Psychologist William James once said, “there is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”
Okay, that might be a bit hyperbolic. But anyone who has stared at a menu for 45 minutes while breaking into a sweat can testify to how agonizing indecision can be.
Why are we afflicted by this hideous beast? There are a plethora of factors. Low self-esteem, insistence on perfection, fear of failure, lack of direction, and previous bad experiences are all contributors to the inability to choose.
So how do we avoid this predicament without resorting to flipping a coin? By going into the battle well-armed. Here are five questions to answer when you’re afflicted by decision paralysis.
What is it I want, anyway?
“If I knew what I wanted, I wouldn’t have trouble making the decision in the first place!,” you may sometimes think. But that’s the wrong way to think about the question; we’re talking long-term wants, not immediate gratification.In other words, what are your goals?
While your short term want may be: “I want food!” your long term goal might be “I want to eat more greens and less meat.” Suddenly with your goal in the front of your mind, the best decision becomes much easier to make–and it ain’t the nacho grande platter.
Am I succumbing to confirmation bias?
What is confirmation bias? Put simply, it’s when we only hear what we want to hear. Most of us think that we make choices based on all the facts. Before making a decision, we look at the pros and cons, one side and other.
Except that we don’t. All of us have the tendency to pay more attention to information that supports our already existing beliefs than information that challenges it.
Say you’re trying to decide whether or not to take out a small business loan for your startup. The idea of owing a large hunk of money to the bank is terrifying to you, so you decide to do some research on the internet.
Great idea, but here’s the problem: if you’re already trepidatious about a loan, you’re much more likely to notice and retain articles with headlines like “The Small Business Loan That Destroyed My Life” even if there are seven times as many articles about how a loan helped a start-up.
The lesson? When you do your research, be aware if all the evidence points exactly where you already thought it would.
What will others think of my decision?
We could tell you, “Don’t worry about what others expect you to do!” but reality check–most of us think about what others expect us to do, even when we try not to.
So rather than try to ignore your thoughts, let’s take them head on. If you know your Aunt Gina frowns on borrowing money from people and would want you to have a bake sale instead, write that down.
There are two things that can happen. First, you’ll see that trying to get the approval of everyone is an exercise in futility. Second, you’ll know to keep an eye out for times when you find yourself leaning toward your aunt’s choice, despite reasons not to.
On which day do I typically make the least number of decisions?
Guess what? Making decisions takes energy. The less energy you have, the more likely you are to make impulsive or irrational decisions. This phenomenon is called “decision fatigue”.
There’s a reason all the candy and gossip magazines are right by the cash register in supermarkets and not in the first aisle. Marketers know that by the time we finish our grocery shopping, we’ve made possibly hundreds of choices, and our brains are pooped from doing it.
We’re much more vulnerable to making that impulse candy purchase when our brain is tired.
Of course decision making isn’t the only thing that causes fatigue. Lack of sleep, sugar crashes, work stress, and all the other usual suspects are detrimental to making rational choices. Calendar a day and time when you know you’ll have energy to sit down and make your decision.
What’s the worst that can happen?
We’re not being snarky here! Go ahead and ask yourself this question. Get out pen and paper and write out a few scenarios that could result from making the “wrong” choice. Once you’ve written them out (and noticed that “imminent death” is not among them) you can and make a plan how to handle each situation, should it arrive.
Answering these questions might not result in giant neon letters spelling out the answer to your big conundrum. What it will do is mitigate the panic , get your head in the right place, and help you forge ahead.
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