Can't Make Decisions? (A Strange, Effective Strategy for Anxiety and Decision-Making)
One of the most frustrating aspects of anxiety is that it can be hard to make decisions.
When I'm at my most anxious, decisions become almost impossible.
I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and then I feel that there are extra weights on top of the world...that is on my shoulders.
But I learned something surprisingly useful over the years, and it has greatly reduced the weight I feel when making decisions.
It comes down to the difference between decisions and choices.
Decision? Or Choice? (When You Can't Make Decisions...)
A lot of the time when I'm stuck trying to decide something, I'm actually making a choice.
I don't actually need to make a big decision at all.
What do I mean by this?
There are going to be times in your life when you need to make a decision.
What do I want to pursue for a job?
Do I want to go on a second date with this person?
Should I buy this car or that one?
These are decisions, and depending on who you are, they can be fairly big ones.
There are potentially negative consequences for anything that you choose with a decision like these.
And making a decision leads to getting a lot of data in response--data you can use to then, hopefully, make better decisions in the future.
But, the more I thought about the anxiety I've had in my life, the more I've realized that it's not about decision-making that I typically feel so bad.
It's about choice-making.
By choice-making, I mean the loads and loads of mundane things that happen to us every single day.
Should I watch this or that?
Should I read this next or do this instead?
Do I answer the phone when my friend calls out of the blue or do I let it go?
These are common situations that have caused me tremendous anxiety.
For one, they catch me off guard a bit.
I haven't had the time to fully prepare for them. No clear process went into deciding what to do.
Professor Barry Schwartz wrote an influential book on this called The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.
He argued that the more choices we are offered, the less likely it is that we will be able to make a decision.
But with big decisions, it's usually not the case that we don't know what to do. Usually, the right way to go with a big decision is pretty darn obvious.
No, it's the little choices every day that gnaw at you like tiny bugs that just won't leave you alone.
Do I want to cook something, or should I order out?
Do I have time to send these emails?
Should I send these emails?
A multitude of questions fills up my mind each day.
And it is this multitude that most causes me anxiety.
So what is a person to do about this?
What happens when you don't make a decision?
What does it even matter if you recognize that you're struggling with little choices and not big decisions?
Actually, it matters quite a bit.
When You Can't Make a Decision, Try This to Beat Your Indecision
When you're dealing with decision anxiety, first, you need to determine if you are making a big decision or a small choice.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when you're indecisive:
The next time you're wondering, "Why am I so indecisive?" consider these questions:
What is the long-term impact of this? Is it big or small?
Will it impact me for years or moments?
Is there really a wrong choice here?
What would actually happen if I made the wrong decision?
Is there a clear process I can follow to make a decision or is this one of those little things where any old choice is probably fine?
If it's a big decision, there are actually tons of resources you could use to help you with that process--and you could probably do a Google search to find them. You probably know of many decision-making tools already.
But if it's a minor choice, then you need to do something else.
It's the minor choices we don't talk about enough.
We get obsessed with the potentially negative consequences of making a bad decision or choice.
But one of the biggest things I've learned about choices is that they--wait for it--don't really matter that much.
Before you go all Mount Vesuvius on me with fumes of anger, hear me out.
It probably doesn't matter if I send an email or read a book.
It probably is not a big deal if I answer the phone or don't.
What matters is that I commit to just one thing--and do it.
The Pomodoro technique has worked wonders for me--I set a timer for 25 minutes and just commit to one thing.
Nothing eases anxiety like action.
This is true even if you're dealing with anxiety or depression. Especially if you're dealing with those.
I've lived with both, and I still get in anxiety spirals.
Sometimes, even the smallest choices feel like mountains for my brain to climb.
For little choices, action is better than rumination.
When I get stuck thinking for minutes on end, I'm usually stuck in a loop that action could break me out of.
In Conclusion: Use the Decision vs. Choice Framework
Of course, you can find exceptions for anything. Twitter users remind me of this daily when I tweet literally anything at all.
But the decision vs. choice framework has been so helpful for me when indecision is causing me anxiety.
When I can't decide, I first think about what I'm deciding on.
And more often than not, I realize that what I'm worrying about really doesn't matter all that much.
I realize that I take myself more seriously than I need to.
Now, I know that your life is important.
The time we have here is all that we have, and we need to make the most of it.
But the next time you are feeling stuck in your thought process, I encourage you to think about thinking.
Then I encourage you to take action.
I think what you'll find is that the mere process of taking a simple action is often enough to get you out of your indecision.
Don't beat yourself up when you feel you can't make a decision.
Just realize that you always have options for how you respond.