Most people who have been paralyzed by indecision also know the deleterious effect the chronic inability to make decisions can have on an individual’s life. Being caught between two equally appealing plans for a Saturday morning may end in spending half the day in bed laden with guilt. Inability to decide whether to start a home organizing project by rearranging the kitchen cabinets or purging the linen closet may quickly lead to clean towels remaining on top of the dryer for a week and a load of dishes that never really make it out of the dishwasher. A plan to start exercising and lose weight may be completely derailed when it’s time to choose a gym. While most of us have experienced indecisiveness on a comparatively small scale (“Should I wear jeans or something less casual?…Now I’m running late.”), there are people from virtually every walk of life who find themselves gripped by the inability to feel at ease when prompted to make a decision. As a result, their lives become stagnant and are oftentimes filled with anxiety at nearly every turn.
If the notion of struggling to make basic decisions resonates with you, you may be wondering whether you can be helped. The answer is yes.
Your Life is the Product of a Series of Choices
At first, imagining that a person’s life is the sum of his or her choices might seem like more of a reason to feel overwhelmed. However, re-imagining decision-making as the act that propels us through each day can also help us feel less pressured from moment to moment. Instead of concentrating on the potential for things to go very badly as a result of one misstep, a more empowering approach is to view each opportunity to make a decision as another chance to right a wrong or to build upon a previous good decision; focus on the good that may result from your choices. Shifting your perspective to one that looks forward to deciding, observing the outcome, and using that outcome as the basis upon which to make better decisions will eventually replace the familiar feelings of indecisiveness and dread with a sense of moving in a much more positive forward trajectory.
Decision-Making is Information-Gathering
Most of us are familiar with some variation of the phrase “Live and learn.” We can, in fact, learn from our experiences and use them to predict outcomes, oftentimes with a reliable degree of accuracy. However, sometimes, our progress may be hindered if we begin to think irrationally and become overwhelmed by emotion in attempting to predict the future. Harboring the fear of not making perfect decisions can have an impact that extends beyond preventing an individual from moving forward. Refusing to make a decision may also rob the individual of the opportunity to gather new information through experience. Over time, a consistent pattern of avoiding new experiences may eventually result in stagnation and lack of growth.
What’s the Cure?
The cure to indecisiveness is fairly straightforward: make a decision; then make another one. Through my work, I have found that among people who describe themselves as very disorganized, there is a certain subset that experiences severe anxiety in combination with paralyzing indecisiveness. My recommended approach to combating indecisiveness is the same as my advice to anyone who is attempting to accomplish any seemingly insurmountable goal: start small. One decision will literally lead to another. Small accomplishments will help you make decisions in areas that are highly unlikely to have lasting detrimental effects, but over time they will enable you to build confidence in your decision-making abilities.
Celebrate Your Successes
When it comes to replacing negative habits with positive behaviors, repetition and recognition are equally important. Pausing to acknowledge progress encourages the continuance of the positive behavior and can make the individual feel less frustrated and more apt to try again if he or she experiences a moment of regression along the way.
Realize Most Decisions Are Impermanent
Overall, decision-making is like wandering through a city park. It is entirely possible to get lost for a while, but parks are finite structures, and so are most of life’s situations. If you observe and note where you’ve been and remained focused on where you want to go, you will most likely find yourself on the right path sooner or later.