Amy Talbot, Director & Clinical Psychologist, Baulkham Hills NSW
15 November 2017
According to the source of all knowledge (the internet), adults make on average 35, 000 decisions per day, which equates to about 1 decision every 2.5 seconds. That’s a lot of decisions. Decisions about what to eat, what to wear, what to watch on tv. Decisions about how we spend our time, what we do for work or study, who to love.
Despite making multiple decisions daily, there is something about this time of year that seems to make us more aware of the decisions ahead of us. And as a result, our stress levels seem to go up while our ability to make confident decisions seems to go down.
A perfect example of this increased awareness is the experience of students at the end of high school, which is sometimes delayed until January once the excitement of holidays starts to wear off. Whereas up until this point decisions have been limited and all students have mostly been on the same path, attending school day after day, there are now limitless possibilities ahead of them, which is exciting and terrifying at the same time.
The same can be said for university students as they finish their degree and are left to make decisions about “where to from here?” And about adults in general as we engage in increased self-reflection at the start of a new year, setting ourselves new goals and trying to decide where the year ahead will take us.
But many of us struggle to make decisions with confidence and can be burdened with uncertainty about the various decisions we face. Below are some of the issues that impede decision making and suggested soultions to assist you to become a decision making master.
ISSUE 1: A belief that there is always a right and wrong decision
As humans we can often engage in an unhelpful thinking style called “Black and White thinking”. This style of thinking can lead to assuming that decisions are either right or wrong, without allowing space for the possibility of multiple equally good decisions or the possibility of decisions that will have both pros and cons associated with them. This belief can be reinforced when occasionally we experience a bad outcome after making a decision, leading to a conclusion that the decision itself was bad.
SOLUTION: Try to find a middle ground. List the pros and cons of each decision to help you get a balanced perspective. Keep in mind that if you feel uncertain after making a decision it does not mean you made a bad decision nor does it mean that something bad will happen afterwards. There are various factors in life that we don’t have control over that can influence the outcome of any decisions made; focus on the things you do have control over and follow your values. If you know what is important to you, you will be more likely to make a decision that you will feel good about in the long run.
ISSUE 2: A belief that the decision you make today locks you in for your entire future
Ever had decision paralysis? Sometimes we avoid making decisions because the weight of the consequences seems too heavy to bear. We can feel like we need to make a decision now that will affect our entire future, without knowing what we will want in the future, or sometimes even who we will be. We can freeze under this pressure and may prefer to avoid deciding rather than to feel locked in to something we may no longer want to do.
SOLUTION: Recognise that the decision is not the end point, that decisions we make are actually the starting point of a new journey of learning. Recognise that most decisions we make are not lifelong and do not actually lock you into a situation where you cannot change direction if the decision is no longer working for you, and that you will still have gained value through your experiences along the way. For example, many people change careers multiple times throughout their life; their previous career was not a waste but an opportunity to develop skills that will be beneficial in tasks they engage with in the future.
ISSUE 3: The option you want is not available
It can be easy at times to make decisions when the outcome doesn’t really matter or when your preferred option is easily accessible to you. It can be much more difficult to make a decision when all the options available are non-preferred options. We can get stuck in focusing on how we wish things were and on pursuing an option that is not possible, rather than thinking through and comparing the options available to us now.
SOLUTION: Allow yourself some time to grieve the option that is not available, but then refocus your attention on the options that are available to you in the present. Brainstorm possible options without judgment to see if there are options you have not considered and allow yourself permission to select the least worst option rather than looking for a perfect solution.
BONUS TIP FOR PARENTS
Want your kids to grow up to be confident decision makers? Give them multiple opportunities to make age appropriate decisions each day within a supported environment e.g., give them a choice of multiple t-shirts to select from or allow them to select from different options for snacks throughout the day. When a decision made has unexpected negative consequences assist your child to view the learning opportunities that come from it rather than seeing it as inherently bad. Kids also learn from observing their parents, so have a go at implementing the decision making hacks above and allow your children to see you making confident decisions.
If you have trouble making decisions generally or you have decisions you would like to think through within a supported environment please contact The Talbot Centre to discuss how we can support you. Psychologists can assist you to clarify your values, overcome beliefs that interfere in the decision making process and to make decisions that work for you.
Director & Clinical Psychologist, Baulkham Hills NSW
Amy is a warm, friendly and approachable clinical psychologist with a passion for assisting patients of all ages to make valued life changes, enhance their social and emotional wellbeing and reach their full potential. Her compassionate and genuine approach instantly puts people of all ages at ease and helps to create a safe place for patients to explore their concerns and share openly about themselves in order to develop practical and collaborative strategies to change their lives for the better.