Difficulty Making Decisions
A day is made up of hundreds of small decisions. I’ll wear this; I’ll buy this; I’ll have this for lunch; I’ll go here at 3’oclock; I’ll respond to this e-mail; I’ll delete this one.
For some people, none of this is a big deal. For others, however, making decisions (big and little ones) isn’t easy. They agonize over what to do, vacillating back and forth, and second guessing themselves even after the decision has been made
Emily was in the diner with her husband. After several minutes of reading the menu, she said, “Um, let’s see. I don’t know what to order. Maybe I’ll have the burger; no wait, the pasta sounds good. Or, maybe the soup and salad. Don, what are you ordering? OK; that sounds good; I’ll have that too.”
Don gets annoyed. He doesn’t understand why she finds the simplest decisions so difficult. Just decide, he tells her. And stick with it. To short circuit her indecisiveness, he sometimes makes decisions for the two of them. Emily does not find this helpful. Indeed, she gets annoyed with him for being so controlling. “But we’d never decide anything if I left it up to you,” he retorts.
Good decision making is a skill that comes easy to some people, not so easy to others. Choices are confusing. Choices can make you anxious. They can cost you peace of mind, even after you’ve made the decision. Have you ever spent hours in your head trying to “undo” the choice you made? “Oh my God, I wish I hadn’t done that!”
The skill of good decision making has become increasingly important. Why? Because we have an abundance of choices, both with the simple things in life (ordering from a menu) and the serious things in life (choosing your cancer treatment).
If you would like to improve your decision making, here are five strategies that might help you do just that.
1. Accept that you can’t have it all.
Decisions force us to close the door on other possibilities, small ones and big ones. You can’t order every delicious dish on the menu. And there will be paths not taken, careers not chosen, experiences not encountered. Would your marriage to your old love have worked out better? Fantasize all you like, but you’ll never really know. So, visit the “what if” scenario if you must, but do not invite it to take up space in your gray matter. Let the past be. Live in the present where what you do today will make a difference.
2. More thinking is not always better thinking.
It’s often good to think through your decisions. But don’t overdo it. Research can reach a point of diminishing returns, confusing more than clarifying. Good decisions can be made relatively quickly based as much on intuition as on meticulous assessment of endless data.
3. Don’t defer decisions endlessly.
Yes, there is a time to put off making a decision. Perhaps, you need more information. Or wish to consult with your accountant. Or wait for a less stressful time. Just don’t wait so long that the decision is made for you by someone else “You didn’t take care of it so I did it my way.” Or, by the passage of time, “Sorry, the application deadline was last week.” Or, by your being so upset with your own indecisiveness that you make an impulsive decision “oh, what the hell, I’ll just sign it.”
4. Trust your intuition.
Intuition is an impression, a perception, an insight whose origins you may not fully understand. It can be an important source of information. Do not ignore it. But don’t confuse intuition with impulsiveness. Impulsiveness is the urge to do something to meet an emotional need of the moment that often (though not always) leads you down a path you’ll regret.
5. Some decisions don’t work out as expected; this doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong.
You decide to go on a cruise. You choose a luxury liner. Everything should work out just right. Only you didn’t count on a bug that spread through the ship, making you and your family sick for 5 days. You berate yourself for making such a stupid decision. No, no, no. You did not make a stupid decision. It’s just that sometimes the unexpected happens. You’re understandably disappointed. Just don’t be hard on yourself or blame yourself for what happened.
Here’s to happy decision making!
“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable
to the terror of indecision.”
Who’s Top Dog,
Your Rational or Emotional Self?
Lots of things aren’t good for you. You know it, yet you do it. You know you should exercise more, but it’s so much easier to just veg out on the couch. You know you should limit your time on social media but it’s just so addictive. You know high caloric foods aren’t healthy for you, yet they’re just so delicious.
What’s going on here? How come we don’t do what we know we should do? What happens to our rational mind when it’s in opposition to our emotional mind?
Most people take pride in their ability to reason, believing that it dominates their decision making. However, except for a few totally rational beings (those we think of as sensible and sober), most of us think about what we’ll do, then act on our immediate emotional state.
How come you assured yourself you’d limit your casino losses to $100 and now you’ve lost $1000? “I was on a winning streak. I was feeling so great, I couldn’t fold. Then before I knew it everything went south.”
How come you promised yourself that the next argument with your loved one will not escalate into a yelling match, yet it did. “When he pushes my buttons, I become a ticking time bomb of emotions. Then I lose control of everything and act in a way that I regret.”
How come you weighed the pros and cons of what car to buy, then, at the last minute, let the salesperson talk you into a more expensive model? “Yes, I thought it through. But then I thought, what the heck, you only live one life. Why not make it a good one.”
Let’s face it. Emotions dominate our decision making. The more intense our emotional state, the less control our rational mind has. Hence, if you’re tired, angry, frustrated, or hungry, you go for the quick fix. Grab a snack, flip on the TV, check out social media. Do anything but exercise or cook a healthy meal.
All of this makes us easy targets for friends or family members who have their own agenda. “Go to the gym tomorrow. I want to go to the mall now.”
For flatterers whose compliments are seductive. “You look fine. Why work up a sweat working out when we can go out for a delicious meal.”
For advertisers who lead us astray with their tempting offers “Hurry on in; don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime offer.”
Does your rational mind always need to play second fiddle to your emotional mind? Not at all. Here are three ways to helps you change your patterns.
1. Awareness helps.
Once you’re aware of how your emotional brain sabotages your rational brain and stop making excuses for it, you’re halfway there.
2. Change your BUTs to ANDs.
Be on the alert for your use of the word BUT. But I’m too tired. But I’m too busy, But I forgot. Change every BUT to AND. Then watch the magic happen.
I’m tired AND I still need to work out.
I’m too busy to cook AND I still want to eat healthy.
I messed up AND I’ll get right back on track.
3. Make the Rational Part of Your Brain Top Dog
The emotional part of your brain wants to be in charge; it wants you to take it easy. Your rational self wants to honor your resolutions. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to find a way for both selves to co-exist. To do this, you need to make the rational part of your brain top dog. This in no way implies that you want to get rid of your emotional self. No, no, no! How else are you going to enjoy yourself? No need to morph into Spock. Your rational self’s job is to proportion out a time to play, a time to work, a time to be lazy, a time to be get going.
When your selves work together as a team, the end result can be phenomenal: A vigorous you with a free spirit that uses the positive energy of both of your awesome selves.
“Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution
long after the excitement of the moment has passed.”
— Cavett Robert
Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist and success coach. She specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns.