Indecisiveness has many causes. But you can get better at making decisions, big and small, with practice and time.
Whether it’s a major decision, such as choosing a life partner, or a minor decision, such as what to eat for breakfast, being indecisive can significantly impact your life.
Difficulty in making decisions can be caused by several factors, such as a fear of failure and a lack of confidence or information.
Indecisiveness can also be a symptom of mental health conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If you experience indecisiveness and making decisions is a constant source of stress and anxiety, you’re not alone. There are effective methods that can help with decision making.
There are many situations that may cause indecisiveness. Here are a few.
Fear of failure
Some people are inherently more hesitant when it comes to making decisions. Indecisiveness certainly can be a learned behavior.
“Those raised in environments where decision making is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow tend to feel more comfortable making choices,” says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist. “If, however, decision making becomes associated with making errors or ‘bad choices,’ indecisiveness often results.”
For example, if a parent criticizes a child for making a poor decision, the child will avoid making decisions for fear of being seen as a failure.
“These fears can carry over into adulthood and lead to the use of indecisiveness as an unconscious coping strategy,” Manly explains. “Over time, the stress and anxiety associated with making decisions leads to an avoidance of making both small and large decisions.”
In this paradigm, decision making can have a negative impact on self-worth.
“A ‘good’ decision increases self-worth, and a ‘bad’ decision leads to self-criticism,” Manly says. “In many cases, the fear and anxiety evoked at the mere thought of having to make a decision can be quite paralyzing. This perpetuates the tendency to default to the relative safety of indecision.”
The root of your indecision may go back to parental influence.
“If someone has grown up with overbearing parents, they may not have had an opportunity to make decisions independently,” says Haley Perlus, PhD, a sport and performance psychologist. “There was never any chance for the person to fail or succeed by themselves.
“As such, once they’re given the opportunity to make a choice, they’re left looking for someone else to make that choice for them,” Perlus says.
You’re a perfectionist
Perfectionism can lead to numerous health problems, including:
“When someone constantly sees their options categorized as ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ they may find themselves paralyzed at the thought of accidentally choosing the ‘wrong’ decision,” Perlus says. “This leads to a constant back-and-forth as they struggle to figure out the correct choice.”
You’re a people pleaser
Do you constantly worry about what others think?
“If you’re a people pleaser, you may find yourself continuously struggling internally between choice A (what you want) and choice B (what others want),” Perlus says.
You’ve lost sight of the bigger picture
This goes back to focusing on what matters. Many people get lost in the details and can become overwhelmed.
“Most people strive for some kind of goal, whether professionally, spiritually, or mentally,” Perlus says. “However, when one begins to lose sight of these goals, they often start to lose sight of how they’ll get to the goals as well, leaving them feeling lost and confused when it comes time to decide which direction they should take.”
You lack confidence
Self-confidence is a key component of decision making.
“Perhaps someone does know which direction they should move toward to achieve their goals,” Perlus says. “Yet if they’re insecure, they may be able to choose the decision that’s right for them but struggle with sticking to it. Self-doubt and a lack of confidence could even mean they procrastinate.”
You lack proper knowledge of the subject
This is less internal and more due to circumstances.
“Some people may have the confidence and skills to make solid decisions promptly,” Perlus says. “If this is the case, the problem could lie in the fact that a person simply does not have enough information on the subject they need to decide on.”
You have aboulomania
This is a diagnosable mental disorder.
“Aboulomania is when a person shows signs of pathological indecisiveness,” Perlus explains. “While most people will be indecisive at some point, people with aboulomania are indecisive to the point where it is an obsession and severely affects their daily lives.”
A symptom of other mental health conditions
Indecisiveness can be a symptom of mental health conditions. In fact, indecisiveness is a prevalent symptom of major depressive disorder.
Other mental health conditions in which indecisiveness can be a symptom are:
Here are 10 methods to try that may help you become more decisive.
Make decisions for yourself
Asking 10 people about one topic will only confuse you further. Ultimately, if you trust your intuition, you will know what the right decision is.
“Nobody can give you the correct answers on what’s best for you besides yourself,” Perlus says. “Try not to allow others to be the decider between you and your goals.”
Develop your confidence
When you make a choice, trust your intuition that it’s the right decision for yourself.
“Avoid second-guessing. If you have the confidence to trust yourself, you’ll find making and sticking to decisions much easier,” Perlus says.
Let things go
The fear that comes with worrying about making the “wrong” decisions can be paralyzing.
“Try not to worry about mistakes — they’re a part of life. Once you accept that things are not always in your control, making decisions will be much less threatening,” Perlus says.
Choose one person that can act as a sounding board
There will be instances when you’re truly stumped.
“When feeling stuck, ask a supportive friend or partner to weigh in,” Manly says.
Talk it out
The simple act of speaking out loud will help alleviate indecision and internal conflict.
“If it feels right, voice your thoughts out loud to a friend or partner. Decisions can become less confusing and worrisome when we voice our fears and choices out loud,” Manly says.
Narrow it down
If you’re facing a variety of options, take a practical approach.
“Narrow down your selections to three options with a ‘surgical slice.’ Don’t question yourself. Then evaluate the final three options and pick one,” Manly says.
Outline the pros and cons
If you get stuck, draft a simple pro-con list. But the important thing to remember is to write it down. Mentally weighing the pros and cons is simply adding to the indecisiveness.
“Pro-con lists facilitate objective and sound decision making,” Manly says.
Flip a coin
Of course, this method shouldn’t be used for big decisions, such as marriage. But this will work if it’s something as simple as what to order on the menu.
“This simple trick (which I use often) makes the decision for you,” Manly says. “And, there are times when your gut knows what it truly wants when the coin lands the ‘wrong’ way.”
What’s interesting about flipping a coin is that your reaction will actually reveal what you truly want.
Avoid questioning your final decision
Once you’ve made the decision, avoid second-guessing yourself.
“Simply embrace your selection and move forward,” Manly says.
Recognize and celebrate your decisions
Congratulate yourself for every decision you make.
“Practice a kind, validating affirmation,” Manly says. “For example, you might say, ‘I made a great decision. I’m getting better at making choices! This feels good!’ If a negative voice tries to step in to create self-doubt, simply repeat your kind, validating words.”
Making decisions — big and small — can sometimes be difficult. We’ve all experienced indecisiveness.
Indecisiveness can be caused by several factors, from a fear of failure and lack of information, to conditions, such as aboulomania, depression, and ADHD.
But there are steps you can take to get better at making decisions. If you feel that indecisiveness is affecting your daily life, consider talking with a doctor or mental health professional.
For more resources and support, consider the following:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Mental Health America
- ADHD Resources: Support Groups, Books, Apps, and More
- Support Groups for Adults with ADHD
- CHADD for Adults
- ADHD Coaches Organization
Looking for a therapist but unsure where to start? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.