Immobilized by Indecisiveness-Overcoming Our False Beliefs on Decision Making

Going out, or stay at home? Stay in the relationship or leave? Take the new job or stick to the old one? Every one of us is confronted with a bundle of different decisions every single day. While some don’t have a great influence on us, others can make a huge difference in our life. Unfortunately, making decisions is not a skill we learn at school or in college although the way we make decisions determines whether we live a pro-active or reactive life, which is an essential measure for quality of life.

Many of us hold false beliefs when it comes to decision making. Beliefs which constrain our ability to take good decisions and in some cases to make any decisions at all.

Understanding these false beliefs can help to eliminate  stumbling blocks along our way.

1. We tend to think that we don’t have enough information to move on. Truth is, this is often not the case and we have enough information, but the feeling that we don’t, is holding us back and so we let opportunities pass by like clouds on a sunny day. As soon as the brain reaches a certain threshold of logical information, there won’t be an increase in effectiveness making a good decision even if you receive more information. In fact, too much information can often decrease your ability to get the answer right and block your willingness to make a decision. This is a phenomenon which can be explained by several scientists like Angelika Dimoka, director of the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University. She recruited volunteers to try their hand at combinatorial auctions, and as they did she measured their brain activity. As the information load increased, she found, so did activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region that is responsible for decision making and control of emotions. But as the researchers gave the bidders more and more information, activity in the dorsolateral PFC suddenly fell off- the bidders reach cognitive and information overload. They start making stupid mistakes and bad choices because the brain region responsible for good decision making has essentially left the premises. For the same reason, their frustration and anxiety soar.“With too much information, ” says Dimoka, “people’s decisions make less and less sense.” Keeping this in mind, we should write down the most important factors and only take these into consideration when aiming for a solution.

2. We think that we need to be right the very first time. In school we are taught that mistakes are bad and that we should learn new things very painstakingly to make everything right. We also tend to think that once we made a decision, we can’t go back and have another try. I believe this needlessly increases the pressure and even causes fear to make a decision. Usually, there are much more possibilities than we see or even can imagine, so making a decision must not be the final road to follow. You can always change your initial decision and chose another way. Besides, making mistakes is an essential process of learning and offers a lot of good stories a couple of years later when you learned from your mistakes and can have a joyful laugh about them. I think it’s important to recognize the decisions you’ve made, even if they were wrong, as good decisions since you’ve made them with the best information and experience you had at that time and also to remember how you made up your mind. Thich attitude can give you confidence for the next decision you’ll take because you know how you take decisions and why this method is good.

3. Another reason people hesitate to make decisions is the wrong perceived risk involved. In many cases we have a very little downside if our decision turns out to be wrong and a much greater upside if we are right. If we buy a membership for one month for a fitness studio, we might be disappointed with the service and lose a small amount of money, on the other hand we might enjoy the atmosphere, get in shape and finally find the workout that really suits our preferences. Of course there are also the decisions that include a lot of risk, financially, emotionally sometimes even physically, these risks can’t be treated with a “why not” approach. But for all these other included “risks” like asking someone on a date, shouldn’t be rethought even twice.

Decision making, and more importantly, quickly making decisions without wasting time on collecting useless information, too many doubts or the pressure of “doing it right” is a skill, not a character trait or talent. You can develop this skill through constant training, start making decisions and start making them much faster than usualy. Start with small decisions like what to do on a weekend, decisions that are not as critical. If you get used to take quick decisions by practicing with “small” decisions, you will realize a pattern after a while which will help you to tackle really important decisions without the blockade of fear, indecisiveness or other things that are holding you back.

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