Have you ever found yourself putting too much time or energy into a decision?
If you struggle with being decisive, you’ve likely experienced how crippling analysis paralysis can be. You might’ve looked at others and wondered why it’s so easy for them to make decisions while you seem to get stuck on each one.
Our lives are filled with countless decisions. People have more choice than ever before on how to make a living, who to marry, and how to spend their time. The internet gives us access to every product and service we could ever imagine. We should be grateful for this abundance of choice, but more often than not, it leaves us paralyzed. We get overwhelmed by all the possible options out there, spend too much time making decisions, and constantly second-guess ourselves.
If you’re like me, you’ve spent too much time stuck in analysis paralysis and want to be more decisive. In this article, we’ll cover why you often struggle with decisions and five ways you can start being more decisive in life today.
Decisiveness was something I’ve struggled with in the past. Every choice would be such an ordeal, and always leave me exhausted. I decided to tackle this area of my life because I wanted decision-making to to take up less of my time and energy. Along the way, I picked up a few mindset shifts that helped me make decisions faster, more confidently, and with a lot less stress.
What I learned in the process is that being more decisive isn’t about making better decisions. Being decisive is about figuring out what’s actually important, letting go of perfectionism, and choosing not to get consumed by possibilities. It’s about limiting the time and energy we give to making decisions, and not giving them the power to dictate our happiness.
Ready to nip indecisiveness in the bud? Let’s get after it.
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Why you feel so indecisive
The reason you find yourself overthinking decisions is that you believe on some level that there’s a perfect choice to be made.
Let’s say you’re looking to buy a pair of hiking boots. Before the internet, you were stuck with whatever options were available at your local store. You could spend the afternoon trying on every single pair of shoes in your sporting goods store, but eventually you’d run out of shoes to try on. At that point, you’d be forced to make a choice.
But now, there’s an entire world of possibilities online. Sure, you could just buy the first pair you try on at REI that feels comfortable, but you don’t want to settle without exploring all your options because you need to know you’ve picked the perfect shoe. Because so many possible options exist, we think one of them must be the best. We won’t rest until we’ve compared every option and assured ourselves that we’re not missing out on an even better one.
In The Padradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz argues that the modern world’s abundance of options actually has a negative psychological impact on people. He summarizes the trap of perfectionism well: “Perfection is the only weapon against regret… and endless, exhaustive, paralyzing consideration of the alternatives is the only way to achieve perfection.”
The amount of options available to us in the modern world is astounding. But for many of us, the cost of all these options is an endless, misguided pursuit of the perfect one.
Believing all decisions matter equally
Throughout most of human existence, we’ve only had to make so many decisions in our lifetime, let alone every day. We now have significantly more freedom to decide how to live our lives, but we also have exponentially more decisions to make – frankly, more than our human brains can keep up with.
With so many decisions constantly thrown at us, we lose the ability to distinguish between those that are truly important and those that aren’t. We become overwhelmed when we start to believe all of the choices we make matter equally. We end up giving too many decisions the power to affect our happiness and sense of satisfaction.
When we can’t differentiate between the choices that matter to us a little and those that matter a lot, we end up giving a lot of decisions more time and attention than they warrant.
Maximizers vs. Satisficers
In his book, Schwartz identifies two different types of decision makers: maximizers and satisficers.
Maximizers are out to get the absolute best of anything, be it an electric toothbrush, a job, or a partner. They search and compare until they’ve exhausted all possibilities. They won’t settle for something that’s “good enough” if they know there are potentially even better options out there. They have a harder time choosing, spend more time and energy on decisions, but are also more likely to regret their decisions… Sound familiar?
On the other hand, satisficers are out to find something that is good enough. Once they find an option that’s good enough, they select it, and then move on without worrying that there may be an even better option out there. They’re clearer about the criteria that are important to them, as opposed to maximizers, who seek to maximize on all the criteria. Satisficers realize they don’t need to evaluate every possible option to be happy with their choice. They find something that checks their boxes, select it, and then move the fuck on.
Indecisiveness often comes from trying to find the absolute best possible option in every scenario. It stems from the belief that we’ll only be happy if we make the perfect choice. Our happiness becomes dependent on our choices.
