The Agony of Decision-Making

August 3, 2014

It always used to surprise me that people who were so smart and so accomplished could agonize every time they had to make a decision. At first, I thought this was a rarity but, later on, I discovered that far from being a rare occurrence, a lot of people suffered the same distress.

My first reaction was to see if their inability to make decisions was caused by depression or fear but, what I found was that the reason most of these people had difficulty making decisions was because they had never learned how to make them, even though they occupied positions of responsibility in their professional lives.

One of my clients told me that it takes her hours to decide what to wear for work in the morning, trying everything on in her closet before making a decision, and that she has to get up at the crack of dawn so that she’s not late for work. That was an easy one.

She had a closet full of Ike and Mike blouses. I call them Ike and Mike blouses because they were the same style but in different colors. The first homework assignment I gave her was to separate her clothes according to weather patterns. If it’s going to rain or snow, be hot or cold, I had her arrange her closet according to the weather. At night, I had her listen to the weather forecast and then choose an outfit for the next day and lay it out.

She could change her mind as many times as she wanted to before going to sleep that night but she was not allowed to change her mind or try anything on the next morning. Whatever she chose that night was what she had to wear the next morning. It took some doing but eventually, she was able to make those decisions easily.

But most of the difficult decision-making for the majority of my clients came in the form of them thinking that every decision was a matter of life and death and that every decision was of such prime importance that they had to agonize over each and every one.

Eventually they learned that most decisions are not a matter of life and death, nor are they irrevocable. If you make a bad decision today, you can make a better decision tomorrow.

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