How many decisions do you make in a day? Small decisions, big decisions, life-changing decisions.
You wake up in the morning, and right away, you need to decide what to wear. Should you go with a bright blue or stick with a safe black and white?
Other decisions are bigger. Should you keep a simple hairstyle, or have your hair dyed with colorful streaks? Which kind of car should you get? Should you choose this career or that career? Should you take out a second mortgage?
I venture to guess you spend more hours ruminating than you would believe.
For some of us, however, it can be tortuous trying to determine the best bet. The fear of choosing wrong can make you lose entire hours of your life. As you go through the motions of your day, you keep on with a back-and-forth, pro-and-con inner dialogue. And even then, you might not come up with an answer. You’ve wasted hours of headspace and still can’t come to a conclusion.
For some people, self-doubt and perfectionism actually prevent them from ever really being satisfied, as they are plagued by misgivings over literally everything in their lives. Perfectionists are never content, as there is always something more perfect that they can’t obtain, leaving them perpetually discontented. This is a very great shame.
If you have a moderate case of indecisiveness, you might take too long to choose a meal from the menu at a restaurant. If you’ve got a severe case, you might never get around to ordering at all – or you might order a delicious meal and be unable to enjoy it, too busy wondering if something else would have been even better.
Yes, no, maybe, I don’t know: These kinds of words overwhelm an indecisive person time and time again. They are upsetting not only to the person who can’t make a decision but to the people around, who are also affected.
In this post, I’d like to go over some ideas to bear in mind as you work on this challenge.
What might have been
It’s hard for a nervous person to calm down; I know that. But expending so much effort to determine exactly the right move in every circumstance is mind-bogglingly unfair to yourself.
All anyone can do is use their best judgment. First and foremost, you need to accept that—however hard it is to stop—second-guessing every option, dwelling in a constant mindset of “coulda, woulda, shoulda,” does not help improve your insight. It’s just highly neurotic.
There is no clairvoyance here. It is impossible to foretell the future.
I knew a couple who, as high school sweethearts, were certain they’d be together forever. They got married young, started a family, and then, over the years, grew apart. Eventually, they decided that it would be better to separate and give each other a chance to be with someone truly well-matched.
How could they have known they would ever come to make such a decision?
I’m also familiar with another pair of high school sweethearts who were subject to an extended engagement when they were forced to conduct their relationship long-distance for several years. When they were reunited, they found it so difficult to adjust that they began to seriously doubt whether they should follow through on their engagement. They agonized over the decision and very nearly broke up. But they didn’t. Twenty years later, seeing what good partners and friends they are, it’s hard to imagine anything other than this happy ending.
In both instances, each couple had to consider: “Where will we be down the line? Is our relationship worth betting on?”
None of them could have guessed where they would end up. They made the best choices they could, but life is a crapshoot. It’s hard to place your bet on a winner every time.
Since you can’t make the right choice 100% of the time, all you can do is hope that your decisions are made in a sound and healthy way.
This means being scrupulously honest with yourself. Don’t ignore warning signs in favor of something you want to be true; don’t invest in whims and fantasies that you know, deep down, are built on make-believe.
What do I mean by this? Let’s say you’re dating someone who has just recently been through a nasty divorce. Although there are times when it’s sweet between you, ninety percent of your time in this new relationship is spent listening to tales of woe about “that lady” and “those damn kids.”
You can’t decide whether to stay in the relationship. You can see that he is bitter and rooted in the past, but what if in a short period of time, he will have said all he had to say and be ready to move onto business with you? Wouldn’t it be a waste to throw this chance away?
This is a magical belief. Staying in such a relationship is not what I would call a healthy choice.
Don’t deliberately defy things that in front of your nose. Don’t ignore facts and act on impulse when you know better.
Listen to the little voice that warns you when you’re being reckless. Look at your desires rationally and consider the consequences of your actions.
This soul-searching is different from ruminating. Ruminating is investing in over-blown worries. It usually involves staying alone with your thoughts, going over the same points again and again.
Soul-searching is asking: How can I live in the best way with myself? Taking this question seriously can involve writing about it or turning it over with a friend or professional. Bringing it out of your head and into the world, you can keep it a normal size instead of hyperbolizing it.
And after you’ve put a reasonable amount of thought into a decision—go live with it. At that point, overthinking won’t help anything. It will just drive you nuts.
A mistake is not the end of the world
The final point I want to make is that a mistake is not the end of the world.
All of us septuagenarians have accrued a lifetime of decisions and have lived with the consequences of those moves. And if I’ve learned one thing in my life, it’s that most of our decisions can be changed.
I have met people over the years that absolutely can’t stand the choices they’ve made. You come to visit them in their homes and they’re crabbing about this item of furniture, this other part of the décor. My advice is: If you don’t like it, change it!
Of course, you should give things a chance first. I’m not saying to immediately nullify all your own decisions because you don’t trust your judgment.
I’m also aware that for bigger decisions, this is one of those things that is easier said than done. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. If you want to live well and be well, I don’t recommend continuing to live with a decision that is making you unhappy. Instead, get up and do something about it. Take some action and get this devil out of your head.
And hey, you may even find that the new plan isn’t as good as the old one. That’s okay, too. More often than you think, you can go back to the way things were with a fresh appreciation.
Unless you are a prophet, you do not know what the future holds in store for you. To be a decisive person is to think rationally and hope for the best. You can’t know what’s going to happen, whether it’s a national disaster or a personal tragedy. But you do need to have some resolve if you’re going to do anything in life.
Be thoughtful, be brave and be flexible. The future will happen how it happens; all you can do is meet it.