Decision-making can be so hard for many of us at times. We go backwards and forwards between options – one moment it looks crystal clear that we should do A, half an hour later it seems equally obvious that B is the superior course of action.
In some really sticky cases, we carry on and on with this seesaw. We decide, we undecide, we agonise. We bore friends to death. We want to keep our options open, so we procrastinate and put off the decision until we’re pretty much forced to act.
In the worst cases, the decision won’t go away even after we’ve made it, plaguing us with regrets (as soon as the choice is made we realise – for definite this time – that the other was the right one after all) and self-blame (how could we not see this before?).
What exactly is our problem? There are several but here are three main culprits:
First: We want it all! We value many things, and often they clash: staying in our comfort zone as well as getting out of it; commitment and excitement; the old and the new. We like to think there’s a perfect decision that means we won’t lose out on any front. And sometimes we can indeed have a bit of both. Sometimes, however, we have to close the door on something we value, and we hate doing that.
Second: We can’t read the future. We’d like to have a cast-iron guarantee that it will all work out for the best, but life is fundamentally uncertain and we can never be sure it will.
Third: We give things far too much importance. Some decisions really don’t deserve the time and energy we devote to them.
So what can we do? Here’s a list of strategies that might help you to tame your decision problem:
1 Understand that the fundamental problem is the human condition. We can never have everything we want and we can never know in advance how things will work out. You’ll just have to get over it!
2 Aim for good enough. The decision doesn’t have to be perfect, only sufficiently thought through.
3 Do your homework. It’s worth spending some time:
– working out the likely consequences of each option;
– checking what values are at stake, and which matter most;
– asking yourself what gut feelings are around and whether they are telling you something important or misleading you.
4 Have a plan. If you come to a conclusion about what to do but are still prone to veering in the opposite direction, how can you help yourself to stick to your decision?
5 Don’t spend too much time on unimportant decisions. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter. Ask yourself: will this really make a difference to my daily life?
6 Once you’ve made a decision, try not to do too many post-mortems too soon. Give it time.
8 Talk it through! If you can’t see the wood for the trees, an outside perspective and a little probing might help.
Antonia Macaro is an existential psychotherapist and philosophical counsellor with long experience in the field of addictive behaviours. She has particular expertise of working with ambivalence and decision-making. She works in Bristol and offers one-off or short-term consultations on decision-making as well as ongoing sessions.