Feeling uncertain is a normal and healthy part of human experience. Second-guessing ourselves before making a decision helps create space to evaluate if the choice we’re making is truly going to have the best outcome for us.
The problem is, sometimes our hesitation paralyzes us from actually making a decision. Most of the time, eternal indecisiveness can harm us more than if we simply made a choice and lived with the consequences.
Here are a few common reasons we can have difficulty getting clarity on our choices:
- Having difficulty choosing between what we want and what we think somebody else wants for us
- Experiencing competing internal voices (e.g., “part of me wants to do this, but another part of me wants to do that”)
- Feeling detached from a sense of who we are, our values, or identity
- Trying to make accurate predictions of the future consequences of our decisions; feeling fearful of negative outcomes
There are certainly an array of additional reasons why people can waffle between options, but these are some of the more common presentations I encounter in counseling with my clients. Here are a few tips to help you overcome these common hurdles:
Identify your Decision Hurdle
If you’re having seemingly endless trouble making a major decision, it’s important to first identify which of the above hurdles may be impeding your ability to make a choice peacefully.
Often, several of these items are at play at the same time. However, there is usually one in particular that seems to be getting in the way more than the others. Start with the one that’s giving you the most trouble and then you can work your way through from there.
Have a look at the list of hurdles above and check in with yourself to identify which of these may be your biggest impediment to making a choice. You can skip ahead below to the hurdle you’re needing help with.
Toggling your own Preferences vs. Someone Else’s
This hurdle can manifest in a few ways. Sometimes our loved one is giving us direct advice about what choice they want us to make: a family member is pressuring us to marry a specific person or our partner is telling us what job offer they think we should accept. Other times, there is a sense of group momentum: all of our friends are going to the same church or college, or society seems to tell us we should make choices a certain way. It’s also common for us to make choices based on what we assume someone else might expect from us, even if they never communicated any preference to us.
Depending on which of the above situations you may find yourself in, the solution lies in being able to free yourself from the expectations of others. If a loved one is giving unheeded advice, you may need to communicate to them how this is unhelpful to you, or possibly set boundaries if they believe they are entitled to tell you what to do. If there is a group of people making a similar decision, you may be helped by going to a trusted person who can verbally remind you that you are released from making the same choice as everyone else. Lastly, if we’re making assumptions about what someone else expects from us, we may need to have a conversation with them to see if that’s actually true, and potentially communicate our need to feel released from their expectations of us.
Competing Internal Voices
All of us have several internal voices offering us direct feedback. I’ve written an article on this topic you may find helpful: How to be at Peace: Embracing an Integrated Self
I also have a video describing a journaling exercise to help you feel more integrated:
Feeling Detached from Ourselves
It’s impossible to make sound choices if we’re disconnected from the fabric of who we are and what we value. If you’re feeling out of touch with what makes you who you are, I’ve found the tools from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to be incredibly helpful. Here are a few resources to help you get in touch with your values using techniques from ACT:
Self-Help Workbook: Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Steven C. Hayes (2005)
It’s absolutely helpful to weigh out our predictions of the future, but we must balance that with an understanding that we can never predict the future with 100 percent accuracy. The only guarantee is that there will always be things in our future that go differently than we predicted.
If getting caught up in knowing what the future holds is keeping us from making a decision altogether, there is often some kind of fear living within our indecision. It’s common to feel fearful of what might happen if the choice we make leads to negative consequences. If this is the case for you, it’s important to learn to face that fear: what might you do if the worst case scenario were to happen?
If you have a tendency toward any of these decision-making hurdles or others, you may also benefit from the help of a professional.
I know this sounds like a lot of work. It is! But I think you’ll find the payout of a sense of freedom to make your decision and the ensuing peace of mind with the choice you make will be well worth the effort.
As always, I’d like to be clear that this blog post isn’t intended as professional counseling or clinical advice. If you’re in need of support, please consider speaking to a professional to be evaluated.
Dr. Marie Fang is a licensed psychologist offering therapy and counseling services to individuals in the Silicon Valley. Her office is located in central San Jose. Learn more about Dr. Marie Fang’s services.