According to research, people make an average of 35,000 decisions each day. Some are simple, like what to eat for dinner, and others are more complicated – like deciding whether to leave your job for a new one.
But with so many choices to make each day, it’s no wonder that we sometimes struggle with uncertainty. Whether caused by anxiety, upbringing, or a lack of confidence, taking steps to become more decisive can offer various benefits.
With that said, we’ll explore some of the things that can make even the smallest choices feel insurmountable, and offer tips on how to become more decisive.
What makes us indecisive?
Various factors can cause indecisiveness. In many cases, there isn’t a single cause, but a combination of factors.
Whether it’s a major or minor decision, being indecisive can impact your life, so it’s something worth working on.
Causes of indecisiveness include (but are not limited to)…
Research has linked indecisiveness with anxiety – specifically, a tendency to contemplate anything and everything that could go wrong when faced with making a choice.
As a result, avoiding or at least prolonging decision-making serves as a distraction and offers short-term relief from the anxiety of making a choice.
Interestingly, research has found that anxiety decreases activity in the area of the brain needed to make decisions; and there’s also evidence that anxiety can cause people to make quick, rash decisions in an attempt to avoid discomfort. For example, studies show that anxiety can make it more difficult for people to accurately process all the information needed to make a good decision.
Sometimes, the root cause of indecisiveness can stem back to childhood and parental influence. The result is that you end up relying on others to make your decisions for you.
Sport and performance psychologist Heley Perlus, PhD, adds, “If someone has grown up with overbearing parents, they may not have had the opportunity to make decisions independently. As such, once they’re given the [chance] to make a choice, they’re left looking for someone else to make that decision for them.”
People pleasing stems from an emotional need to make others happy, even if it comes at the expense of your own wants and needs.
Unsurprisingly, this trait can interfere with the ability to make decisions as people may find themselves stuck between what others want and their own needs.
Fear of failure
Fearing failure can make it difficult for people to make decisions because they may worry about making wrong choices – often placing too much pressure on what’s right and wrong. The same can be said for people with perfectionist personalities.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly, PhD, fear or failure can sometimes stem back to childhood. She says, “Those raised in environments where decision-making is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow tend to feel more comfortable making choices. [Meanwhile], if decision-making becomes associated with making errors or bad choices, indecisiveness often results.”
Lack of confidence and self-esteem
Self-confidence is a key part of decision-making, and people with low self-esteem may naturally doubt their ability to make good choices.
For example, this study found that indecisiveness is associated with low decisional confidence.
Being stuck in a comfort zone
When it comes to making decisions – particularly bigger ones that carry more weight – being stuck in a comfort zone can sometimes be what holds us back.
For example, finding yourself in a relationship that isn’t right for you but offers comfort, can make it more difficult to decide whether or not to leave.
That being said, comfort zones can also impact our ability to make more minor decisions. For example, you may have found yourself in a routine of eating the same three meals each week, and find deciding which new ones to try is difficult or overwhelming.
Lacking knowledge on the subject
Sometimes, indecisiveness is simply the result of not having enough knowledge to make an informed decision.
This reason is less internal and more down to circumstances.
What are the benefits of being more decisive?
Considering the number of decisions we’re faced with each day, it’s no wonder that learning to be more decisive can bring a number of benefits.
These benefits include…
Being more decisive can save time
In her book How to Decide, American author Annie Duke revealed the staggering amount of time that being indecisive can cost us day-to-day.
She found that, per week, the average person spends 150 minutes deciding what to eat, 90-115 minutes deciding what to wear, and 50 minutes deciding what to watch on Netflix!
Even if it’s just a few minutes each day, time spent making decisions adds up. So, learning how to make smaller, everyday decisions quickly can end up giving us a lot of time back.
Being more decisive can increase positivity
Research shows that becoming more confident in your decisions can boost feelings of positivity by increasing self-assurance.
One reason for this is that when you’re more decisive, it increases belief in yourself that you have the skills necessary to carry out the plan.
Being more decisive can help you achieve your goals
American writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”
While this might not always be the case, what’s true is that being more decisive can help you develop skills that’ll ultimately draw you closer to your goals.
Alongside improved confidence, research shows that being more decisive often goes hand-in-hand with better adaptability, resilience, leadership, and problem-solving skills. For example, knowing how to make good decisions under pressure is an important skill of a good leader.
Being more decisive can remove distractions
Being indecisive can prevent us from living in the moment by always being stuck on working out our next move.
However, studies have shown that getting better at making decisions can remove a significant amount of distraction, allowing you to be more present.
