We’ve all been there. What should you eat for dinner? Which laptop are you going to buy? Are you going to accept the new job offer or stay where you’re at? Or maybe the toughest decision of all, which Linux distro is right for you?
The story is always the same. You think about it for a while, but pretty soon your brain locks up and you come out looking like this:
At best you end up wasting a lot of time and settling for the most neutral option, which often isn’t very satisfying or enjoyable. At worst you postpone the decision for so long that wonderful opportunities pass you by and disappear.
So what can you do? How do you muster up the resolve to stop freezing and actually make decisions? Let’s find out.
The Psychology of Indecision
Indecision might be a common problem, but it’s certainly not a simple one to solve. There’s a lot of human complexity behind the wheel of this issue and it’s going to take more than a few motivational words from the Internet if you’re really going to overcome it for good.
Don’t get me wrong: victory is possible. It just won’t be easy. But before we dive into that, we need to understand why we freeze up when decisions are before us.
To start, let’s distinguish between problem analysis and decision making. The former involves figuring out which decisions you have available to you while the latter involves actually picking one of those many decisions. The difference is subtle but important because we’re focusing on the latter right now.
Problem solving, or problem analysis, consists of using generic methods in an orderly manner for finding solutions to problems.
Problem analysis is when you think about the problem at hand (e.g. “Which tablet should I buy?”) and explore all of the necessary factors that will influence the solution (e.g. price, specifications, aesthetics, etc). Through that process, you arrive at more than one potential answer (e.g. this Samsung model, that iPad model, or…)
In some cases the actual winner is a clear choice, but not always. Maybe each answer has pros and cons (e.g. the Samsung is cheaper but the iPad is more chic) and no perfect answer exists. Now you have to drill down and figure out what really matters to you, and that’s not easy.
Analysis paralysis, or paralysis by analysis, is the state of over-thinking a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.
This inability to just pick one is a psychological phenomenon called analysis paralysis. You’re faced with a number of sub-optimal choices and now you need to analyze each option and figure out which one is “the least imperfect” — but you end up over-analyzing to the point where you end up afraid of making the wrong choice.
And that’s really what it comes down to: fear is the real root of indecision.
Fear of what? Well, that differs from person to person. It could be a fear of failure, change, unhappiness, insecurity, responsibility, social pressure, etc. But it’s still fear all the same.
The good news is that fear can be overcome.
4 Secrets to Overcoming Indecision
Over the years, a lot of people have tried to solve indecision. Run a quick search on Google and you’ll find tons of advice on how to eschew fear and make decisions with confidence. Some of the advice is good, but a lot of it is ineffective at best.
Here’s what has worked for me.
Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. More than anything, indecisiveness is a mindset. It’s a distilled, concentrated form of discomfort that can drown you if you allow it to spiral out of control. So before you go making decisions, you must make peace with the fact that discomfort is not a bad thing.
What do successful entrepreneurs have in common? They embrace hardship. For most people, difficult decisions are stressful because they worry about what hardships might follow from a “wrong” decision. But really, such hardships are just opportunities for you to grow.
How many bad decisions have you made in your life up to this point? If I’m being honest, I’ve made millions of “incorrect” decisions, yet I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for those choices. They’ve helped to shape me, and the same is true for you. Personal growth comes in unexpected ways.
No matter which choice you end up making, you’re strong enough to adapt and roll with the punches. After all, you’re still here right now, aren’t you? So instead of running from tough decisions, embrace them.
One way to do that is to start a digital journal. Whenever you come across a moment of indecision, log it. Record your feelings and your thought process so that you can refer back to it later on. See what worked for you and what didn’t, then use that to help the next time you’re stuck. We have a great guide to digital journaling to get you started.
Forget the problem and relax. Try meditating. Meditation doesn’t have to be spiritual, although if you want to incorporate a spiritual element (such as prayer), feel free to do that. The important thing here is that you take a moment to unburden yourself from even thinking about the decision.
Take a break and revisit the problem later. How long of a break? As long as you can afford, whether that’s an hour, a day, a week, or longer. Often, you’ll have a fresher perspective and clearer priorities.
Never meditated before? That’s okay! We’ve covered learning how to meditate before so that should get you started in the right direction. If you find it hard to concentrate in silence, consider playing these relaxing sounds and music in the background.
Here’s a quick rundown of all the useful apps above:
Use an app to help you decide. Indecision is such a prevalent problem that several apps exist to help you make those decisions with as little fuss as possible. These apps can be as mundane as deciding where to eat, but others are quite serious.
But when you’re still early in the decision-making process, sometimes the most helpful tool is a simple mindmap.
Apps like SimpleMind on Android and MindNode on iOS are fantastic for navigating through potential solutions. Or if you prefer a web-based app, MindMup is free and simple without being too basic.
Set a deadline with a default choice. Deadlines are great. Not only do they prevent distraction-induced procrastination, they also ramp up the pressure and force you to consider what really matters in the grand scheme because now you’re under a time crunch.
But when it comes to indecisiveness, the right way to set a deadline is to say, “If I don’t have a decision by (whenever), then I’m just going to go with Y.” You need to have a default or fallback decision in case you hit the deadline and you still have nothing to show for it.
Obviously, this could present a recursive problem. What if you’re indecisive about picking a default choice? In that case, just pick one at random. Flip a coin, roll a die, or ask someone else to pick for you.
As for setting the deadline itself, you could try using Numerous (available on Android and iOS) which imports events straight from Google Calendar and generates countdown timers for you. If you’re more of a browser-based worker, try the Calendar and Countdown extension for Chrome which does something similar.
Decisiveness Requires Practice
Overcoming indecision is all about managing the fear of making wrong choices. Half of it involves changes in mindset, the other half involves picking one and commiting to that choice. But remember, it’s not a skill that develops overnight.
You have to practice. The tips outlined above will help you to make those tough decisions, and with each decision that you make, you’ll find it easier and easier to make future decisions. Keep at it and the stress will melt away in time.
What was the worst decision you ever had to make? What kind of tools and techniques do you use to help you make hard decisions? Share with us in the comments below!