Making decisions is challenging. You would think that it would be easy. After all, we have to make dozens, if not hundreds, of decisions each and every day. Therefore, if the amount of practice were any indication of our ability to perfect our decision-making skills, it should be a simple process.
Nevertheless, most of us face difficulty making decisions capably and confidently.
Do you find decision-making is paralyzing? Or are you able to make decisions most of the time with ease but find yourself struggling to deal with specific issues or crucial choices when it counts most?
What makes it so hard? Understanding the underlying difficulty can help you make better decisions without so much agony.
Three Reasons that Making Decisions is Hard
There are many reasons that decision-making can be such a challenge. They run the gamut from learning difficulties to family patterns of indecision. However, there are some common reasons that impact most of us. Understanding those can make decision-making easier.
1. We Live in a World with Too Many Options
On one hand, we all love that there are so many choices available to us. On the other hand, having too many choices can be immobilizing. Just think about how many choices we have in some of the most basic areas of life:
- Which cereal to purchase in the Fairway supermarket aisle
- The best menu choice off your favorite diner’s menu
- Who to date from the vast array of options on Hinge
- Which social media platforms to use and what to share there
That’s not to mention all of the life-changing choices available when it comes to things like college majors, career moves, and where to buy a home.
When faced with so many options, we get overwhelmed. There is no particular way to simplify the options. Therefore, the more choices we have, the harder it is to reasonably evaluate each one.
Instead of feeling like we have all of the options in the world, we feel like any choice we make has the potential to be the wrong one. Once we make a choice, we fill with regret, mourning the loss of the option we didn’t select.
2. We Assume One Choice is the Right Choice
One of the biggest pitfalls in making decisions is to assume that there is a right choice. Nevertheless, that’s what our brains assume. We think that there is one right answer, and that if we puzzle over it long enough, then we will find that answer. Unfortunately, most things in life don’t work that way. Instead, each option has pros and cons. Since there’s no way to figure out which is better, we don’t know how to make the decision.
3. We Think We Can Predict Outcomes
Not only do we think that there is a right choice, but we also think that we can know the right choice. Moreover, we think that we can see into the future and pick the choice that will benefit us most in the long run. Of course, logically we know that we can’t predict the future. Nevertheless, we try to make decisions as though we can.
For example, let’s say that you’re trying to decide between two job options. Here are just a few of the things that you can’t really know in advance:
- Who will be working there and how they’ll impact you over time
- Who you will be working for (bosses, clients) and how you’ll get along
- What methods everyone has of handling conflict and whether that meshes with you
- Whether or not you will like the day-to-day work of the job
- Whether what they’re saying it will be like is really how it will be
You might take the job and, once there, find your best friend, life partner, or favorite mentor. On the other hand, you might find that it isn’t the right fit. Although you can weigh the options ahead of time, there are too many unknowns. If you try to choose based on the future, you can’t make the decision.
How to Make Hard Decisions
Ruth Chang, a philosopher at Rutgers University, offers some great tips in her TED Talk for making difficult decisions. Write down the two (or more) choices that you’re trying to decide between. Then go through the following steps:
1. Figure out What Matters
What is the real thing you’re trying to decide? For example, if you’re choosing between cereal and eggs for breakfast, the issue isn’t the food. What really matters is probably convenience, healthiness, and/or taste. When you know which of those things matters most then it’s easier to make a choice. If you want convenience, then you’ll pour a bowl of cereal instead of cooking eggs.
2. Recognize the Choice is Hard
Acknowledge that you’re in a tough position. Moreover, recognize that there is no right answer.
3. Commit and Create a Reason for your Decision
Choose one of the options. There’s no right option so just pick the one that seems good given the information at hand. Then, create a reason for yourself to pursue that option. If you believe in the reason and pursue the choice wholeheartedly, then making decisions won’t be so hard. Leave second guessing and regret behind.
Making Decisions is Creating Yourself
One way to shift how you see making decisions is to de-emphasize individual decisions in favor of emphasizing the development of your own core identity.
Focus on your big life values and the things that matter to you. When you commit to your own identity, you can make your choices based on what’s really true to you. You create yourself once, then you can make decisions and stick to them. You can put your heart into your choice and into aligning it with your core identity. Then, you can let go of the other options.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Sometimes you need help to learn new ways of sizing up situations and making decisions. Therapy can help. Furthermore, work with a counselor can help determine whether chronic indecision is a symptom of an underlying issue such as depression or anxiety. Please reach out soon. Feel free to read about my approach to therapy here for more support.