My most frustrating experiences happen when I feel indecisive. When I get stuck in thinking there is a “right” answer out there & I have to work (hard) to find it.
I’m going to burst that bubble for me & you & say that there is rarely a right choice & you don’t have to hustle-hard to find it.
Let me show you how to take back your ability to make decisions by detaching from the idea that there’s a RIGHT one & not clinging so much to its outcome.
Instead of staying indecisive, try this with me: Lean into what’s preventing a choice. Redefine what a decision is. Make a new strategy for decision-making.
Some reasons why we are so indecisive:
- I think every step is a risky one.
- Catastrophize the outcome of our choices, freeze & become too afraid to decide.
- Fear what people will say or think.
- Fear what it means about us if we misstep – so we do nothing instead.
- Think that our circumstances are a reflection of our value.
- Get frustrated trying to “keep control” of what happens by never making (what we see as) a mistake.
When we’re chronically indecisive & vacillate between options, even the simplest vending machine choice can tie us in knots & eat up our time.
We spend time ruminating on whether or not to buy that shirt, bouncing between options on the menu, asking everyone, “what would you do/what do you think?” (poll taking): Should I take that job, Should I do that degree,…?
And once we finally make a choice, we’ve hustled so hard trying to get it that now we’re too exhausted, anxious & overwhelmed to enjoy it.
At this point, it’s pretty easy to get fed up and wonder: “Why can’t I decide already? What’s wrong with me?” & beat ourselves up for it. OR we don’t like the outcome of the choice we made, call it “wrong” & beat ourselves up for that & THEN spend a bunch of time in regret.
Either way, we let a thought, response or outcome INFLUENCE HOW WE THINK ABOUT OURSELVES.
1. Constant indecision is our mind’s (unhelpful) way of controlling our environment. It wants us to be safe – it’s a survival strategy. If we feel anxious about a choice, our mind senses danger. It tries to get “control” of the situation by looking around for the “right” solution to the problem that will keep us from harm.
2. Our mind is always listening. When we tell ourselves that we have to find the “right” answer, our brain starts running in all directions looking for that answer. But what is the right answer? It doesn’t know, so it looks in vain to answer an unanswerable question.
Do you see how that works?
(there’s more going on here, but let’s leave it here for now…)
Unless a MACK truck is barrelling down on you, all this primal response does is drag you through a lot of pain & strife.
So yes, we’re alive (thanks, brain), but we’re also completely stressed out!
The Leaning in – Why can’t I be more Decisive?
A big part of why we are indecisive comes from self-trust. Your primary caregivers greatly influence your beliefs about the value of your thoughts & choices.
Either overtly or covertly, if you didn’t receive teaching or understand how to value your ideas, you’ll find it difficult to trust your opinions, and you may feel unclear about decision-making. To feel safe, you compensate for that lack of self-trust.
As a result, some habits can form that we think are helpful but really are not. These are just a few of them:
- We might be afraid we can’t handle the consequences of a “wrong” choice.
- We might be hoping for a magic bullet – the hope that if we wait, something is going to happen that will either solve this dilemma or make it clear what we “should” do (Uh, yes, please. I’ll take two.).
- We think if someone else were in my shoes, they’d know the right thing to do.
- We are not allowed to make mistakes.
- Someone has to give us permission to move forward or try something new.
How To Trust Ourselves
1. Make A New Definition of Decisiveness
What about, instead of scrambling for answers to why we are so indecisive, we redefine what a decision is:
A decision is simply the option we pick that we think will get us the thing we want.
Looking at it that way, let’s address those habits that keep us indecisive:
1. “Wrong” Choice.
We can spend a lot of time thinking there is a right choice, but really, there rarely is – most things are not as black and white as that. It’s often impossible to know which choice or thought is the best.
We can search endlessly for a “right” choice or decide to trust our own preferences & choose based on what we want. (Funny how we don’t think that is an option, isn’t it?)
2. Magic Bullet Thinking.
Waiting for something magical to point the way to the right choice is a way to avoid making mistakes. It’s rooted in perfectionism (among other things). It doesn’t prevent errors; it keeps us from moving forward.
The brain thinks it’s keeping us safe by freezing instead of acting (you know it, the; flight, fight, freeze mechanism).
3. We think if someone else were in my shoes, they’d know the right thing to do.
When I am indecisive, the problem isn’t indecision; the problem is thinking my desire is wrong & judging myself for it.
Since everyone has different wants & desires, no one has a right or better answer than us. Does that make our desire wrong or less “right”? No…just different.
4. We’re all human and all allowed to make mistakes.
By our definition, a “wrong” choice is a decision that didn’t get us the thing we wanted, therefore, it’s not a moral evaluation of who we are. It’s just a choice that didn’t give us the outcome we wanted.
My response? – Change my mind. You are allowed to go back & try again—Re-Choose without judging yourself.
5. Needing Permission.
If we need permission to move ahead on a choice, we will spend a lot of time waiting. Each new life circumstance will include wrestling down a new round of questions (poll taking), false hopes & beating ourselves up for mistakes.
Every time I engage in waiting for someone to tell me what to do, I create more reasons to believe that I am indecisive & I keep myself stuck.
