Discover practical strategies that can help you become more decisive.
Do you often feel torn between two or more options that sound equally appealing? If you do, you’re not alone. Every day, we need to make numerous decisions, big and small. Maybe you start your decision-making struggle when picking an outfit in the morning or thinking about whether you want your eggs for breakfast to be scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, or fried. Later in the day, you might spend hours thinking about whether you should authorize a business transaction or which job offer to accept.
Indecisiveness is the difficulty we have in making satisfying decisions (Appel, Englich & Burghardt, 2021). When we are indecisive, we evaluate and reevaluate the same set of information. We may spend a long time weighing the pros and cons of every option, only to be paralyzed by them.
Sometimes indecision is caused by having too many options to consider, such as when browsing the shelves of a supermarket for salad dressing and there are at least fifty different bottles to choose from. Nevertheless, the inability to make decisions has also to do with our upbringing and the society we belong to. For instance, a multinational study has found that Japanese individuals exhibited greater indecisiveness than American and Chinese participants (Yates et al., 2010).
Researchers have also found that childhood trauma alters brain activation patterns involved in decision-making. Simply put, young adults who experienced traumatic levels of stress as children were unable to evaluate risks associated with options, which in turn hampered their ability to make sound decisions (Birn, Roeber & Pollak, 2017).
How to Work Through Indecisiveness
Occasional indecisiveness isn’t all that bad. If you are indecisive because you are carefully weighing your options, you are likely to avoid rushing into decisions that you might regret later. That being said, if you tend to be indecisive in many situations, you may end up wasting your mental energy on trivial matters. Here are a few strategies to overcome indecisiveness that you might find helpful.
List pros and cons for each option. Determining what you might gain or lose in each case, especially for significant decisions, may help you narrow down the choices or pick the one with the most benefits. It also enables you to visualize yourself in each scenario so that you can determine which option you are more comfortable with.
Do your research. If you consider an important decision, such as whether you should accept a job in a different state, you might want to research your job responsibilities and expectations. You may also try to find out whether you’d be happy in the town or city where the job is located. Try visiting the area and absorbing as much information as possible about the company and the town.
Avoid the perfection trap. Nobody is perfect, and people make mistakes. It is okay that others snicker behind your back when you fail at something or do a subpar job. Sometimes we have to fail to learn. Otherwise, you will perfect only one skill: avoidance.
Reduce options. Have trouble figuring out which cereal you want to eat? Where to go for your honeymoon? What to wear in the morning? The cure might be limiting your options. Again, remember Steve Jobs only wore black turtlenecks for a reason.
Establish default options. You might take a pen and paper and make a list of go-to options for everyday decisions. This strategy automates some of your decisions, and you know exactly what to expect. For instance, I have go-to menu items at restaurants I frequent. I tend to order these default meals unless I crave something else.
Flip a coin. Stuck between two options that are equally good (or bad)? Flip a coin and save your mental energy for something else.
Appel, H., Englich, B., & Burghardt, J. (2021). “I Know What I Like”–Indecisiveness Is Unrelated to Behavioral Indicators of Evaluation Difficulties. Frontiers in psychology, 4042.
Birn, R. M., Roeber, B. J., & Pollak, S. D. (2017). Early childhood stress exposure, reward pathways, and adult decision making. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(51), 13549-13554.
Yates, J. F., Ji, L. J., Oka, T., Lee, J. W., Shinotsuka, H., & Sieck, W. R. (2010). Indecisiveness and culture: Incidence, values, and thoroughness. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 41(3), 428-444.