Every day we make decisions.
Some decisions are automatic, like reaching for the toothbrush.
Others are more thoughtful, such as a gift for a loved one or where to vacation.
Some decisions require more time, like accepting a job offer or investing in a home.
Yet, for some of us, making any decision, big or small, ignites our anxiety.
Small decisions feel hard and stressful.
Big decisions feel gut-wrenching and anxiously hopeless.
For many of us, indecision looks like:
“What should I wear? Did I wear this recently? What will people think? Do the colors match? Is this too dressy? Too casual? What if I look fat?”
“What do I cook? Is it easier to go out? What do the kids want? What if they’re sick of salmon? What if it’s expensive? “What if they don’t like it?”
“Which olive oil should I buy? Which one is better? Which one is worse? What if it’s not non-GMO? How will I know? What if I buy the wrong one?”
“What should I do with these piles of clothes I’ve sorted? Where should I take them? Should I donate them? Should I store them for the garage sale? What if I want to wear them again?”
“How much money is in our accounts? What’s the best thing to do with it? Should I pay off debt? Should I invest some of it? What if we need it for an emergency? What if we run out?
“What if they offer me the position? What if they don’t? What if it’s not the right fit? What if I end up hating it? What if they don’t like me? What if I can’t get my old job back?
“What if I can’t lose weight? What if I can’t get my blood sugar down? Should I enroll in a weight loss program? Which one? What if I fail? What if I can’t do it?”
These are merely a few examples of what anxious indecision might look like. I trust you have many more.
Yet, at the end of each of these examples, including yours, is no decision…and you still feel anxious.
Causes Of Anxious Indecision
Indecision most often involves confusion about choosing, fear about making the wrong decision, and a lot of “What if…?” anxiety.
Our anxiety stems from our constant worry about the future.
As experts at “What if?” we exhaust ourselves playing scenarios over and over in our mind.
Defeated, we talk ourselves out of making the decision with excuses like, “I’m too tired.” or “I don’t have time right now.”
Our fear about deciding often comes from our thoughts about:
Making the wrong choice.
Not being perfect.
What others will think.
Being humiliated or laughed at.
Getting into trouble.
Trapped in our anxiety and fear, we feel frustrated at the decision, the people, places, or things involved, and ourselves.
Side Effects of Anxious Indecision
Indecision, as frustrating as it feels also comes with consequences.
For one, indecision doesn’t solve any problem or offer any solution.
When faced with a circumstance that needs our attention, such as what to fix for dinner, indecision doesn’t feed us.
It doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, indecision actually makes the problem bigger than it is or worse.
In addition, spinning in indecision activates the stress response in our brain.
Whereas the stress response is useful occasionally, frequent activation of the body’s stress response can increase our risk of anxiety and depression, and also gut and digestion problems, and a whole host of mental, emotional, and physical issues.
Furthermore, indecision can prevent us from taking important actions that could influence our health and happiness such as scheduling an appointment to have a symptom checked out by a doctor, enrolling in a weight loss program, investing in financial assistance, or deciding to leave an unfulfilling job or relationship.
How to Solve Anxious Indecision
Ironically, solving indecision means making decisions and taking action on those decisions. Here are 4 actionable solutions that you can do today to solve indecision:
1. Start with small decisions.
If decisions scare you, big decisions will mostly like feel overwhelming. Start with a small decision such as what to wear or make for dinner. As you gain confidence in making smaller decisions, your brain will gain muscle for making larger ones.
2. Break it down.
If the decision seems too big or too much, break it down into small steps. For example, sort the pile of clothes into different categories, such as sell, donate, toss, and pack away for later. This gives the brain smaller bite-size decisions, which can move you forward.
3. Question your thoughts.
Realize that fear and anxiety are caused by your thoughts. Therefore, questioning your thoughts about the decision is important.
Write down all the thoughts you have about the decision, positive and negative. Then with curiosity, question every thought by asking, “Is this thought true? Can I be absolutely sure the thought is true?” For instance, “Is it absolutely true that we’ll run out of money?”
Cross out the thoughts that you know for sure are not true. You don’t need them anymore.
For the remaining thoughts ask, “So what? What if this happens? Will it really be the end of the world? Will it hurt or harm anyone or me? For example, “So what if I purchase the wrong olive oil? Will it really matter in the big picture of life?”
4. Be okay with discomfort.
Not all, but some decisions no matter what we decide will feel uncomfortable. For instance, accepting a new position is going to cause some anxiety and fear simply because it’s new and unknown. This is normal. It doesn’t mean that it’s a bad decision.
Even if the decision doesn’t produce the outcome that you wanted or expected, all decisions result in new learning, awareness, and insight that will inform your future decisions.
For example, let’s say you invested in a weight loss program and then maybe you didn’t reach the weight loss goals you wanted. Not all the results we achieve are exactly what we had originally signed up for.
Even if you didn’t reach your intended goals, if you gave your best effort and worked the program, I guarantee you that you learned a lot about you, your body, and the obstacles you need to remove in order to reach your weight goals.
And whereas some decisions take more time than others, you don’t have to live with the anxious side effects of indecision.
Remember, your decision is the right decision and the only wrong decision is no decision.