With that much pressure on our decisions, of course we’re going to feel paralyzed. So how do we take back control and overcome indecisiveness? Read on, my friend.
How to be more decisive: 5 strategies
1. Figure out what’s important to you
in If you’re going to become more decisive, you need to figure out what’s actually important to you. This applies to both to your overall values and in specific decisions.
Figure out what types of decisions you value
What do you value? What do you enjoy spending your time on? What decisions are energizing or exciting to you?
Conversely, what areas of your life are you spending too much time and energy on? What kinds of decisions leave you feeling exhausted? Identify the areas in your life that aren’t as important to you. Reduce the amount of time you spend making decisions in those areas.
When I set out to become more decisive, I realized that decisions around food zap my energy and leave me frustrated. I’ve always struggled with picking a place to eat. I wouldn’t call myself a foodie, but I start acting like one every time I have to choose a restaurant to go to. I exhaust myself comparing restaurants, scouring the internet for photos, menus, and reviews. Suddenly, finding a place to eat becomes vital to my ability to enjoy the evening.
Unlike a foodie, I don’t enjoy studying up on every dining establishment in the area. It’s exhausting to me, and doesn’t actually contribute to my dining experience. Sure, I want to eat good food in a nice atmosphere, but the world isn’t going to end if there’s a restaurant down the street with slightly better food or a slightly cooler atmosphere.
There’s no reason this should be such a stressful, time-consuming decision for me because dining out is not that high on my list of values. Knowing this, I need to limit the amount of time and energy I invest in food-related decisions, especially compared to my foodie friends.
If you’re a foodie, then exploring new cuisines is something you value. You probably truly enjoy researching different restaurants and foods because they pique your curiosity. Decisions about where and what to eat are exciting and full of opportunity.
If you’re not a foodie, then those same decisions will be much more tiring for you. It’s not that you’re boring or have bad taste in food, you simply don’t value cuisine enough to be excited by all the available options. If that’s the case, you need to be conscious of how much time and energy you spend on decisions around food because those decisions aren’t something that bring you great value.
Figure out what types of decisions are exciting to you, and which ones are draining. Limit your time on the latter (more on this later).
Figure out the criteria you value most for specific decisions
With so many different options out there, it’s tempting to want a little bit of everything. But when we entertain all our options with no filter of what’s actually important to us, it becomes difficult to stick with one choice because everything else is equally enticing.
Next time you feel overwhelmed by a decision, take a step back. Ask yourself what the three most important criteria are for you, and what’s “nice to have but not essential.”
First, narrow down your options to those that fit all three of your top requirements. Once you have a list of choices that fit your top criteria, then you can consider other nice-to-have elements. Just don’t spend too much time nitpicking at nonessential features once you find something that’s “good enough” (i.e. satisfies the most important criteria).
For example, if you’re trying to pick a college, your top three requirements might be an excellent business program, affordability, and a large student population. Your longer list of nice-to-have’s might include good weather and an intramural ultimate frisbee team.
If one of your schools covers all three of your requirements AND has a few of your “nice to haves,” great! Add it to your short list. But don’t consider a school just because it’s on the beach (nice to have) if it doesn’t have a large student population (requirement).
2. Learn to trust your gut
Start listening more to your intuition.
If you keep gravitating towards one option but worry about missing out on the others, go with the first one. Doing more analysis and comparison might might convince your brain to make a different choice, but you won’t be able to convince your gut through logic.
The thing is, you’re going to miss out on some options no matter what decision you make. So you might as well go with the one that’s calling to you.
If you’re really having a hard time, flip a coin. Whatever emotion you’re feeling after the coin is flipped will give you insight as to what you prefer more.
Heads, you order the crab cakes. Tails, you order the burger.
- If it’s heads and you feel relief, there’s your answer! Order those crab cakes.
- If it’s tails and your heart sinks a little, you were probably wanting those crab cakes more than the burger.
- If you feel indifferent either way it flips, you probably have no preference between the two, so just pick whatever the coin flipped. No point in splitting hairs.
3. Time-box your decisions
There comes a point in the decision-making process at which any extra research, comparison, or deliberation has diminishing returns. That’s when problem solving slips into ruminating.
