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The Cure for Hem and Haw Syndrome

Woman Experiencing Hem and Haw Syndrome

In my coaching practice, I’ve observed a lot of folks suffering from a mysterious illness I call “Hem and Haw Syndrome.”

Those afflicted may exhibit any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Spending tremendous amounts of mental energy agonizing over decisions like their business name, logo and website domain

  • Telling themselves “I’ve got to get moving!” and then getting mired in minutia

  • Waffling and taking weeks or months to make a decision that should take days

Does any of this sound familiar in your own life or business?

If so, you may have Hem and Haw Syndrome, an inability to make fast and efficient decisions.

If left untreated, the syndrome can progress to symptoms of utter frustration and despair. Your ability to build a successful business may be severely impaired. You may find yourself on a fast train to nowhere.

Let’s nip this one in the bud, shall we?

Here are 5 simple steps to cure Hem and Haw Syndrome:

1. Set a deadline

The first step is to set yourself a reasonable deadline for making a decision.

What’s reasonable? Well, the deadline should be near enough to make you slightly uncomfortable, but not so near that you don’t have time to properly implement steps #2 and #3.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to name a new product. Every day that this product remains unnamed, your forward progress is stalled. Tasks remain stuck at the starting gate — your product logo, the sales page, etc. These to-do’s can’t get done until the name is settled.

How long do you need to decide on a new product name?
There’s no absolute answer here, but I would say two weeks would be a reasonable amount of time for a small holistic business. Or maybe three. But certainly not more.

A typical sufferer of Hem and Haw Syndrome, on the other hand, might take two to three months to make this decision. In fact, they might even put their product on indefinite hold while they wait for the perfect name to magically pop into their heads.

If you think that much stalling is crazy, believe me, it happens all the time. The truth is that this kind of delay is just resistance based in fear. Don’t let fear rule your business. Set a deadline. Then write it down as a complete sentence:

“I will decide [decision that needs to be made] by [date].”

Put this on a post-it note or the digital task-master of your choice. Just be sure it’s visible and not hidden where it will be easy to ignore.

2. Immerse yourself in brainstorming and research

Step 2 has two parts. The first is to brainstorm. I like to start with the old fashioned approach: I take out a pad of paper and a pencil and start writing. This has been shown to enhance creativity in studies, and it certainly feels so to me.

Let the ideas flow. Try not to critique or edit at this point — just get things down on paper. If you prefer to do this part on your laptop, that’s fine too.

Brainstorming is a creative process, so it can be helpful to put yourself in an environment where you feel creative. I prefer a bustling cafe where I can find a cozy table and work amidst the buzz of conversation and keyboards clicking. You might prefer a bright kitchen table or a shady park bench. Go wherever your creative juices flow.

The second part of this step is to research. Scour your bookshelves. Search the internet. Flip through magazines. Read articles, watch videos, ask questions. Do whatever research you need to do to inform yourself to make the best decision possible.

The key to this step is full focus and concentration. Put some serious brain power into it. You want lots of active, directed thinking. This is analytical mode.

Once you’ve done your brainstorming and researching, you can, optionally, ask for feedback from others. This comes with a strong note of caution: involving others could lead to more confusion and doubt. Invariably you’ll get conflicting opinions and advice that may make it more difficult to make a decision quickly. So be careful about who you ask. Choose only those whose knowledge, experience and instincts you trust.

3. Let it marinate

Step 3 might seem counterintuitive, but now is the time to stop thinking about your decision completely.

Let it go from your conscious mind as fully as possible. Focus on other activities: go for a walk, do some housework, get out in your garden, work on other projects.

This is the marination stage. You let all that brainstorming, research and analytical thinking simmer and stew in your unconscious mind while you do other things.

This step should feel like a relief. You’ve done the hard work. Now you’re giving your brain a rest from all that effort. It’s time to relax.

4. Evaluate using your head and your heart

After all that marinating, stewing and relaxing, it’s time to evaluate your options and whittle them down to one.

How you do this will determine the quality of your decision. The key to evaluating successfully is to use your head (analytical mind) and your heart (your gut, your emotions) to guide the decision.

The rational part of your mind will want to make lists, categorize everything into pros and cons. That’s fine. Do whatever your analytical brain needs to do to evaluate and whittle down the options.

Continuing with the product name example, you might ask questions such as “Does this name make it clear to my audience what it can do for them? Is it already being used by someone else? Is it easy to spell and understand?”

These are all important questions to ask and will help you rule out options and narrow the field. But don’t let your logical brain take over exclusively. As you weigh your options, check in with your body. What is it telling you? What sensations are you feeling? Does one choice make you feel warmer and your heart beat faster? Does another leave you cold and your chest tight?

Which option feels better in your body?

Paying close attention to the sensations in your body is critical at this stage. You’ve got to feel good about your decision, both logically and emotionally. This is the only way, in my experience, to make the best decision possible.

Now, there’s only one thing left to do.

5. Make a decision

It’s decision time!

What’s that?

You’re not ready to decide?

I’m not surprised. This is where you may find yourself resisting making a final decision. You may find yourself saying “Hmmm… I’m not sure. I just need a little more time. I think I’ll run these options by my hubby again. I’ll sleep on it. I’ll decide soon.”

You’ll try to kick the can down the road. You’ll hem and haw.

Please don’t let this happen!

It’s self-sabotage. You must force yourself to make a decision so you can get past this stage as quickly as possible.

If you’re honestly trying yet still find yourself engaged in an arm wrestle with the decision, keep in mind that the best solution is often the simplest. It may be the one staring you in the face. The obvious, ordinary answer. You may be disappointed that it’s not more fancy, more elegant, more whatever — but that’s just your ego talking. Ignore it and go with the simple solution.

The key here is to admit there’s not always one right answer. You may have two or three perfectly acceptable ways to go. But you’ve got to decide on ONE.

You need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing for sure. With no assurance that you’re right, can you make a decision? With no guarantee of success?

Not knowing is the uncomfortable position that entrepreneurs find themselves in every day, and if you’re going to be a serious business owner, it’s something you’ll have to accept. Like it or not, there it is.

So those are the five steps to curing Hem and Haw Syndrome. You now know how to make decisions fast — the key to making fast progress in your business.

Now, what’s a decision that you’ve been putting off?

Start with Step 1: Set a deadline and write it down. Then off you go. You’re on your way.

About Julia

Julia Zaslow, BSc, NC, is a sought after business coach who helps holistic, naturopathic and functional medicine physicians and practitioners build profitable businesses they love. 

Julia helps her clients identify the business model that best matches their lifestyle and income goals, then supports them in implementing a streamlined strategy for accomplishing their vision quickly. 

Her clients include brick-and-mortar clinicians serving their local communities as well as practitioners who teach, coach and sell products online — or some combination of the two. 

Through her coaching, consulting, and courses, Julia has helped over a thousand wellness professionals reach new milestones in their businesses with greater ease and joy.

Learn About Julia's Approach

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