The key is that you were paralyzed by your indecision. It led to many moments of stress and anxiety, and resulted in disappointment and regret.

The answer? Live decisively.

The glory of living a decisive life is that you’re wrong just as often, but you’re decisively wrong.

Living decisively means living with lessons instead of regrets. It means going with your gut, and if you don’t know what your gut says, then going with your brain—and if you don’t know what your brain says, then you make a formula and you stick to it.

You don’t just act thoughtlessly, but you also don’t waste time doubting yourself when it’s useless to do so. Think through your decisions carefully, but if you’re getting too wrapped up, bite the bullet and pick one. In a high-pressure situation, go with your gut. Fearlessly make mistakes, take them in stride and learn what you can, and move on; don’t regret what you cannot change and have no control over.

People who are indecisive can find themselves overwhelmed and stressed. They worry over small things they can’t change, obsessing over the tiny details as if this is the key to everything.

Worry, for the most part, is a useless grievance upon yourself. Worry is toxic. How much does it really benefit you to worry about things? Think about the last time you’ve worried about something. Did that really help you, all that time spent worrying? How much sleep did you lose obsessing over something you couldn’t change?

Catch yourself when you’re overthinking something and actively think about something else. Don’t worry about things you can’t control; don’t dread things you cannot change. Don’t even think about things you cannot change; it’s useless. Focus your energy on things you can change, on productivity and creativity, on things that make you happy and fulfilled, on helping other people and yourself.

Feeling stressed about your bad report? If you can change it, fix it. Make it better until you feel you’ve done the best you can. But if you’re feeling stressed about it and it’s a minute before you’re about to present—suck it up. There’s nothing you can do to change it anyway. From this moment on, do the best you can with what you’ve got. Go up there and give your report, and if it sucks, know for the next time that you need to prepare earlier.

You are a collection of the lessons of your past mistakes. The most mature people are the ones who take lessons from mundane mistakes, who capitalize on any opportunity for growth.

The amount of tests I’ve taken in which I got stuck on one question is, well, it’s kind of crazy. What I learned to do is this: If I’m stuck in that decision, and I mean really truly stuck, I pick the first one I was convinced by.

In this case, I would pick A. I always pick my A. That’s my rule. Sometimes I get it wrong, but now that I have a code, a formula, I can forgive myself for my mistakes. Instead of sitting there worrying for minutes on end, I choose one and move on. Sure, I might be wrong—but one thing I’m never going to do is live my life paralyzed by indecision.

Professional writer, editor, and tutor; social justice advocate; Orthodox Jew; dedicated Grammar Auror

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