Being more decisive can lead to better outcomes
Decisions made in a panic can be impulsive and lacking consideration – not always leading to the best outcomes.
However, becoming more decisive can not only make it easier to come to decisions but to make better, more informed choices too.
10 ways to be more decisive
So how can we be more decisive? We’ll cover some ideas below…
1. Take steps to boost your confidence and self-esteem
As we know from research, a lack of confidence can impact our ability to be decisive. This can be particularly true if it manifests in characteristics like people-pleasing and fearing failure.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to boost confidence and overcome these traits. You can find inspiration in our articles; 16 ways to improve your confidence and self-esteem and People-pleasing – what it is, why we do it, and how to balance it with your own needs.
2. Practise stepping outside your comfort zone
If it’s feelings of discomfort holding you back from making decisions, it can be helpful to practise stepping out of your comfort zone.
This can be in small ways to start with; for example, trying a new recipe you’re unsure you’ll enjoy or striking up a conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop. Often, once we see that nothing bad will happen, it can help to give us the resolution we need to go after what we want.
It can also be helpful to remind yourself that stepping outside your comfort zone is a positive thing – as it’s here that we tend to grow the most. Check out our article, 18 ways to step outside your comfort zone, to learn more.
3. Listen to your gut instinct
Overthinking can make it incredibly difficult to reach decisions. For example, research shows that information overload makes decisions significantly more challenging.
It’s for this reason that tuning into gut instincts can be useful when it comes to making choices.
We aren’t suggesting that you rely on gut instinct alone – particularly for bigger decisions, but it’s worth taking into consideration. For example, studies show that pairing gut feelings with analytical thinking helps people make better, faster, and more accurate decisions.
4. Take care of your mental health
Anxiety can play a large role in indecisiveness – as can other mental health conditions like depression and PTSD.
In these cases, addressing the root cause of your indecisiveness can be a valuable step to take.
5. Try journaling
If you’re facing a bigger decision, journaling can be a useful tool to help you see, and consider, your options more clearly.
You might like to write down your fears, worries, or apprehensions about a decision; explore the possibilities of each choice; or create a simple pros and cons list. Often, reflecting back on journal entries with fresh eyes can make everything much clearer. For example, you may already know what the right decision is but be held back by fear.
Check out our article on the power of journaling as a life habit for guidance on how to get started.
6. Work on becoming more comfortable with the possibility of failure
Fear of failure makes decision-making difficult. But the truth is that we all get things wrong sometimes, and that’s okay – we’re only human after all.
If fear of failure is something that you struggle with, it can be helpful to practise putting things into perspective and considering what’s the worst that could happen if things don’t go as you hoped. Very often, it’s not as bad as we imagine it to be.
Plus, according to experts, because of the way the human mind works, we tend to view decisions as permanent – particularly if they carry a lot of weight. However, this often isn’t the case either – and reminding yourself of this can help to take some pressure off.
7. Narrow down your options
In his book, The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz points out that the greater the number of options we have to choose from, the more time we’re likely to spend in analysis paralysis.
And, indeed, research shows that facing information overload makes decisions trickier – largely because more information needs to be evaluated, which can lead to overthinking.
Studies have confirmed that avoiding having too many options in the first place is one of the most beneficial steps to take. It’s thought that this may be particularly beneficial for people who struggle with anxiety, as things can easily become overwhelming.
If you have several options, consider narrowing it down to three, for example.
8. Set clear goals
It’s far easier to make decisions when you know what your goals are. Goal setting can help to keep us on track and gain a clearer idea of what decisions do and don’t align with our hopes and dreams.
For example, if you plan to save money, decisions around impulse-buying can suddenly become a lot clearer.
9. Provide yourself with enough information
While it’s best to avoid information overload, it’s also important to provide yourself with the facts needed to make a decision.
For example, if you’re considering moving to a new area, it can be helpful to do some research into what it has to offer.
10. Flip a coin for smaller decisions
It may sound simple, but if you struggle with making small, everyday decisions, such as what to wear or what to buy at the supermarket, then flipping a coin can be an excellent time saver.
Sometimes, if you find yourself disappointed with how the coin lands, it can also help you to recognise what you really wanted.
Many of us struggle with being indecisive, but the good news is that there are plenty of ways to get better at making quicker, smarter, and more effective choices. And even better news is that you’ll probably feel better for it too!
For further reading, head over to the healthy mind section of our website. Here, you’ll find plenty of other self-development articles, including tips on empowering yourself every day and slowing down time.
Do you struggle with being indecisive? What helps you make decisions? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.