There’s a project management concept called Parkinson’s Law that states that “work expands to fill the time allotted.” If you give someone one day to complete a task, they will complete the task in one day. If you give that same person three days, they will take all three days to complete the task, even though we just saw that they could’ve completed the task on the first day and taken a long two-day nap for the remaining time.
Why? The amount of time it takes to complete the bulk of the work stays the same. But the more extra time you give someone to complete a task, the more they are likely to waste time either procrastinating or perfecting the already completed task.
Think about the last time you got stuck overthinking. Did you have a deadline to make the decision? Did you have a time-cap on how long you can consider your options before having to make a final choice?
Without a time constraint, a maximizer or perfectionist continues the decision-making process until they burn themselves out. This not only sucks up all your time and energy (which you could’ve been using on something you value more), but it actually makes you less satisfied with the choice you make in the end. Because you’ve invested so much extra effort into making the choice, you’re going to be hyper-sensitive to any potential downfalls of it in the future. After all that time overthinking, you end up second-guessing yourself anyway because you’re too emotionally invested in the outcome. That’s a poor use of time, if you ask me.
Don’t waste your time and energy ruminating. Time-box your decisions. Give yourself a deadline or an allotted amount of time. You have more important things to do with your time than overthink.
Let’s say it’s date night, and you want to find a new spot to eat. Instead of stressing yourself out by spending the afternoon comparing a million different restaurants, give yourself 30 minutes to browse. Set a timer. When that timer goes off, pick up the phone and call the restaurant that piqued your interest the most. Go with your gut! Flip that coin! It doesn’t matter what you pick! Take action before you have a chance to start overthinking.
4. Realize your choices won’t bring you happiness
Look, you can go wasting all of your time trying to make the most perfect decisions in the world. But that’s not going to bring you happiness.
You don’t find happiness or inner peace because you’ve made the perfect decision about what phone to buy, or what college to go to, or what bolognese recipe to try. You don’t suddenly start feeling successful just because you think you’ve chosen the perfect partner, the perfect career, or the perfect investment strategy. No matter how excited we are initially about a choice we make, we eventually get used to it and learn that it too comes with its own downsides.
If every choice you make comes with the pressure of having to be better than all the possible alternatives out there, you’re going to spend your life looking over your shoulder to see if anyone’s made a better choice than you. That’s no way to live.
Satisfaction comes not from knowing we have the absolute best of something – that’s a recipe for always chasing the next best thing – but from committing to the decisions we make and choosing to make the most of them for the sake of our own sanity.
The truth is, no single decision will make or break your happiness. Sure, some decisions have a bigger impact on your life than others (deciding what career to pursue has more significant consequences than deciding what ski goggles to buy). But ultimately, you cannot depend on external factors alone to bring you peace.
5. Don’t second-guess yourself
Being decisive isn’t just about making decisions, it’s also about owning them.
If you constantly second-guess the choices you’ve made, you put too much pressure on your future decision-making. Every time you think about “what ifs” or compare your decisions to someone else’s, you’re reaffirming that a less-than-perfect decision causes regret and dissatisfaction. This in turn raises the stakes of decisions you have to make in the future. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Your attitude after making a decision is just as important as your attitude leading up to it. If you want to be more decisive, you have to teach yourself to be okay no matter what choice you make.
Stop the cycle by sticking to your guns. Once you’ve made a choice, don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t compare your choice to someone else’s. If you catch yourself getting caught up in “what ifs,” remember that your choices don’t make you happy – it’s your choice to feel satisfied with your life as it is and not worry about all the other possibilities that truly brings you peace.
Make a choice to take back control
We live in a time where there are more choices than we could ever imagine. This should be a liberating idea, but the truth is, sometimes all the possibilities paralyze, rather than free us. We spend more time ruminating and overthinking. The pressure we often put on ourselves when it comes to decision-making leads to overwhelm, anxiety, and depression.
If there’s one thing I want you to walk away with from this article, it’s this: take some weight off yourself. Being decisive isn’t about making perfect choices. It’s about freeing yourself from the burden of endless decision-making so you can spend more time on what matters to you.
You can’t control how many options and decision are thrown at you in life, unless you go join an Amish community. But you can control how much attention you give to them.
Now I want to hear from you, what resonated with you the most in this article? Which of these strategies can you start doing today to become more decisive?
Let me know in the comments below.