Between a rock and a hard place


Ever have those days when you just can’t make the simplest decision, like whether to buy the striped or single colored toothpaste? You stand in the middle of the drugstore aisle, humming and hawing, balancing the two boxes in your hands as though one of them is going to suddenly leap up and scream, “I’m the one you want! Buy me!”. You finally decide on the striped, but halfway down on the aisle you decide it’s too bright and cheerful to look at in the morning. So you turn back, beginning to think that you are completely losing your mind. (If I’m the only one this has happened to, I suddenly feel very silly…) Why does this happen? Sometimes it’s just a plain old-fashioned weird mood, but psychologists have found that stress, anxiety or depression can seriously hinder our ability to make decisions. Our minds may be so worked up over bigger issues in our lives – jobs, relationships, etc. – that we blow everything else up to be a big deal too. Even toothpaste! Ironically, then, the stress of having to make tough choices may actually inhibit our ability to make a good, clear-headed decision.

So what can we do to clear our minds of all the stress and anxiety and just make up our minds already? Thankfully, there are actual strategies we can use to guide us in making important choices. Here are some suggestions:

  • Instead of letting it nag you, set an “appointment” to consider your choices. You could set, for example, one half hour every day to think only about the decision, and leave the rest of the day for normal life.
  • Brainstorm different possibilities. Ask friends and family for their input. Let yourself be creative, writing down every possibility.
  • Write lists of pros and cons.
  • Visualize the results of different choices and see how they make you feel.
  • Listen to that “gut feeling”. If something just doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
  • If necessary, give yourself more time. Sometimes we are simply not ready to make a decision. If you find you’re taking too long, however, you may want to consider giving yourself a deadline.
  • Distract yourself by thinking about something else if it becomes too overwhelming. Your mind may get “over-heated”.
  • Know that things are not always black and white. Two choices can be equally appealing.
  • Do things you enjoy, like taking a walk or listening to a favorite song; the answer may come to you when you are relaxed.

Finally, when you make that decision, try not to think about it anymore. Regret is pointless; you have to make the best of the choice you’ve made. But also know that, if necessary, many decisions are reversible. (You don’t have to stay at a job you hate forever, for example.) Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath, grab the bull by the horns…then let him go free!

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