Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I’m a tad indecisive, not about everything, but most things.
Here’s a typical experience: I’m at a restaurant, perusing (i.e., studying) the menu and pondering. I ask what everyone else is having, and ponder some more. Then I chat with the server. If I’m wavering between two dishes, I ask what’s the better option. If I just have one meal in mind, I focus my questions on that dish. After I get the answer, sometimes, I think some more. Aside from being a super fun dinner date (fortunately, my boyfriend and friends just laugh it off now…most of the time), I clearly have decision issues.
So what’s my problem — and yours if making simple daily decisions feels like you’re gearing up for the choice of a lifetime?
An article in Forbes magazine offers some insight:
Most of us rarely face such harrowing decisions, but we do struggle to make basic, daily choices. That may be because the “rational brain,” known as the pre-frontal cortex, can handle just four to nine separate pieces of data at once before it begins to oversimplify the problem and focus on irrelevant details as a way of narrowing the choices. The unconscious brain, in contrast, processes much more information than that and is often the source of instincts and emotions that influence our decision making.
The limitations of the rational brain mean that we need to learn to identify when we are gravitating toward the wrong solution, says Lehrer. Studies of consumers weighing numerous factors, for example, have shown that excessive analysis led to worse decisions than when relying on intuition to make a final choice. The opposite was true for those considering just a few factors: Analysis served them far better than instinct.
Aside from the technical stuff, indecision, I think, is a mix of having way too many options, being afraid of making a mistake, wanting to be perfect and sometimes simply forgetting what you want (or focusing on what others think you should want).
Help for Making Good Decisions
Either way, decision-making can be overwhelming. What helps is being thoughtful in your approach (to a point, of course; feel free to use my dinner example as a what-never-ever-to-do or at least not always).
ADDitude magazine has an excellent piece by ADHD coach Beth Main on making decisions. While the tips are for people with ADHD, they’re still helpful for anyone in making wise decisions, big or small.
I’ve excerpted some of Main’s valuable advice from her post:
- Determine how much time to spend on the decision. Set a deadline for yourself, or determine an appropriate amount of time to spend making a choice. If you tend to make impulsive decisions, this will help you be more methodical. If you usually spend too much time, this will help you rein things in.
- Define your requirements. What is your goal? Spend a few minutes thinking through what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. It doesn’t matter if you’re choosing a college or deciding whether to accept a party invitation, being crystal clear about what you want — and why — will ensure the best outcome.
- Go on a fact-finding mission. Spend some time researching your options without evaluating them. You’re just gathering information at this point. Trying to decide before you have all the facts complicates things immensely.
- Consider the consequences of each choice. What will it cost you? What will you gain? It’s okay to consider your emotions. “I just want to” is perfectly valid, as long as you’ve considered the other factors as well.
- Last resort: Flip a coin. If the choice is still not clear after you’ve gone through all this, just pick something. You may be fighting perfectionist tendencies, which include a fear of being wrong. It’s okay to be wrong sometimes! If you’ve gone through this process, you’ve done everything you can to make an informed decision. You’ve done your due diligence. Make a choice and move on. Even if it doesn’t work out, you can take pride in having made a well thought out decision in a timely manner.
And here’s some wisdom from this piece by psychologist Nando Pelusi, which gets at the decision-making angst I was referring to earlier. We worry so much about making the right decision that we work ourselves up, and ironically enough, end up sabotaging the process.
You can practice confident decision-making by remembering a simple dictum over and over: You cannot have certainty and you don’t need it. By accepting that no certainty exists and that you don’t need it, you’ll instead harness intuition and, by extension, confidence.
Here’s the paradox: If you give yourself a vacation from fretting, you tap into something that may have gone unheard—your ability to reason. Reason is the human’s ace up the sleeve—no other animal has it to our degree. However, the font of reason is located in the neocortex—the most recently developed part of the brain. While all mammals have similar brains, ours (and perhaps chimps and dolphins) have developed reasoning abilities. But what happens when the ancient part of the brain gets freaked out? We get primitive, and usually self-defeating.
Ask yourself why certainty must be part of a decision. You can thereby embrace the answer and drop the angst.