Why is it so difficult for us to make certain decisions?

We all feel tormented at some point by a decision to be made: Whether or not to stay in a relationship, give up work, get married, have a child, etc.

At other times, we know what to do (stop drinking, go out more and meet people, eat healthier, build closer relationships) but we don’t decide which is to say we are not making a commitment to do so. Sometimes we realize that our way of being is hurting us (we leave things for later or work too hard, are unattractive or too demanding) but we don’t know how to make the change.

Related article: “The 8 types of decisions”

The importance of making good decisions

This internal struggle and indecision is painful and exhausting. The worst part is that it slows down our growth and paralyzes us. The decision we leave behind always bites us, one way or another.

I am writing this post based on the teachings of the great psychiatrist Dr. Irvin Yalom.

An example to understand how we make decisions

Take the example of a fictitious case that is used throughout the post.

Alejandra: “Leave my boyfriend or stay with him?”

Alejandra is a thirty year old girl who works in an advertising company. She has been with her boyfriend for several years, but has doubts about whether to leave the relationship. Feel that things are not the same and that they do not have important values ​​in commonHe believes that they have become disrespectful to each other, and mistrust has risen due to the rumors he has heard and the fears are true.

Sensing that she must take her future seriously and wonder if he is the man of her life, she fantasizes about meeting another man and started to feel cold. Very little has been seen lately and fighting is too frequent. She feels tormented by the decision she has to make Stay with your boyfriend or leave him?.

Irvin D. Yalom explains the 4 reasons for the difficulty of making decisions

Yalom describes that there are 4 main reasons why we have trouble making a decision. As you read, ask yourself if any of these reasons apply to you. “They can be diverse!

In our example, Alejandra may have a hard time deciding to end her boyfriend because it means that she alone can make the decisions in her life, only she can choose and no matter what she wants it is not possible to ask someone else to do them for her.

First reason: we don’t decide because it scares us to be responsible for our decisions.

When we choose, we realize that only we can decide and therefore everything depends on us. Our life is our responsibility. It can be used to live a more authentic and fulfilling life, but it can also give us anxiety and lead us to paralyze, in this case, avoid making decisions.

Faced with a crucial decision, it is normal to be afraid, we directly decide our fate and therefore, as I will write in the second part of the article, Sometimes we try to force other people to make the decision for us.

  • Did you stop making a decision for fear of making a mistake?

In our example, Alejandra may have a hard time ending her boyfriend because she gives up a lifetime of possibilities with him, To all the fantasies she had and felt nostalgic for the romantic and intimate memories that would be stained with pain once the door was closed.

Second reason: we do not want to give up other possibilities.

For every yes, there must be a no. Deciding always means leaving something else behind.

Making decisions can be painful because we give up on everything else, and sometimes it never comes back. Although it seems hasty to say it, the more limited our options, the closer we get to the end of our life. No one wants to approach the end of existence, which is why we sometimes subconsciously avoid deciding. When we are 18 we have a world of possibilities and options, when we reach 60 we have fewer critical decisions to make. Some people avoid making decisions to cling to the illusion that the possibilities are limitless. We don’t wanna give up this world of options. Making a decision always involves an opportunity cost.

Aristotle gave the example of a hungry dog ​​who was presented with two equally exquisite dishes, unable to make up his mind, always hungry and “hungry”.

It becomes so difficult for us to decide why, on an unconscious level, we refuse to accept the implications of surrender.. If we see it this way, in our life we ​​move from one waiver to another, we give up on all other couples, we give up all other jobs, we give up all other vacations whenever we decide.

  • Have you stopped deciding on something for fear of giving up?

In our example, Alejandra may have an unpleasant feeling of guilt, where she can’t really understand why she feels this way about leaving her boyfriend, the feeling perhaps unconsciously that he has no right to make such decisions.

Third reason: we avoid making decisions so as not to feel guilty.

Yes, we often feel guilty about making decisions and this can completely paralyze the will process, In addition to causing enormous anxiety. Even though we know we have a right to choose who we are with, even though we know that something or someone isn’t right for us, sometimes we can’t help but continue to feel guilty.

