Why Can’t I Decide?

lady in front of a chalkboard with lines drawn in every which direction - resembles how she cant make up her mind and make a decision

Are big decisions keeping you up at night? Is fretting over the benefits and risks ahead of you taking up your time for work and rest? Are you losing sleep trying to decide which path will bring you to success and which one will lead to ruin?

Stop it.

“I want to stop it,” you say, “believe me! But this decision I have to make—so much is riding on which way I choose to— ”

Stop it.

And I don’t say that facetiously. Right now, the way you’re trying to reach your decision, you’re bouncing back and forth from the first option to the second, worrying over which one will end up doing the most harm—trying to avoid making the wrong decision. The problem isn’t the decision.

The problem is your fear of making the wrong decision.

“Sure it is!” you’re shouting back at me. “I have to make the right decision. If I make the wrong one—”

Stop it. Let me tell you this: You can’t make a decision out of fear, and especially, you can’t make a decision out of fear of being wrong. You’ve turned this into a binary choice—left or right, up or down, right or wrong…

Success or failure.

And that fear of being wrong is why you’re stuck. But the good news is, there is a way out: give yourself another choice.

I know, I know—you’re already wrestling with two options, and I’m asking you to add a third. At a glance that seems overwhelming.

But not really. What’s holding you up and costing you sleep right now is the binary nature of the way you’re trying to decide, the either/or, the right/wrong. With a third option, you won’t be choosing between success and failure. You’ll be selecting the best choice among your options.

So no more fear of being wrong.

10 Steps to an Easier—and Better—Decision

Don’t make your decision either/or—that limits your thinking to one option for success and one option for failure. Instead, give yourself at least three, so you have multiple good solutions you’re confident in.

Here’s how you craft your best-choice, no-fear-of-being wrong, three-way decision:

  1. Define and write out what the actual problem is.
    Often, we can’t make a decision because we don’t have a firm grasp on what it is we’re trying to accomplish. With an incomplete picture of the problem, you end up with “blanks spots” in your vision of the desired state. Doubt will then spring up at the time of decision because you don’t fully understand how your choices will affect those “blanks” in your vision of the final results. So for any important decision, make sure you have as complete a picture of the problem as you possibly can.
  2. If you’re experiencing any feelings around the decision, write them down, along with any of your cognitive biases you’re aware of.
    Look at the problem and the decision you’re facing over it. Are there any feeling that come up in you as you think about it? Fear? Anger? Sadness? Loneliness? Write those feelings down. Then think about why this problem and decision provoke those feelings in you—are you ending a project you championed but hasn’t worked out? Reorganizing so you’ll have to work with people you’ve had issues with in the past? You have a right to your feelings, but you need to understand how they affect your decision. Also—and this can be tricky—note to yourself any cognitive biases you may have that could affect your thinking on the decision. Do you have an anchor that leads you to favor low cost over all other options? Are you risk-averse, and tend to play things “safe” so you don’t chance greater change for greater gain? Do you tend to “jump on the bandwagon” and trust the opinions of a specific group over your own? These all can certainly affect how you feel about a decision, and being aware of such biases can help you better understand the feelings you’re experiencing around the decision.
  3. Define when the decision has to be made.
    Is there something time-sensitive about the problem? Then you definitely need a timeframe for your decision. And even if there isn’t any time pressure, set a deadline for when the decision needs to be made—otherwise, if you’re like most people, you’ll just let it set until something happens that forces your decision. And then, suddenly, you’ll feel the pressure start.
  4. Define why is the problem is a problem.
    In other words, whatever the issue is, why does it need to be addressed? Some issues are more important than others, while some things are quite unimportant. Write down reasons why a decision around this problem has to be made. It may help you see how much—or how little—you need to be worrying about it.
  5. List possible solutions.
    Make a list of your options to address the problem—at least three. Be creative. Expand on the options you list, ask yourself what’s the opposite, and note any what-ifs that come to mind. Do some thinking and brainstorming and see how many approaches you can take to solve the problem.
  6. Do a pros and cons analysis of the possible solutions.
    Once you have your list of possible solutions from the previous step, write the pros and cons of each. This will help you see not only which ones are stronger solutions, but also what the different solutions have in common, which can help you to identify which ones are your strongest choices for solving the problem.
  7. Pray.
    Personally, I can’t emphasize enough how reaching out to God for guidance can help you find the insight or perspective or wisdom needed to reach a decision. Just ask Him.
  8. Decide how confident you are in your answers.
    Score each solution you came up with on a scale of 1–10. Just write the number next to each solution, so you can see which ones you’re most sure can succeed in solving the problem.
  9. Decide which risks you need to mitigate or test.
    Look over your solutions. Which ones would create risks you need to somehow mitigate? Which ones would you need to test just to find out what risks they might carry? Note this for each solution.
  10. Write down the next three action steps to take.
    Now you have your list of solutions. You’ve noted the strengths and risks for each and the timeframe a decision regarding the solutions must be made. And you’ve worked out your own feelings and biases around the decision. What are the next three things you have to do? Write them down and put them on your calendar (remember, no task exists until it’s scheduled on the calendar!).
Polaroid of blank spaces held in someones hand

At this point, if you’re still feeling the fear of making the wrong call, you’re missing some information, and it’s that unknown that’s causing you stress. Go back through the list, and look for the gap that’s leading you to feel uncomfortable and get it filled in.

And then get some sleep. You’ve let this stress you out for too long!

Is there a technique that works for you when you need to make a decision? Share it with us in the comments!