Making decisions is tough, especially life changing decisions. But sometimes even small, seemingly unimportant decisions can lead to a spiral of crippling indecisiveness. What do I wear to this party? Do I want to take the bus, or call myself an Uber? Before I go, what—oh, what—do I want to eat for dinner? Ugh, do I even want to go to this party at all? Before you know it, one question turned into about 80 more, and you’re stuck! When it comes to even bigger questions, like what you want to major in in college, indecisiveness can have a much larger effect on your life than whether or not you make it to a social gathering.
The part of the brain that is tasked with making rational choices is the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Not only does it weigh the potential consequences and benefits of a decision, but it also helps to calm the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that “runs on instinct, impulse and raw emotion.” Some neuroscientists believe that the intensity of the communication between the prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex, which processes sensory information, language, and mathematics, will affect how easily one makes decisions. If those two areas of the brain do not communicate well, indecisiveness is more likely to be a hinderance.
Everyone experiences a certain amount of difficulty when making decisions, but when you’re experiencing indecisiveness constantly, even over minor things, it may be time to self-evaluate. How can you kick your indecisive habits?
Be mindful: Anxiety is enemy #1 when it comes to indecisiveness, mainly because it lessens your brain’s ability to screen out thoughts and worries by numbing a group of neurons in the PFC that are specifically involved in making choices. Mindfulness is one of the best ways to strengthen your brain against anxiety because it helps to fortify the PFC and allow you to make more grounded, relevant decisions free from emotional distractions.
Limit your options: No question is quicker to inspire crippling indecisiveness (and arguments with your significant other) than the dreaded: “What do you want for dinner tonight?” In today’s day and age, the potential answers to that question are limitless. We can take the mini computers we all have in our pockets, open any number of delivery apps, and choose from about a million food options ranging from $5 pizza to a bank account-busting mezze feast. When you ask wide-ranging questions like this, try to limit your options before you even begin. Instead of asking “what do you want for dinner tonight?”, try asking “what do we want—pizza, Thai, or Indian? Then go from there.
Start small: Let’s take the example of the party quandary earlier in this post. In this example, one small question – what do I want to wear?— spiraled into a litany of bigger questions that were so overwhelming it made you question if you even wanted to go in the first place. It’s easy for anxiety to creep in and make something so seemingly simple turn into something incredibly difficult, but by taking things step-by-step and starting small, decisions can become more manageable. First step: look through your clothes. Pick out something clean, flattering, and weather-appropriate, and put it on. Check! Then you can move onto the next step, then the next, in manageable bite-size pieces.
Commit: One of the worst parts about indecisiveness is that, even once you’ve already made a decision, you keep going back and wondering if you made the correct one. Try to put that out of your mind completely. Once you’ve committed to a decision, don’t look back.
Fake it until you make it: If all else fails—fake it! Anxiety exists to protect you from danger, but its existence doesn’t mean that there is necessarily danger afoot. The next time you feel a flood of thoughts and worries when faced with a tough decision, just pretend that those thoughts and worries aren’t there. It may seem silly, if not utterly impossible, but with practice it can become a great tool to try to minimize the distractions you face when making a decision.