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What’s the reason for some of us struggling to make the simplest of decisions? (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)
I often find myself stifled by indecision.
It’s like I’m a child who can’t decide what to wear without asking every group chat I’m in.
Last summer, my partner and I became so indecisive about moving into a flat, we ended up losing money because we changed our minds after paying the holding fee.
At the start of lockdown I spent a fair amount of money on a personal training qualification that – guess what? – I didn’t finish.
I was speaking to my friend Ollie last week and he said he had the same problem: ‘It’s probably one of my worst traits,’ he said.
It was the first time I’d really thought about how much of a negative impact my inability to make decisions quickly and easily – without going back on them – was having on my life.
But, how can we be expected to make a decision when there are so many possible consequences? And why doesn’t everyone feel this way?
Why are some people so indecisive?
For most people, the root of indecision is a fear of uncertainty.
‘As humans, we like certainty,’ says psychotherapist Somia Zaman.
‘Our brains like to know what is going to happen and so uncertainty can be interpreted as a kind of threat or danger.’
While some people might be completely unfazed by the near-constant uncertainty in our lives, others find the prospect uncomfortable at best and, at worst, completely debilitating.
For Harrison, a level designer for video games, this manifests most commonly in his work-life.
He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘There’ll be times when I’m trying to design a particular element of a level but I’ll have too many disparate thoughts for how it could work that picking between them is a massive impediment to actually getting work done.
‘It carries over into my personal creative work as well.
‘There have been times where I’m partway through a project and I’ll have a shiny new idea, abandon the current thing, work on the new thing, and then start the whole cycle again within two months.
‘Basically, finishing anything creative is borderline impossible a lot of the time.’
This is likely to be linked to underlying perfectionism or a fear of failure, according to Somia.
She explains: ‘If someone is always striving to be the best and give 100%, then they are setting the stakes incredibly high at all times.
‘For people with these characteristics, the fear of making “the wrong decision” can be crippling, leaving them unable to make any kind of decision at all.’
Is indecisiveness caused by an underlying issue?
On whether indecision could be rooted in a deeper issue, Zaman says that it could be linked to childhood experiences.
‘If you have a parent who struggled enormously with indecisiveness, it could be a pattern of thought and behaviour that you picked up from your childhood,’ she says.
‘In the case of children who suffered trauma in early life, either as a result of neglect or abuse, decision making skills are often impaired in adulthood.’
Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, echoes this: ‘If you were criticised a lot as a child then you might feel so afraid of “getting it wrong” that it’s impossible to make a decision.’
Somia adds that indecisiveness can also result from anxiety and overthinking: ‘If someone gets stuck in a loop and continually ruminates on whether they made the right decision, it can be very difficult to get out of that loop.
‘Anxious people are often very intolerant of feelings of uncertainty.
‘The thought, “am I making the right decision?” can lead to anxiety and this can cause a person to remain stuck in that cycle of uncertainty.’
Fear of failure can make decision-making tricky (Picture: metro.co.uk / Getty)
When does indecisiveness become debilitating?
‘Indecisiveness becomes debilitating when you are struggling to make major decisions in your life, for example whether to find a new job or stay in a relationship,’ says Zaman.
‘For others, chronic indecisiveness can be just as detrimental when it concerns the small stuff: what to wear, whether to accept an invitation, what time to meet up with someone, or where to go and eat.
‘People can become isolated from others through the inability to make decisions, and can stop looking after themselves and their homes, when every decision they need to make is one too many.’
This is the case for Becky, 21, from Manchester, who says her inability to make decisions impacts her everyday life.
‘Sometimes I can’t decide what to wear because I feel anxious about it, which makes me late to events and appointments,’ she explains.
‘It will even impact my diet: sometimes, if I can’t decide what to eat, I just won’t eat, which is probably the biggest way my indecisiveness impacts my life.
‘On my days off, too, I won’t be able to decide what to do first to the point I don’t get anything done, which isn’t great.’
While taking your time to make decisions isn’t always a bad thing, a balance needs to be struck.
When indecisiveness keeps you from great opportunities or day to day tasks that you know will keep you healthy and happy, it might be time to get help.
‘The inability to make decisions can lead to you feeling really stuck and can start to affect your mood and motivation,’ says Somia.
‘In some cases it can be a precursor to depression or a wider anxiety disorder.’
What help is available for people suffering from indecisiveness?
For Zaman, attempting to cure chronic indecision should be left to the professionals.
‘People who suffer with indecisiveness are usually worriers, so you need to start with addressing their worry,’ she says.
There are different kinds of therapies that can address this:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
CBT can help to teach people that uncertainty isn’t bad, shouldn’t be feared and can in fact be helpful.
It gives people techniques to help them change their behaviour and address their negative thoughts.
Helping people to identify their thoughts and then challenge them can be really helpful for indecisiveness, for example asking questions such as ‘would people really be let down if I made the wrong decision?’ and ‘is there even one right decision in this instance?’
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
EMDR is another therapy that is growing in popularity.
It can help people to process and leave behind past traumatic experiences, enabling them to cope better with what life throws at them.
Though traditionally used for people living with PTSD, it is increasingly being recognised that it can help with other mental health concerns from stress, to anxiety and depression and even indecisiveness.
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