Decision-making can be really stressful at times. For some, making decisons is second-nature; and for some making decisions can be so tough that it’s not only stressful, but it can get to the point of being dependent on someone else to make decisions for them.
Issues with decision-making can become problematic in relationships with others, as well as with ourselves. We end up putting ourselves in a position of inferiority so someone else can “make the call” for us. At times our partners or friends can become frustrated because they end up feeling the burden to constantly make the decisions — even small decisions: what to have for dinner, where to go out for fun, where and when to meet up with friends, etc.
Decision-making issues can most commonly be linked with a form of anxiety and a fear of disappointment (in ourselves and others). The cause of this can be from several places, and usually is a combination of things. Some of us may have been raised by a dominant parent or parents who made most of the decisions (minor or major) and brought us into a comfort zone of not having to make our own decisions. There could also be situations growing up where we made our own decisions and were negatively reinforced or disappointed enough to make us skeptical to make our own decisions again. Eventually, making decisions became more of a risk or a threat, and now we look for others to take the burden from us, even if it means relinquishing some control over ourselves.
So how do we begin to take back the control of making our own decisions?
1. Make a List…
… of the areas of your life where you feel held back by not being able to make decisions, and other areas where you would like to have more control. Develop this into one list and put them in priority order. This will give you a sense of where you want to focus your decision-making energy.
2. Push Yourself
Often we desire things to be natural — to come to us without needing to consciously push ourselves. However, in reality, the behaviors that come naturally are not always healthy for us. In order to develop a behavior into second-nature, it takes motivation and practice of the new behavior. So when you identify the area(s) where you’d like to make decisions, push yourself to make at least one more active decision per day than the day before (active decisions are decisions with intent, as opposed to passive decisions that occur just because it’s the only option available). These can be very minor decisions such as what to wear, what to eat, to do a task at home, etc.
3. Remember Relationships
If you are in a relationship or a friendship where the decisions impact both of you, remember to consider them. Sometimes we tend to overcompensate when trying to turn a behavior around, and need to make sure we don’t go too far. When decisions impact other people, remember to still seek their input, and if given the green light (e.g. “whatever you want is fine”), try making the decision rather than turning it back to them. There may be some anxiety that we will disappoint our friend or partner, or self at first, but it will be a healthy and empowering step forward to take the initiative.
Psychotherapy is a very good place to get some guidance and support with strengthening areas of ourselves that we feel are a current weakness. One thing to remember when choosing a therapist is that internally we may have an urge to find a therapist who will make decisions for us and give us advice (e.g. “what do you think I should do?”). However, this would keep us in the unhealthy mindset we’re seeking to change. Approach therapy with the mindset that we want help with empowering ourselves in making decisions.
5. Reward Yourself
Keep track of the decisions you’ve made each day. When you reach a certain goal you’ve set for yourself (for example: 10 decisions in a week), give yourself a pre-selected reward. The reward doesn’t have to be big or expensive — it can be something as simple as allowing yourself to take a walk, or watch a tv show, or something else that motivates you to push yourself forward. Remind yourself you’re doing a good job when you see progress. It’s healthy to be making decisions for yourself, but just as healthy to acknowledge the effort you’re putting into improving yourself.