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6 Practical Pointers for Being Decisive When It Counts

Being indecisive isn’t a bad thing. It might mean using a slower, more deliberate process with an important decision, said Susan Lager, LICSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, N.H. For instance, you’re more intentional about a decision that involves your boss than an acquaintance. That’s because your decision about your boss affects your livelihood, while your problem with the acquaintance is less significant, she said.

In other words, in such situations being “indecisive” is really “being more intentional, painstaking and mindful of possible outcomes.”

However, being indecisive all the time isn’t helpful. If you have trouble making even minor decisions, such as where to eat, it can chip away at your self-trust and self-esteem, Lager said.

You also can remain stuck. “Chronically indecisive people often take ‘polls’ from their ‘peanut gallery,’ get conflicting responses, and become more frozen.” When you’re unable to take effective action, you might stay in problematic situations, such as a loveless marriage, Lager said.

People who are chronically indecisive have regret about their inaction later on. This might lead to depression, self-loathing, and again, diminished self-trust; “it becomes a negatively reinforcing loop.”

People who are indecisive may agonize over decisions, Lager said. They “have a high level of anxiety, which may be related to a lower tolerance for ambiguity, among other things.”

Other individuals might be indecisive because they’re perfectionists and have unrealistic standards about what’s acceptable or good enough, she said. A person who grew up with harsh, critical parents that hyper-focused on performance might have considerable anxiety about making mistakes or wrong decisions.

In contrast, people who are decisive tend to have higher self-esteem, self-trust and optimism, Lager said. “They take risks, learn from their choices and make corrections. Their action-taking often gets reinforced with responses that validate their choices, or responses which validate their initiative.”

Fortunately, anyone can become more decisive when it counts. When does it actually matter? “When making no decision and being passive may lead to undesirable consequences,” Lager said. She shared this example: You need to decide where to live because your lease is up. Doing nothing will mean “imposing on family members, paying an unaffordable rent or living in a less safe neighborhood.”

If you have a hard time making decisions – especially when you need to – try Lager’s six tips.

1. Evaluate the outcomes.

Lager suggested listing the possible outcomes of a decision and then ranking them in order of importance. “If one outcome doesn’t significantly outweigh another, then just pick one, or flip a coin.”

Here’s an example: You’re wrestling with which place to visit for your vacation. Any of the options would make a great spot: “[O]ne might rank as an ‘8’ in suitability, another might rank as ‘9’ in some ways but a ‘7’ in other ways.” Not picking one in time will rule out all the choices. In this case, “arbitrarily picking one spot might force a needed decision.”

2. Practice the “Ten – Ten – Ten exercise.”

When making a decision think about its likely effects in 10 days, 10 weeks and 10 months, said Lager, also author of The Couplespeak Series. “Looking at the immediate, intermediate and long-term effects of your decision can foster more clarity about what you want to do.”

3. Make smaller decisions.

Practice making decisions about less important things, and notice their consequences, Lager said. For instance, pick what movie you’d like to see, what you’ll do this weekend and which friend you’d like to catch up with. “See how those choices have served you, so you can feel more confident making more significant decisions moving forward.”

4. Tune into yourself.

When contemplating a decision sit quietly and tune into your body, Lager said. What feels most comfortable? What feels natural? Go with that.

Let’s say you’re trying to figure out whether to end a long-term relationship, but you feel stuck. As you imagine staying or leaving, you scan your body to see where you feel tension, she said. If you notice tension and anxiety around staying, along with a nagging feeling of dread in your gut, this might suggest leaving. If you feel more relaxed, you might decide to stay in the relationship and work through your issues.

For more information Lager suggested checking out The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work by Gary Klein.

5. Reframe mistakes.

Look at mistakes as information you can learn from, Lager said. Think of errors as “markers on a journey, guiding you forward.” Acknowledge that most mistakes aren’t catastrophic, she said. “Congratulate yourself for making the decisions, and let the outcomes be your compass as you move along.”

6. Learn about others who’ve made mistakes.

“Normalize and universalize the process of making mistakes by reading about famous, successful people and the mistakes they’ve made,” Lager said. This can help you take your personal mistakes less seriously. You might even develop “a sense of humor about your fumbles.”

To start you might check out these resources, which Lager recommended:

If you’re chronically indecisive, the great news is that you can employ different strategies to help you make decisions when it counts. The above is a good place to start.

Road signs photo available from Shutterstock

6 Practical Pointers for Being Decisive When It Counts

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Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). 6 Practical Pointers for Being Decisive When It Counts. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 17 Aug 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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