On Decisions (II): Why We Fear Making Decisions and How To Get Over It

Avoiding decisions

In the last post I talked about how our decisions determine our lives and how that is a good thing (but mainly why I am living in Turkey now). Yet most people dread making decisions. When faced with a choice, they find themselves paralyzed and unable to decide or procrastinating in order to avoid having to decide.

Why we put off decisions

Mostly when we resist to make a choice, it comes down to one thing: fear. This emotion is one of the strongest motivators for human behavior (or in this case one of the strongest demotivators). In the area of decision-making, we can differentiate between a few types of fear.

Fear of making a wrong decision

The words decision and decide stem from the root “cise” and “cide”, meaning “to cut off” and “to kill”. Thus a decision means to cut off or kill other possibilities. This can be a terrifying thought because what happens if we make the wrong choice and are forever stuck with it? In order not to let that happen, we often opt to not choose at all.

Fear of failure

Worse yet, what if we do decide on something and it fails? What if we waste time and energy on a thing that just doesn’t work out? We will get publicly ridiculed/ostracized/bound to the back of a goat and driven through the city!

Fear of the unknown

The important decisions in our lives almost always force us to leave our comfort zone and operate in unknown territory. As a species, we really don’t like that. We like predictability and resist change. Who knows what’s going to happen outside the boundaries of what we know? Staying inside the lines is much less terrifying.

Fear of commitment

What if something better comes along? Saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else. We are afraid we will miss out on what we choose no to do. We think that if we close one door, we can never open it again and try to avoid it by keeping all of our options open.

Why indecision is a bad thing

Indecision keeps us in a vortex of passivity. It’s paralyzing, ineffective and prevents us from taking action. We are wrapped up in a bubble that saps our mental energies without producing results. Our brains might be running hot but in the outside world nothing happens.

Being undecided also destroys focus. If there are a million things we could potentially be doing and we don’t narrow them down by making choices, we end up getting nothing done. If we decide, really and consciously decide on something, we can direct our resources toward that goal and work on achieving it.

Because the world doesn’t stop turning. If we always try to keep our options open, we never really grasp any opportunity. Oftentimes when we try to avoid shutting any doors, we later find that they close by themselves and our options diminish even if we don’t make a choice.

Also keep in mind that not deciding is also a decision. Not making a choice to change means we choose to stay the same. We often mistakenly think that just because we are not actively deciding, we don’t have to take responsibility for our results. In reality, if we don’t choose, decisions will be made for us.

How to escape the indecision trap

Now I don’t know about you but I prefer to consciously direct my life instead of relying on fate. I am also highly against letting fear determine our actions. Therefore let’s deconstruct these common roadblocks, shall we?

The wrong choice

If fear of choosing wrongly is holding you back, first of all keep in mind that most decisions can be reversed. That is not to say that you shouldn’t care and that it doesn’t matter what you choose because you can go back on your word anyway. However, in most cases if you decide for the wrong thing and find yourself in a career/relationship/situation where you don’t belong, you can take action to move on to something else.

Furthermore most of the time making a wrong choice is better than making none at all. At least when you decide on something, you give yourself the chance to see whether or not it’s right for you, which is a chance lot of people are unwilling to take. If it turns out that it’s not the right way, you can then close the door on this one and stop wondering.

Failure

If you are afraid to fail, think about the following thing: The most successful people out there, anyone you admire, any idol you might have is someone who has probably failed a lot more than you and I have. Don’t believe me? Listen to one of them:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Failure is nothing but feedback. The concept of failure as a sign of character flaw is made-up. “Failing” is actually a good thing. If you are screwing up and making mistakes, it means you are moving forward and learning something. Failure enables you to correct course and gives you a chance to do things better next time around.

The Unknown

As already mentioned, we as a people love predictability. It seems to be hardwired into our brains. We let the worst-case scenarios in our mind hold us back from even attempting something new and unfamiliar. However, the only way to grow is to get out of our comfort zones. If we keep doing the same thing, we will keep getting the same results.

Striking out into the unknown requires guts and courage. The great thing is that for every unit of courage you put in, you get the same amount of confidence out. So instead of seeing the unknown as a problem, we can understand it as an opportunity to grow that will provide us with more choices, more possibilities, and better results than before. The confidence we gain from undertaking new ventures will carry over to all other parts of life.

Commitment

The thing that is so misunderstood about commitment is that it is limiting, that it locks us in and puts us in shackles, when actually the opposite is true. Commitment can be very freeing because it allows us to escape the gray area of indecision and use focused action instead. It means going from half-assing many things to full-assing one thing and giving ourselves the chance to see significant results.

Phew, that was a long post. Haven’t head enough yet? Stay tuned for Part II, in which I am giving you a few mental models to turn you into a world-class decision maker.

Are you letting fear hold you back? What would you like to undertake? What is holding you back?Tell us about it in the comments.

image: flickr

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