All of these strategies are flight or freeze responses that our brain uses to keep us safe. They are meant to be helpful, but they create helplessness & ultimately impatience & anger instead. They create confusion, not clarity & keep you frozen, not advancing.
I WANT YOU TO HAVE CLARITY.
Instead of asking unanswerable questions, give your mind a different question. Ask yourself WHY you need the right answer. Why do I need the choice to be right? What am I really looking for? What am I trying to preserve? What am I afraid of losing? What am I afraid of gaining?
THE PROBLEM OF INDECISION IS NOT THE ABSENCE OF DECIDING; IT’S THE ABSENCE OF TRUSTING.
THE GOOD NEWS? Either covertly or overtly, self-trust is taught. People who trust themselves don’t come by it naturally & nor do you!
Self-trust isn’t reserved for confident, extroverted, massive-action-types. Maybe you missed some teaching in your childhood, but you can make up for it now because self-trust is a learned skill that can happen at any age!
THE OTHER GOOD NEWS? The playing field is much more level than we think. No one has a crystal ball. Not you, not I can see the end of every story. People who trust themselves trust that they’ll learn from their mistakes and move on.
They make as many “wrong” choices as people who don’t trust themselves quite as much. The difference is that they don’t judge themselves for their outcomes.
2. The New Strategy for Indecisiveness
What if instead of believing those thought habits we talked about (& experiencing their drama), we try some other strategies?:
- Make A choice. See what happens.
- Ask ourselves if there has to be a right choice.
- Gently let ourselves know we’ll be ok if we don’t like the outcome.
- Allow a little trust – tell ourselves that we can always change our minds. If we don’t like our outcome, we can figure out a way to handle it.
- Allow ourselves a way to conclude that we aren’t defined by circumstances & outcomes.
- Indecision will happen once in a while, even with the best efforts; therefore, give yourself some grace in those times you feel indecisive. Maybe that’s just part of the human experience.
- Loosen our grip a little. Let some things happen. Allow space for life to unfold – we never had the control we thought we did.
- Even if my decision doesn’t produce the intended result, I’m not likely to wreck my life as a result. We have to work pretty hard to blow things entirely. Everything is temporary, including the results of our mistakes & our wins.
- If we are Especially indecisive about something, it probably doesn’t matter that much/won’t alter our lives which way we go. Project yourself forward a year from now, & imagine how little you’ll remember about this torturous decision process.
- Lean in and ask why: Why do I need the choice to be right? What am I really looking for? What am I trying to preserve? What am I afraid of losing? What am I afraid of gaining?
3. Write Your Own Paradigm & Avoid Indecision
The way we do business, operate in our relationships, decide what our values, attitudes, & boundaries are (or not), etc…creates the way we function in life; it’s our Personal Paradigm. Everyone has a Paradigm they operate from.
We get into trouble when our Paradigm is based on the models, fears, motivations & goals that come from someone else. The beliefs that influence someone else’s paradigm are distinct from the ones that influence you, thus you cannot adopt somebody’s paradigm because it looks good or works for them.
Equally, the beliefs that North American society puts forward do not always work for the individual. For example, we are told if we go to school, get good grades, get a degree & work hard, we’ll attain the goals we want. But that is neither necessarily true, nor does it fit each personality type. Not everyone thrives by living according to our cultural traditions.
As paradigms apply to decision-making: it is great to ask people their opinions; however when you aren’t sure what to do, count yourself in. Start to listen to your preferences & Write Your Own Paradigm.
Invest the time to learn more about yourself & what rules you want to play by instead of the ones handed down to you or influencing you.
4. Get curious about it.
Ask yourself – Is the Paradigm I operate from working for me? Did I write this Paradigm? If you are in the habit of asking others what to do when you feel indecisive, approach the suggestions of others with the mindset that you’ll select from their opinions what is right for you, not what is right for them.
Another person’s Paradigm is not going to fit you. Your Paradigm is the only one that is a perfect fit.
Your preferences count too. Our minds are listening to what we spend time on & it will begin to count that thing as valuable.
Sometimes the action precedes the belief. We value what we pay attention to. Currently, you may not value your opinions. However, over time as you listen to your preferences more, you will start to value your own desires & choices (& yourself) more.
New habits will form. As a consequence, you will feel more at peace with yourself regarding decision-making. Then you’ll start to let go of the idea of the “right” outcomes & build a heap-load of self-trust.
In the end, things turn out; however, they will turn out regardless of how much worry we put into them. Pick one (easy) thing & decide not to overthink it; allow yourself to experience that nothing bad happens.
The more we do that, the more momentum we build in our level of self-trust till one day you might hear yourself say: “Hey, that situation turned out well & I didn’t even worry about it!”.
I teach you how to UN-STICK regret or beating yourself up for making the “wrong” choices in this article: I Made The Wrong Choice. How to Stop The Decisions-Critic.
Other Relevant Posts:
Articles on Self Worth: SELF-WORTH CATEGORY
I struggled with this a lot. I finally decided to just trust that I had enough information to make “a” decision, and made it. If it didn’t turn out the way I wanted, I’d use that as learning, make sure I learned, then go on. I’ve been a lot happier ever since!
Thanks for highlighting this, Tess. I wish I read this 20 years ago…