Decision-making can be really stressful at times. For some, making decisions is second-nature; and for some, making decisions can be so paralyzing that it’s not only stressful and frustrating, but it can get to the point of being completely dependent on others to make decisions for them.
Issues with decision-making can become problematic in relationships with others, as well as with ourselves. It can become easy to put 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 of constantly making the decisions — bigger and smaller decisions: what to have for dinner, where to go out for fun, where to live, where and when to meet up with friends, etc.
Decision-making issues can most commonly be linked with anxiety, a fear of failure, and a fear of disappointment (in ourselves and others). The cause of these anxieties 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.
There is also the issue of accountability that comes up in making decisions. Part of the paralysis can come from feeling that you’d rather not make a decision than to make the wrong one, or one that doesn’t work out so well. Especially if the decision potentially involves and has an impact on others. Having to deal with the accountability of a wrong decision, and the feeling of failure associated, can feel too risky.
Here are a couple of suggestions to begin to take back the control of making our own decisions. These won’t work magic, but it can hopefully turn you towards the right direction.
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 it’s not always so easy. It often takes a combination of understanding and working through the emotional blocks that can prevent us from moving forward (therapy), and also practicing the new behaviors, as well. So when you identify the area(s) where you’d like to make decisions, push yourself to make at least one more decision per day than the day before (active decisions are decisions with intent, passive decisions are decisions that are made by not making an active decision). 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, even if it doesn’t necessarily work out as well as hoped.
4. Allow Room for Mistakes
Not every decision is going to work out well. That’s just life, in many ways. Some will work out well, and some won’t. People can get into trouble when perfectionism takes over and they expect every decision to be gratifying and right. Sometimes the decision will be good enough, and sometimes it won’t be. Allowing room for those not great decision to be okay is important.
Psychotherapy is a good place to start if you struggle with chronic decision-making paralysis. 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.
Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy.