How to Overcome Indecision
Do you suffer from indecision? Do you waste a lot of time making small decisions? Do you worry about what to eat? Or what to wear? Or maybe you’ve been putting off a bigger life decision you’ve been wanting to make… like your career direction or even relationships. Whatever it is you’re contemplating, I’m here to help you take some steps forward. Why? Because I went through the same thing. I understand how crippling indecision can be in your life. And I want to use my experience to help you. By the time you’re finished reading this piece, you’ll have everything you need to take steps forward.
A Cautionary Tale About Indecision
But before I dive further into how you can overcome decision paralysis, let me share a story with you. It’s a story about a man who suffered from indecision all his life. When he was just eight years old, his parents were on the verge of divorce. Except, he wasn’t going to let that happen. Believing that there is an answer to every problem in life, he did the only thing he knew how. He put together a 55-minute presentation for his parents. And as he had hoped, the presentation worked. His parents were convinced to stay together. This sounds like a happily ever after story. But not quite. In fact, this moment became both a blessing and a curse for him. Let me explain.
He began with good intentions. He wanted to live a thoughtful life. Thinking deeply and making sound decisions with every opportunity. Believing that there is a perfect answer for everything in life. His weakness became apparent at a very young age. Starting as early as grade school.
During P.E. class he struggled to pick his teammates when he was named captain of the soccer team. He wanted to consider all the facts. And think about how his decisions would impact the people around him. This sounds very noble on paper. But just imagine yourself as a grade-schooler in P.E. You probably just want to play the game already. But here you are watching your classmate taking all the time in the world. Every moment he takes thinking about his decision is a moment lost to enjoy the game.
Unfortunately, this young man didn’t realize just how damaging this pattern of thinking has been for him until it was too late. His long-time girlfriend left him because of his indecisiveness. And he even lost his place as the Best Man for his best friend’s wedding. And worst of all, his indecisiveness led to an accident that ended his life. How did this happen? He was standing outside his apartment with his friend. He stood outside for 30 minutes trying to decide which bar to go to. And out of frustration, his friend yelled out to him:
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BE YOUR FRIEND! YOU ARE INCAPABLE OF MAKING A SINGLE DECISION!
And the poor young man responded by saying, “Look, I know I can be indecisive but what’s the harm in taking a few extra minutes to find the perfect…”
And then it happened.
An Air Conditioning unit fell out from his window directly onto his head.
And in an instant, his life was over.
If this story sounds vaguely familiar to some of you then your intuition is correct. This is the story of Chidi Anagonye from NBC’s “The Good Place.” And if some of you felt bad for laughing at this story, you don’t have to anymore. This is just a fictional story from a TV show. Nobody actually died from indecision.
Consequences of Indecision
I hope that you don’t struggle as much as Chidi did with decisions. But maybe you saw a bit of yourself in Chidi. I think we’ve all been in his shoes at some point in our lives. I know I’ve had a fair share of struggles with indecision. It prevented me from making progress in life. Not making a decision gave me the illusion that it was protecting me from failure.
There are consequences for everything we do. They can be both negative or positive. But what most of us don’t realize is that there are also consequences for what we don’t do. And that not making a decision is also a decision. In Chidi’s case, his decision to contemplate which bar to go to kept him in a spot long enough… for the fatal accident to happen. And even when Chidi wanted to make the perfect decision to pick his teammates during P.E., he forgot one crucial detail. That the time he took to decide was taking time away from everyone to play the game. Including himself.
As humans, we all have a desire to succeed. We want to make good decisions. Thinking things through can help, but not if it takes too much time away from playing the game. Life is meant to be lived. And as much as you want to, you won’t always play a perfect game. But when you have time to play and reflect, you learn from your experience. You become better. In the spirit of making better decisions, here are 8 simple steps to help you get unstuck.
8 Easy Steps to Help You Get Unstuck
1. Write Down Your Thoughts
When you can’t make a decision it’s because your thoughts aren’t clear. Writing your thoughts down will help you organize them in a way that makes sense. You have to get out of your head to make your thinking make sense. And the best way to do that is to write them down. By physically drawing out what’s on your mind, you have something more tangible to work with. Think of writing down your thoughts as trying to solve a math problem. Solving problems all in your head will most likely overwhelm and confuse you. It’s the same when you make decisions. You make decisions to solve a problem. And you can solve problems more efficiently when you organize your thoughts.
There’s also an emotional side to writing. Not only is it practical for problem-solving, but it’s also therapeutic. It’s a healthy way to express yourself. When you internalize your worries and fears, they will come out of you in the form of anxiety. And sometimes even anger. Your thoughts and feelings should be expressed. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to write. What you write down might not make sense at first. But it’ll give you a good starting point to complete your thoughts. Don’t worry about making the writing perfect. You’re not going to show this to anyone. This is just so that you have an outlet for your thoughts. It’s a way to keep your mind clear so that you can move on with your day. So after you’ve written down your thoughts, do what all creative people do. Walk away from your problems.
2. Walk Away from Your Problems
If you have the time, I give it a day before reviewing what you wrote down. This will give your mind just enough time to form new connections amongst your thoughts. This is a common process used by writers, designers, and even engineers. Whether you’re writing a book, designing a car, or building a rocket, you use a similar process to solve problems. You first start with a rough draft or a mock-up. And you give it your best effort to solve your problem. But the moment you get stuck is when you should step away.
When you shift your focus from your conscious mind away from your problem, you create headspace. This space allows your subconscious mind to come up with a solution. This is known as the incubation process. What’s ironic is that you can block yourself from coming up with a solution. Your subconscious mind cannot work on anything that you’re actively focused on. You can only get it to work by first working on it consciously, then letting it all go.
