4 Steps to Conquer Indecision

Ask anyone about indecision and they will give you a weary look of recognition. It pervades our adult lives.

I’ve been in-deciding all week: What to cook my friends for dinner? What my next career decision should be? Wondering, worrying, swaying, sticking, coming unstuck again. It’s tiring at best and debilitating at worst.

Although we can’t hope to rid ourselves of life’s uncertainties, here are the top four things that keep us snagged in doubt:

1.    We forget that with decision comes inevitable loss

2.    We use the outcomes of previous decisions to guide us

3.    We try to predict the future

4.    We veer from one factor to the next unable to take all things into account

Lets untangle this a little…

1. Be Prepared for Loss

This is true for every decision. We think that we must have a win-win outcome. So we torture ourselves. But choose one route and you loose the possibility of the other.

I challenge you to think of one decision you have made or could make that is otherwise.

If you choose to end your relationship with Jonathan for Steven, you loose Jonathan. If you choose a cheese sandwich, you loose out on the possibly delicious humus one. If you choose a job in engineering, you loose out on the job in journalism.

Be prepared for loss and accept it as inevitable. Don’t try and hang onto everything.

2. Don’t Rely on Previous Outcomes

Regret is looking back at a previous decision armed with knowledge that you could not possibly have had prior to making the decision.

This makes us anxious about decisions because it undermines our confidence.

At the point of deciding you can only be in possession of the knowledge you have at that moment. Not the knowledge you gain as a consequence of deciding.

Regret does not make you a bad decision maker. It makes you human decision maker. You can decide only on the basis of current information. And you make the best decision with that knowledge.

When you next regret a decision don’t forget to concentrate on what you have gained and not just what you have lost.

A word of caution: be responsible. When you look back over your life in your final hours, you will be heartened to know you were master of your own life.

Do not let hindsight influence or undermine you. Learn to work only with current knowledge.

3. You Can’t Predict the Future

Who do you know who can predict the future?

Nobody. Right?

Yet you agonize over different scenarios in an attempt to do the impossible: to know the outcome. We struggle to overcome the discomfort of feeling uncertain. The dizzy, anxious feeling of not knowing.

But worrying over “what ifs” is unproductive. You are trying to gain certainty where you simply can’t.

Accept that you can’t know in advance. Be courageous.

4. Take Account of ALL Factors

 When you are indecisive you veer from one factor to another. And your conviction sways accordingly.

Jonathan doesn’t make you laugh out loud. Steven makes you cry with laughter. You want Steven. But then your remember how kind Jonathan is and how Steven just seems to suit himself. You want Jonathan again. Then you think about looks, sex, artistic flare and adventurous spirit…and you want Steven again.

There is a way out of this hell – a decision matrix.

This is the easiest way to take all factors into consideration in a rational way. It helps you keep track of what you value most…as well as your gains and losses.

It won’t make the decision for you. But it will give you an indication of where you are leaning overall.

Even more important: it makes your decision concrete. In years to come, if you are tormented by regret, you have a piece of paper that shows you on what grounds you made that decision then. You can’t lie to yourself. And you see how it all made sense at the time.

Use my decision matrix to simplify the confusion.


Image credit: Alberto G

Living Your Life Forwards

Next time you can’t make a decision, follow these four steps. They won’t guarantee that you make good decisions all the time. But they will help you have confidence in the decisions you take and dramatically cut down on feelings of regret.

As Kierkegaard put it, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”