On Habitual Indecision

Choices painting  David Larson Evans
(c) Choices painting by David Larson Evans

This book, or that? Stay home, or go out? Go to the park or go somewhere else? Do this or do that? Do it now or do it later? These are only some of the frequent dilemmas that tire my brain and the brain of many other people who, like me, struggle with habitual indecision. If you happen to be one of them, you know how stressful habitual indecision can be – deeply ingrained in our brains, it goes beyond whims and preferences and turns our minds into swamps out of which we can’t seem to extricate ourselves. But we can deal with it.

The problem with indecision is not just that it wastes time that we could otherwise spend more effectively. Even relatively mild indecision can create a stressful, disabling tension, sapping our brains of energy. What’s more, indecision can be quite distracting, drawing our minds away from the present moment, from the here and the now, and into a mental tangle of projections, guesses, recollections, and doubts.

A certain Mark Zuckerberg, of whom you may have heard, wears the same gray shirt every day. Why? So he can minimize decision fatigue – the more choices we make during the day, the harder each one becomes for our brain. He also eats the same breakfast every day, for the same reason.

If you happen to be chronically indecisive like me, at least on some days, you have probably realized that it’s not simply a question of “making up our minds,” as some people would suggest we do. We cannot rid our brain of indecision altogether, but there are plenty of things we could do to alleviate it on a daily basis. We could start with the following…

  • Recognize and accept the fear underlying our indecision – often it is it a fear that makes us hesitate, especially when it comes to big decisions

  • Put an end to over-analyzing by setting a deadline for our analysis

  • Remind ourselves that many decisions are reversible

  • Plan our days in advance, jotting down the main objectives without being too rigid about our schedule, so that we won’t have to decide whether we do this or that, stay here or go there

  • Figure out what we want to buy before we actually enter a shop – same applies for online shopping, which gives me particular trouble

  • Narrow our reading preferences to a reading list from which we can pick what book to read next based on our mood, or even at random

  • Reduce the number of small, relatively insignificant decisions we have to make every day so our heads are clear enough for big decisions

  • Think our more important decisions on paper – writing helps clear and crystalize our thinking

  • Using breathing exercises and meditation to still our indecisive minds

  • Reminding ourselves than in many cases, the consequences of making the “wrong” decision is preferable to the stressful idleness of indecision

In the end we should remember that indecision can be a good thing – it can make us stop and think carefully about what we are about to do and weigh the pros and cons. Perhaps it’s better to be indecisive than impulsive. But not too indecisive.

Are you ever indecisive? How do you deal with it?

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12 thoughts on “On Habitual Indecision

  1. I like what you have to say on this issue. I tend to be impulsive , as you have written it doesn’t hurt to spend some time making decisions! 🙂

  2. Good post, how to streamline the day.
    Ultimately the fewer choices we have leaves more mental processing for other things, but in that case there needs to be other things to think about.
    I think indecision is largely ingrained as a child, either being given too many options, a sea of choices or none at all, but certainly procrastination however it comes about majorly affects our day to day choice making. But is it a personality trait or habitual in itself?

    1. Perhaps a bit of both? Even if it’s not naturally embedded into us, some of us are definitely more susceptible to it, and I don’t think it is always a reaction to an underlying fear or to external pressure.
      I wonder if Freud wrote anything about indecision – will have to look into that.

  3. A fascinating post! I can be both indecisive and impulsive. I dislike restaurants with extensive menus. I tend to zone out of the first ten minutes of dinner table conversation as I frantically try and scan the menu and whittle down the options. Inevitably, once the waiter comes to take the order, I choose something entirely at random I previously hadn’t even been considering. But this pattern runs through much of my life. It’s quite exhausting. I shall try wearing grey for a week and see if that helps! 😉

    1. Oh, the menu problem! I have it every time, whether it’s extensive or not, so much so that sometimes the other people at the table have to suffer because of it. Any color would do, I guess, though you may want to avoid yellow, which apparently “lessens” creativity. 🙂

  4. I’m a civil engineer by profession and I often encounter this. Especially when dealing with clients and architects. If you present to them multiple schemes or designs, thy sometimes can’t give you their decision right away. Some takes weeks. So as their engineer, my job is to sort off things before I present it to them. In practice, I only present 2 to 3 proposals to the clients and architects. At least, the decision making will be faster this way.

    Personally, I also prefer to make decisions for the shortest possible time. But things won’t go your way all the time. There will always come a time that you will have to delay your decisions. Just like when I buy new shoes. I should stick to my budget and go to a store or brand that I already use.

    Advance happy father’s day to all dads here!

    Den

    1. That’s interesting. I believe they do the same thing in marketing, i.e. narrowing down the options they present to customers to no more than 3 or 4. Beyond that, the mind is overwhelmed by too choices and a disabling tension is created, which can actually discourage a purchase.

  5. Thanks so much for the blog post.

    I, myself am frequently indecisive. Sometimes making decision on buying clothes makes me spending a lot of time. And after I get several items, I realize that I make a wrong decision. Why did I buy the piece of cloth? I feel bad about myself. I feel I’m a slow decision maker. It makes me silence and fear of rejection when my friends ask about my stand on decision making. I feel so bad and down, down, down.

    By the way, your blog moves me to rethink what I’ve decided. Thanks for positives letters you’ve thrown to my head.

    Love,
    Sel

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