So make it easy for yourself. Write down your thoughts and go on with your day. Go do something fun and engaging. Like playing an instrument or painting. Preferably anything that will keep your mind away from your problems. This might seem like escapism, but there is a fine difference. You’re not doing this to escape. You’re stepping away so that your mind will be ready to face your problems. When you return to your writing the next day, you’ll have solutions you couldn’t have imagined before.
3. Rewrite and Reorganize Your Thoughts
Re-read what you wrote down the day before. Question the fears and worries. Are they truly valid? And more likely than not, your writing will not make sense. So ask yourself, how can you make all this make sense? Then try to rewrite and reorganize what you’ve written down. Write them in a clear and articulate way. What do you notice that you didn’t see before about your problem? Set a time and get to work. Write down what you’ve learned.
You might discover that you need more information on some aspects of your problem. And that’s perfectly fine. Why? Because you made progress by writing down your thoughts and giving your mind enough time. You’ve now come up with actionable steps to find your solution. You’ll also notice that your level of anxiety has gone down from the first time you dealt with your problem. What seemed overwhelming might not seem that way anymore. And as you research and weave together a solution, you’ll see a clearer path.
4. Talk To A Friend
Talk it out with a friend who genuinely cares about you. Ask him what he thinks about your thoughts. Through conversation, you can reaffirm your ideas. Better yet, a better idea might emerge as a result. There’s also comfort in knowing that you’re not alone with your problems. When you try to solve everything on your own, you give yourself the illusion that you’re all alone in this world. That couldn’t be any further from the truth. There’s not a single problem that someone in the world hasn’t faced. You’re not alone in this.
Talking to someone else other than yourself will help you see your problems in a new way. Your friend will give you an outside perspective that would be nearly impossible for you to come up with on your own. Because the problem is yours, detaching yourself from it to see the bigger picture would be difficult. But a friend who isn’t facing your problems can give you a more neutral perspective. Think of your friend as a ringside coach in a boxing match. He’s there to help you see what you can’t see. And best of all, he’s there to encourage you when the going gets tough.
5. Set a Deadline to Decide
Don’t take more time than you need to make a decision. Set a deadline to decide no matter how you feel. Just like you set a timer to write down your thoughts, you should do the same with decisions. In life, timing plays a crucial role in everything you do. You delay your own progress by the amount of time you spend deciding what to do next. Life is short. And we’re all on limited time. So give yourself the gift of life that’s well-lived. You have every right to spend more of your life living rather than worrying.
I know this is much easier said than done, but you can make this easier for yourself. How? By turning the act of setting deadlines into a habit. Practice it in your daily life every time you have to make a decision. For example, the next time you decide what you want to eat, set a timer. Set the timer to a time that gives you just enough time to make a good decision. It shouldn’t be more than 10 minutes. When you practice this in your life on the small decisions, you’ll have a better time making bigger decisions.
6. Listen to Your Intuition
Time for second-guessing is over. Do what feels right for you. As long as your decision aligns with your values, you should move forward. There’s a time for everything in life. And once you reach your deadline, it’s time to go. It’s a time for boldness. And rightly so, you should feel confident about your decision. Why? Because you put in more work than most people do. At this point, you’ve organized your thoughts through incubation and research. You’ve also had input from a friend who has your best interest.
It’s true that your feelings alone won’t help you make sound decisions. But this is the best time to go with how you feel. You’ve already developed your thoughts into a decision that makes sense to you. And when this happens, positive feelings will lead you to your first step. So trust that feeling and go where it takes you. You’ll surprise yourself with how liberating it feels to follow your instincts.
7. Let Go of Perfectionism
Depending on what your problem is, you won’t always know right away if your decision was a good one. So give it enough time. Keep going down the path that you picked. If it isn’t going smoothly in the beginning, stay patient. You can learn as you go. Decisions are never perfect. And life is never perfect. But don’t let that stop you. Even when it’s not the way you imagined. First, make the progress. You might feel confused and more lost than you initially anticipated. And that’s perfectly fine. It’s all a learning process. You’ll learn what you need to know as long as you keep yourself moving forward.
When you feel like you’re getting nowhere, you’ll feel discouraged. But that doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong path. Struggle your way through it so that you can reap the fruits of your labor. Keep a good record of your experience. You won’t know right away where it will lead you. But when you make mistakes, you learn what doesn’t work. And when you learn from your mistakes, you become better at what you do.
8. Reflect On Your Experience
The only way to make better decisions is by learning from your mistakes. Reflecting on your failures might be painful for you at first. But the pain is always worth the rewards. You’ll have a much better time in the future if you learn from your mistakes. One of my favorite formulas for life came from the Billionaire investor, Ray Dalio:
Pain + Reflection = Progress
When you take your painful experiences and reflect on them, you will gain new insights into your life. You’ll never live a perfect life. But you can always make your life better. By learning from your pain, you can make better decisions. And when your good decisions accumulate, you’ll arrive at a better future.
Now that you know how to get yourself unstuck, what will you do next? Whatever it is you’re pursuing, you can approach it without fear. Without the fear of failure, you’ll finally have the breakthroughs you’ve been looking for. You’ve got what it takes to confidently make decisions. My hope for you is that you’ll live your life without second-guessing yourself.
Just remember that decision making is a skill. And like any skill, you can develop it if you practice with the right strategies. If you want to dive deeper into growing this skill, check out these awesome resources below:
- Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
- Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
- Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
- The Challenge of Indecision by Dale James Dwyer Ph.D.
- Writing to Heal by Bridget Murray
- What Are the Stages of Creativity? By the Interaction Design Foundation
- Perfectionism: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention by Healthline