Is indecision running your life?

Photo by Max Abadian

Some of us agonize over every decision—big and small—to the point of paralysis. On the flip side, others fear little and make snap judgments—the “leap first, think second” approach. But no one wants a starter marriage. Neither strategy is ideal.

Over-thinkers become stuck in a cycle of endless reasoning and ultimately decide nothing, while the speedy types feel remorse and go into damage-control mode for not thinking through the consequences. What you need to find is a happy medium where you make sound decisions without regrets.

We’re great at analyzing our decisions, weighing the pros and cons and presenting convincing arguments about what we should do, but we sometimes forget that we have the gift of intuition—gut feelings that we can’t immediately explain. Studies support the idea that women are generally better than men at nonverbal sensitivity and decoding emotional messages. Our hunches really do provide valuable information even though they may initially be emotional, not fact-based.

Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less and a psychology professor at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, believes that overanalyzing is self-defeating. “The truth is that there is really little difference among top alternatives, yet we drive ourselves crazy trying to figure out which one is best for us.”

In Schwartz’s self-help book, he writes about our overabundance of choices—for everything from buying shampoo to job options—and how it can be de-bilitating. While more freedom and autonomy to make choices is generally a good thing, it does come with an emotional cost. In one study, a wealth of choices led to “demotivation” among shoppers. They felt overwhelmed and only three percent actually made a purchase. Meanwhile, another group had far fewer choices to evaluate, yet 30 percent made the decision to buy. Schwartz suggests that we can make things easier for ourselves by limiting the number of choices to be considered, especially for something that isn’t critical.

If we’re stymied by shopping decisions, it’s no wonder we have a difficult time making tougher ones surrounding issues like relationships, careers, family, finances or health. Indecision is not a good place to be, according to psychotherapist Andrea J. Moses with Toronto Psychotherapy. If you often feel flummoxed over small stuff, Moses suggests that this may indicate a more significant, underlying issue.

 “With every decision, you have to focus on what’s important to you,” says Moses. “You can’t have everything.” To quell an internal debate, it may help to write down both the good and bad points around an issue like buying a home or ending a relationship. It’s savvy to admit you don’t have expertise in a certain area and to spend time gathering information or consulting with experts or people you trust. Or you may want to give yourself a deadline as a means of pushing yourself forward.

Even if you have done everything you can to make good decisions, there will be times when the outcome is less than you’d hoped. Focus on the positive by taking a kinder approach and by being nonjudgmental. Take your own side by being forgiving, emphasizes Moses, and learn from your mistakes—even if it is as simple as what colour not to paint your bedroom. Paying attention to the negative outcomes of making clear decisions is exactly what you should avoid.

“Make Up Your Mind!” has been edited for FLARE.com; the complete story appears in the March 2010 issue of FLARE.