NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, The Healing Project.
Do you have trouble making decisions? Is a decision as simple as what to eat for dinner or which movie to see enough to send your head spinning? Do you second-guess your decisions immediately after you make them and wish you could turn back the clock and do something different?
Indecisiveness is a common problem and one I’ve suffered from tremendously over the years. I have driven myself crazy when wrestling with all types of decisions, from the large to the seemingly insignificant. I have wasted countless hours in weighing pros and cons and wracking my brain to make the “right decision,” and I have lost out on things I’ve wanted by taking too long to make up my mind.
Dennis Prager on Indecision
I recently listened to a broadcast of Dennis Prager’s Happiness Hour on the topic of indecision. Both Dennis and his callers presented some powerful points on this important topic which have made a difference in the way I approach decisions in my life. This post highlights some of these key points and I hope it will help you to combat the perils of indecision.
Dennis Prager gave an example of a man who was looking to buy a house. He found two homes which met his basic criteria; both homes were great, but the man couldn’t make up his mind. He had spent months trying to decide which home to buy and will very likely lose out on both options as a result of his indecisiveness. I have had this type of thing happen to me with job offers and potential purchases. Because I couldn’t make up my mind, the decision was made for me and I lost control of being able to decide my own fate. I was paralyzed by my fear, so I didn’t get what I wanted. I lost out on both door number one and door number two and was left “back at the drawing board.”
Looking for Absolute Certitude
Those who have difficulty in making decisions are looking for absolute certitude that they will make the right decision. Unfortunately, that is something we just never get! As Prager said during his broadcast, “Where in life do we ever get absolute certitude?” Most of the time, we just don’t get to know what’s right beyond all shadows of doubt, so we have to proceed without knowing the outcome.
The indecisive don’t trust themselves to know or do what’s right. They are plagued by both fear and self-doubt and are constantly looking for external validation. It is not uncommon for such people to ask everyone they know for their opinion on a pending decision but not feel helped by the input at all. They continue to engage in their “paralysis by analysis” and all their frenetic pondering only serves to keep them running in place and not moving forward in life!
Surprisingly Simple Advice
The advice given by Dennis Prager is surprisingly simple. He recommends that when we are struggling to make a decision, we should ask ourselves, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I make the wrong choice?” A healthy attitude to adopt regarding decisions is to say, “So what if I make the wrong decision!” It is very rare in life that we can’t undo a decision. Most of the time, we are able to turn things around if we find ourselves going down the wrong path. Sure, it can take some courage and effort to course-correct, but it’s doable in most instances.
Even if a choice can’t be undone, often the gift of time will bring us perspective such that we don’t end up regretting what we’ve chosen. For example, many divorced people do not wish they had never married in the first place. Rather, they are grateful for the good times in their marriages, as well as the lessons they learned as a result of the dissolution of the union.
Two Good Choices, No Bad Outcome
When you think about it, many decisions are between two good choices and there are really no bad outcomes. The man who was wrestling with his house decision had two excellent options before him. While it’s possible that one house was a bit better than the other, neither would have been a bad place for him to live. My struggle to settle upon a career bears strong similarities to the house example. The options in front of me were all good and I seriously doubt I would have been miserable with any of them. My indecision has led me to dabble in a variety of professions instead of resolutely following a singular path. Thus, I have not achieved the level of career mastery that I would have hoped for at age 44.
My brother experienced similar career confusion for much of his life and found himself paralyzed by indecision for a number of years. Fortunately, through the encouragement of his wife, he finally made a decision (without certitude) and became a teacher. A decade later, he is satisfied with his choice and has made a difference in the lives of many young people. Would he have been just as happy in one of the other professions he’d considered? It’s very likely, as his options were based upon research and consideration, not random selection.
Set a Time Limit for Decisions
Dennis Prager recommends that we give some thought to the options before us and then make our decision! It can be very helpful to set a time limit for rumination and consideration. Keep the time limit short and after it has elapsed, force yourself to make a decision. I remember a trick I learned (I forget where…) in regards to decision-making. If you’re stuck between option A and option B, flip a coin. On which side the coin lands is not nearly as important as your reaction. You likely know in your gut what you want to do, but you are letting your emotions lead you astray. The way you react to how the coin lands can tell you a lot about what you truly want to do!
Key Points on Decision-Making
I close with a recap of the salient points made by Dennis Prager:
- We never get to have absolute certitude regarding decisions.
- Ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
- If you wait too long to decide, you often lose out on BOTH options!
- Much of the time, the choice is between two (or more) good options.
- It is rare that a bad decision cannot be undone.
- Set a time limit for rumination and then make a decision!
While the points above may not immediately “cure” you of your indecisiveness, they can make a big difference in the way you approach decisions moving forward. Setting a time limit can stop the “paralysis by analysis” phenomenon that can present a strong roadblock to your happiness. Decision-making is a skill like any other. With practice, it gets easier and you do a better job with it. Won’t you join me in combating the perils of indecision?