Psychologist Otto Rank Gives Fascinating Explanation of Why Some People Feel So Guilty About Deciding: The will to do things (will and decision go hand in hand) is born in children as a counter-will. Adults often resist impulsive actions by children, and children develop a willingness to resist opposition. If children have parents who, unfortunately, overwhelm their children’s will and spontaneous expression, they become guilty and experience the decision as something “bad” and forbidden. They therefore grow up with the feeling that they do not have the right to choose or to decide.

  • Have you stopped making a decision, even though you know it’s the right one, out of guilt?

In our example, Alejandra may have a hard time deciding to end her boyfriend because if she does it now, it means that she could have done it from the start, moreover, maybe I should never have dated him, his intuition was already telling him that he was not the right person. This awareness makes him feel guilty (existential) and therefore delay the decision not to feel it.

Fourth reason: we avoid making decisions so as not to think about everything we could have done.

Existential guilt is different from traditional guilt where one feels bad for having done something bad against another person.

Existential guilt has to do with transgression against oneself, it comes from repentanceRealizing that he didn’t live life the way he intended, that he didn’t take advantage of the potential or all of the opportunities that he had. Existential guilt can cripple a lot, a big decision can make us think about everything we haven’t done before, what we have sacrificed.

If we take responsibility for our lives and make the decision to change, this implies that only us are responsible for the change and the mistakes made, And that we may have changed a long time ago. A 40 year old mature person who decides to quit smoking after 20 years of having this habit realizes that they may have quit smoking a long time ago. In other words, if you can quit smoking now, you may have quit smoking two decades ago. It carries a lot of existential guilt. She may ask, “How could I not have quit smoking before?” Maybe that would have saved me the disease, the criticism, the money ”.

This phrase from Yalom may help us here: “One way – perhaps the only one – of dealing with guilt (whether by raping others or oneself) is through atonement or atonement. past by changing the future. “

  • Have you avoided making the decision not to look back?

In conclusion: Why making a decision is so hard For the resignation, anxiety and guilt that come with decisions.

In the second part of the article, we will analyze the ways in which we avoid making decisions, some of which are unconscious.

How to avoid making decisions on a daily basis?

Since decisions are difficult and painful to make, it’s no surprise that we humans find many methods to avoid making decisions. The most obvious method of not making a decision is procrastination, i.e. leaving things for later, but there are other much more subtle methods that involve fooling yourself into thinking others are taking it. decisions for us.

The most painful thing to choose is the process and not the decision itself, so if you are blind to the process, it hurts less. We therefore have several tips to facilitate the decision-making process. These tips aren’t always the best, but they save us from anxiety.

How to avoid the painful renunciation of decision-making?

1. Make an alternative less attractive.

In our example, Alejandra has to choose between two options: staying in an unsatisfying relationship vs. being single / feeling lonely.

Both alternatives are equally painful, so the dilemma is resolved if one of the two alternatives is more appealingThis is why he decides to date Francesc, a beautiful and affectionate boy, in this way the decision is much easier: to continue in an unsatisfying relationship vs to be with his loving and affectionate new suitor. This deal works because Alejandra is no longer paralyzed and can decide, the downside of this is that she doesn’t learn much from the experience. It doesn’t help her overcome the fear of loneliness, nor does she understand why it took her so long to leave her boyfriend if he wasn’t happy. This is the classic case of “one key pulls another”, we could say that the key helps to mobilize but not to learn.

It may be that later, Alejandra has some problems with this new boyfriend and again finds herself in a dilemma. So, if the decision is difficult because we are faced with two very similar alternatives, 1 usually uses a trick: correct the situation so that we give up less.

2. Make the unsuccessful alternative worse than it is.

In our example, Alejandra may start to amplify her boyfriend’s flaws so she can leave him or amplify the effects of loneliness (she stays “single”, not worth guys anymore, etc.) to excuse and continue the loneliness. relationship. Some people when they hear a “no” usually say “anyway I didn’t mean”, even if this is taken as a joke, this mechanism is very similar, it is a way of feeling less pain.

