Many people come to therapy when they feel like their decision-making capabilities have deteriorated to a point where they can’t even make the most basic decisions. They ask questions like:
- “I used to be a quick and intuitive decision-maker, but lately I freeze at the prospect of having to make the tiniest decision. Why is this happening?”
- “My loved ones always get annoyed because of my severe indecision. How do I become a confident decision-maker?”
- “I miss out on so much just because I cannot be in the present and choose what I want. How do I make sure that making decisions doesn’t scare me anymore?”
If you find yourself asking these questions, you might be experiencing decision paralysis, a condition that renders you stumped in the face of an abundance of choices that are difficult to compare. Chronic decision paralysis can worsen your decision-making abilities in the long run.
Making strong decisions requires you to be sharp and mentally agile. Here are three rules of thumb to bring out your inner decisiveness.
#1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
The human mind is not equipped to make unlimited decisions on any given day. Every new decision you make, big or small, adds to the cognitive load on your brain. Too much load and your decision-making powers begin to falter. This is known as decision fatigue.
One example of this phenomenon can be found in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers examined the decision-making tendencies of parole judges. While logic would suggest that judges make decisions based only on the facts at hand, the reality is that judges’ sentencing tendencies are influenced by extraneous factors. For instance, the researchers found that judges tended to be more lenient earlier in the day and right after lunch and were less lenient as the day progressed.
Here are a few ways you can avoid paralyzing your decision making faculties due to fatigue:
- Delegate or automate tasks that are not essential or do not require your specific expertise.
- Talk to a trusted loved one or a capable colleague before making a decision, especially when you are feeling fatigued.
- Make a ‘loose’ decision and review it when you are in a clearer state of mind.
#2. Do not delay the decision
Decision paralysis can trigger people’s procrastination tendencies. When we feel under-confident while making a decision, we often postpone the ordeal altogether.
However, research suggests that the more we delay a decision, the less likely we are to ever make it. In the study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, most smokers who delayed their quitting date because of lowered willpower saw the least success in actually quitting in the future.
It is for this reason that author James Clear, whose expertise lies in habit formation and decision-making, advises us to make important decisions even when we don’t feel qualified or confident enough to make them. We need to start before we feel ready to ensure that we actually embark on the journey.
Learning and reiteration can happen along the way, but it is action and not thought that predicts success or failure.
#3. Consult your values
Feeling conflicted can bring decision-making to a screeching halt. In such situations, research published in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that you should strive to ‘ego-align’ your decisions.
Ego-alignment refers to the connection between an individual’s ability to know what is expected of them and what feels like the ‘correct’ action in pressing situations. Psychologist Michael Robinson, of North Dakota State University, explains the benefits of ego-aligning your decisions here:
“Individuals who have high levels of ego-alignment are likely to live better and less conflicted lives. By contrast, misaligned individuals are essentially working at cross purposes. They act in ways that they, themselves, know to be problematic. This is a more id-like mode of existence.”
Ego-aligned decision-making can have two important benefits on a person’s life:
- It equips people to make decisions that are unpleasant in the short run but have long-term benefits.
- Due to its focus on problem-solving, it makes tackling difficult decisions a less aversive process.
Making better decisions, in most cases, is not about superhuman intelligence. Instead, one must work on their resilience, integrity, and self-awareness to become a better decision maker.