As a person with anxiety, I should have a problem with decision making. Anxious people generally agonise over courses of action, weighing up every possible scenario before doubting their own decision.
I’m the opposite. I make decisions extremely quickly, and without any agonising at all. From buying furniture to planning a holiday to ordering a meal at a restaurant, I decide almost instantly.
Ironically, my quick decision making is largely due to my anxiety, not despite it. I hate doubt, and would rather commit to a decision than live with the discomfort of uncertainty. Furthermore, I get bored very easily, and couldn’t possibly spend hours looking at chairs or travel websites or menu options.
But here’s the thing: it works. I very rarely regret my choices. And this is common for people like me, who settle for good enough. We are far happier with the outcomes of our decisions than those who overthink and research every angle.
But there is hope for you, if you are an agoniser. You can shift your mindset, by recognising the factors that make decision making so inconsequential.
If the choice is clear, there’s no problem. If the choice isn’t clear, there’s no problem.
Some decisions are clear. You check out the list of movies, there are three thrillers and a love story and a drama. You don’t like thrillers or love stories so you choose the drama. No problem.
Some decisions are unclear. There are two dramas, one with brilliant reviews but a lead actor you don’t like, one with less glowing reviews but with your favourite star. How can you decide?
Well, that’s no more problematic than the first decision. If a decision is hard to weigh up, then it means that the choices offer equal, but different, benefits and deficits. Choose one, commit to the decision, and know you would have won either way.
The Hedonic Treadmill
The hedonic treadmill, or happiness set point, is the tendency of people to stay at a stable level of happiness no matter what occurs in their lives. If you are agonising over decisions, chances are you are overestimating their importance. Even the big decisions – job, city of residence, whether to have a baby – have little effect on your happiness.
Remember that you will always be as happy as your temperament (and therapy) allows you to be. Whether you buy the red couch or blue, or choose the chicken or the fish, is entirely irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. Pick one and move on.
Go with your gut
The only times I ever regret my decisions are when I ignore my gut instinct. For example, I wanted the burger, but the salad was healthier so I chose that. I wanted the small, silver clutch, but the large black tote was more practical, so I bought that instead.
When I wanted the burger, but ate a salad, I felt dissatisfied, and end up rummaging around for more food later. When I wanted a clutch, but settled for the tote, I didn’t take pleasure in the purchase.
The moral of the story? Listen to your gut. Follow your instincts. They very rarely lead you astray.
Honour your prior decisions
The only exception to the above is when you have previously committed to a larger decision. If I decided last week to eat salads for lunch, then I won’t even be faced with a decision. The burger might be on the menu, but I will not consider it. Similarly, if I go out shopping to buy a tote, knowing I already have four clutches at home, I will admire the clutch in the window and walk on by.
Sticking to the choices you have already made can dramatically reduce decision making stress. It is less about willpower, and more about commitment. You don’t have to decide over and over. The decision has already been made.
And this is the final piece of the puzzle. Commit to your decision. When the choice isn’t clear, when you could go either way, choose an option, even at random, and stick with it. There is a huge release of energy when a decision is made, energy that can be spent on moving forward.
Practice making a choice and committing to that choice until it becomes a new habit. The choice itself is far less important than the relief and freedom of deciding.