As in the example of the goose that died of hunger, not knowing how to choose which food to eat because they both looked equally attractive, we have a hard time making decisions when both seem almost equivalent. On an unconscious level, we amplify the differences between two similar options to make the decision less painful.

How to avoid anxiety and guilt?

1. Delegate the decision to someone else.

Alejandra might start to act in a cold, indifferent and distant manner, her boyfriend will notice the change, he will try to do something but if he gets to a point of frustration and discouragement where his attitude remains the same, he probably will be ” forced “to leave her, otherwise she will pretend” my boyfriend cut me off “and is mistaken in thinking that it was not her decision.

We humans are ambivalent about freedom, a tempting idea that gives us options but also scares us because it confronts us with the fact that we are solely responsible for our happiness. Oyou cannot avoid a decision by letting someone else make the decision for us. Other examples of this trick:

  • Don’t put an alarm clock to go for a walk, blame your friend who was going to walk with you, who didn’t wake you up.
  • Calling him in his head, showing up on time, not finishing projects, or being underachieving, because you subconsciously want him to get you out of work.
  • Delegate the decision to something else.

Alejandra might decide to convince herself to continue with her boyfriend and enlist because she is constrained by social rules (which are said to be committing at her age) or she could ask for a signal. arbitrary to follow or terminate.

Since ancient times, humanity has transferred its decisions to external situations. How many times have we left the decision to the destination or to a currency? I remember as a kid, when I couldn’t choose between a packet of cookies or papalines at a friend’s house, I would ask her to grab them from behind and swap them, while I chose my right hand or my hand. left. The decision was not mine, I simply chose the right or the left. So let’s delegate the decision a little more. For example:

  • Wait until the last minute to buy tickets for a gig we don’t want to go to, blame him on the fact that there are no more tickets available.

On the other hand, the rules, although practical for human beings, indirectly help in some cases not to take responsibility for decisions but also to reduce anxiety. For example:

  • A teacher who, having left extra homework to underachieving children in the past, refuses to give extra work to a student he does not like, because “the rules” do not allow it, so s’ he misses the course, it is because he followed the directives.

In conclusion, to avoid deciding to leave things for later and avoid the feeling of resignation by distorting the alternatives or pretending that something or someone else is deciding for us.

important thoughts

  • To avoid falling into these traps we must remember that we can only decide. It’s impossible. Avoiding deciding is also a decision.
  • We can make decisions actively or passively. If we make decisions actively, it means that we realize that it is our decision and our responsibility, and even in the face of fear, we take the step and choose. Making decisions actively increases our personal resources and power. If we make decisions passively, we can delegate them to someone, something else, or minimize the alternative. When we passively make decisions, we run the risk of suffering from low self-esteem, self-criticism or self-loathing. What matters is not the decision we make, but how we actively make it.
  • Faced with a stormy decision-making process, is it useful to ask what is the meaning of this decision? If we make a decision but can’t make it hang on, for example, if Alejandra decides to leave her relationship but keeps in touch with her ex-boyfriend, calls him or answers his calls, etc. he has to deal with the fact that he has made another decision, which gives the meaning and the benefits. Then we focus not on the refusal to decide, but on the decision that WAS made, the decision to stay in touch with him. All decisions have their advantage. What meaning does Alejandra give him by staying in touch with him? Don’t suffer from loneliness, avoid anxiety, don’t hurt your ego, save your ex-boyfriend from your loneliness, etc. So Alejandra can make an active decision and work on her life, her addiction, her insecurity, her anxiety or her fear of abandonment.

It’s hard to make decisions, it’s scary, it’s human to try to avoid doing. When we are tormented by a decision, we face the situation and are responsible for our decision to increase our personal power, consistency, and maintain our self-esteem and self-esteem.

Take active decisions. It helps a lot if we can understand why the decision is so difficult, what is the hidden meaning or fear and decide to work on it. Almost all of us have an idea of ​​what we are afraid of, there are many resources to solve this problem: being more aware of ourselves, seeking loved ones who listen to us and support us, following a philosophy that is consistent for us and consistent. real life, take classes, read books and / or initiate a process of personal change (individual, group or coaching therapy).

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